After that very personal shot, Flanagan grasps perspective

April 12, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

Tim Flanagan was already going through some tough times. As captain of UMBC's lacrosse team last season, he had been benched for two games. Then he went looking for his best friend for consultation and advice, but he found disaster.

Flanagan discovered his father lying in the bedroom of his Essex home last April 18, dead of a heart attack. Thomas Flanagan was only 58, and he had always been his son's No. 1 supporter on the lacrosse field.

"Lacrosse was no more an issue," said Flanagan, now a senior. "I didn't start the Carolina and Towson games. I had talked to my father the night before the second game, and he was kind of bitter, [saying] that if I wasn't starting, he wasn't going. I had tried to talk to him the day of the game, but I couldn't get a hold of him. I usually talk to him a couple of times a day.

"The next morning I kind of had a gut feeling, it was just strange, out of the ordinary, that something was wrong," Flanagan said. "I went over to his house. The car was there, I had a key to get into the door, but the deadbolt was locked, so I figured he might be out playing golf with his buddies or some thing. I ended up finding a window that was unlocked, climbed through and found him."

Since then, Flanagan has dedicated his every moment on the field to his father. Two days after his death, Flanagan had 19 saves in a regionally televised game against Army, the best game of his career.

"It was bittersweet, but my father would have been disappointed if I didn't play," Flanagan said.

Seventeen-ranked UMBC (5-3) needs another strong effort from Flanagan today when the Retreivers play host to No. 7 North Carolina (5-4) at UMBC Stadium. It's getting to that point in the season where playoff aspirations are at stake. A UMBC win turns a lot of heads on the NCAA Division I selection committee.

Thus far, Flanagan, an Essex native and Archbishop Curley graduate, has stopped 101 of 268 shots with a save percentage of .598. He remains on a mission for his father.

"He never played, but he pretty much lived to watch me play lacrosse," Flanagan said. "I think about him all the time. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about him. I try to play every game for him and my teammates. He is always on the field with me, always in my heart. Playing lacrosse is the release from a lot of stress.

"I just go out there and say, `Dad, this is for you,' " Flanagan said. "It helps me focus and concentrate; it helps me be the best I can be."

The incident has changed Flanagan. A year ago, he was just a 21-year-old junior whose biggest worries were grades, saves, and where he was going to scuba dive or camp. Now he lives alone in his father's house. He has learned how to knock down walls and lay carpet. He has turned into a regular old handy man.

"I went, in one day, from being a 21-year-old to having enormous responsibility," said Flanagan, who is majoring in information systems and has a minor in sociology. "I had to deal with all the stuff of being his only biological son, going to the funeral home, taking care of $5,000 and $6,000 bills.

"It changed me a lot," Flanagan said. "I look at things in a different way. Things can change like that in a second. You always say you realize it, but you really don't until something dramatic happens, which happened to me. I take things one day at a time now."

UMBC coach Don Zimmerman has noticed the change. He related the experience of his own father's death five years ago to Flanagan. Zimmerman was 45. It was kind of hard to comprehend what was going through the mind of a 21-year-old.

"I felt for him," said Zimmerman, who along with several players called Flanagan right after learning about his father's death. "I don't know if there are any words to say, but you try to comfort him and show support, not just from the coach, but from the entire team because that's what a team is about. When I lost my father, that's when I grew up.

"No matter how old you get, you still have that parent-child relationship," Zimmerman said. "Then when you lose one, that's when you start to realize that your days on this earth are limited. Tim is a lot more grown up now. He has become one of the emotional leaders on our team."

It started against Army. A lot of goalkeepers are hot one day and cold the next, but the good ones are consistent. Flanagan has hit that level.

"He has played very well for us," Zimmerman said. "His good days easily outweigh his bad ones."

Flanagan has to have a good day today. Because of pure athleticism, the Tar Heels can grind a lot of teams down. UMBC has played well at times this season. The Retrievers had early leads against Rutgers and Massachusetts, both ranked No. 9 when UMBC played them, but the Retrievers lost their edge and both games in the second half.

UMBC, however, did hold on Wednesday to upset No. 9 Towson, and a win today would give the Retrievers some added confidence heading into the final three games against Navy, Delaware and Maryland.

"We've been taking it one game at a time, but that's what these late-season games are all about," Zimmerman said.

Flanagan said: "We have the talent for this program to take the next step and go on to the next level. We'll play Saturday and see what happens. Carolina has great athletes and they're a great team, but we're a great team, too."

Thanks in part to a pretty good goalkeeper, who has already come up a big winner.

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