Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kansas national title win was amazing game to watch in person

April 9, 2008

My mouth is bone-dry. I run my tongue across my chapped lips. My hands are shaking and my head is pounding. Throbbing. My face is red. I'm sitting down. Then standing up. Then kicking the plastic chair in front of me.

I'm swearing. Then praying. Then pleading. Then closing my eyes. I am in utter agony.

And my heart. Lord, my heart.

And there was Mario.

I am in the second row of the third level of the Alamodome on Monday night in San Antonio. The Kansas Athletics Department has shipped the students to the top of the arena to make way for the high-paying customers below. But we aren't deterred.

We are yelling, cheering, Rock Chalking. We are questioning referees and double guessing coaches. We are loud. So loud. My ears are throbbing.

With a little more than two minutes left and down by nine, I had checked out mentally. I was elsewhere, thinking about the drive back to Kansas the next day and wasted opportunities. I wasn't devastated. I was resigned.

But then Sherron Collins hit the three with just under two minutes left and Darrell Arthur hit the jumper less than a minute later. All of a sudden it was 62-60. Memphis couldn't hit a free throw. I begin thinking about Memphis John Calipari, who had repeatedly told media during the tournament that his team's free throw woes were nothing to worry about.

But I still didn't believe. When Derrick Rose hit one of two free throws to put Memphis up by three with nine seconds left, I was just happy to have a chance to tie. When a dribbling Collins tripped and shoveled the ball awkwardly to Chalmers, it had to be over. Had to be.

The game was moving in slow motion in the upper deck. Every second played out like a Shakespearian play. And this one would end in tragedy.

When Mario managed to get the shot off with two Tigers defenders in his face, the ball hung in the air for 10 minutes.

Wrist flicks, off the fingers, up, up, up, arc, on line, arc, arc, it could, down, down, down, does it have the distance, approaching the bucket, down; SWISH.

Pandemonium. It sounds like something has exploded in the student section. Screaming. I jump high into the air and my right ankle comes down on the plastic seat in front of me. I jump again and a searing pain shoots through me as a friend catches me in midair and swings me. People are hugging and kissing and high fiving.

We are hugging everyone we came with and everyone else. Utter and complete shock. We can't believe it.

Jubilation. Ecstasy. A new lease on life.

And the game isn't over. We are going to overtime.

Kansas dominates the extra period. We are still loud, but we are in a shocked stupor. I keep turning to my buddy C.J. and saying, "How is this game still going?" Or "This is ridiculous." Ridiculous in a sweet way that only incomprehensible things going your way can be.

When the final horn sounded there was more celebrating. I just stood there shaking my head. I had just witnessed something that my mind wouldn't accept. How did we win that game? What had I seen? I kept looking at the scoreboard. It said 75-68, Kansas. 0:00. It had a graphic that said "Kansas Jayhawks 2008 National Champions."

National Championships have a strange way of getting a man to think of fate and destiny. I thought of college and life and sports and the summit of the mountain. I was motionless and warm tears streamed down my face. I wasn't ashamed.

This was the last college game I would attend as a student. In my future, I will cover events like this as a reporter. I will be expected to be detached and reticent and stoic and discerning. I will be expected to be professional. A journalist.

Tonight I was savoring one more day as a kid in the stands. I know there were a lot of older people who would also feel like children on this night.

A fan. And all the glory and joy that went with it.

I finally got my act together after the post-game presentations inside the arena. We walked out. I had brought a cigar. But without pretension. This baby wasn't going to be smoked without a victory. It was headed to the nearest trash receptacle otherwise. I lit it and my buddy Ryan lit his. I passed mine to C.J. and our other friend Shannon so they could taste what victory tasted like. The four of us walked down the streets as champions. High fiving everyone in sight. Singing the "Rock Chalk" chant.

We went down to the River Walk and celebrated until they kicked us out well past regular closing time. The bar was packed and everyone was friends. I was happy that we no longer had to put up with the snobby UCLA fans or the entitled North Carolina fans. Our party had no problem with the Memphis folks, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Just Kansas fans on this night. We drank and laughed and yelled next to a river in southern Texas. Together. As Champions.

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