Archive for Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sports reporter glad he decided to attend KU’s Bowl game

January 9, 2008

I almost didn't go. This was the predominant thought in my mind as I sat in the Atlanta airport on a layover the day after the Orange Bowl.

And to think of everything I would have missed-the best football game I have ever watched in person, the biggest win in Kansas football history, and the romanticism of following your team across the country to root them on in a BCS game, to name a few-was enough to make me want to scream with content.

I had decided at the end of the semester at the University of Kansas, where I am a student and sports writer for the newspaper, not to attend.

The plane ticket/game ticket combination figured to decimate my bank account, to say nothing of hotel accommodations, meals and other ancillary costs. But it wasn't even that.

I just didn't think the Jayhawks could win. I had watched every game they had played over the last four years, and I just didn't think they had the talent to hang with Virginia Tech. I was asked on a sports talk radio show in Lawrence in December to handicap the game - I said Virginia Tech 24-13. I said the Hokies had too much speed.

I said we wouldn't be able to run the ball and would be forced to throw into an interception-happy defense. I gave supreme credence to my own opinion because I had gone 12-0 picking KU football games over the season for the University Daily Kansan and had been crowned the champion of the "Kick the Kansan" college football prognostication contest.

In short, I didn't want to travel from my hometown in northern Minnesota to southern Miami to watch my team get beat.

It was my mom, of all people, and as is often the case, who saved me. She prodded me before Christmas "Why aren't you going to the game?" "I can't believe you would miss this." And so on.

She ended up buying my plane and game tickets as a Christmas gift.

And don't get me wrong, I was excited to go. I was slated to meet my uncle, a KU alumnus, in Miami.

But my itinerary was ludicrous - leave Brainerd, Minn. on shuttle to Minneapolis at 12:45 a.m. on the day or the game, fly from Minneapolis to Atlanta at 6:00 a.m., fly from Atlanta to Miami at 1 p.m.

So when my uncle and I made it to Dolphin Stadium around 6 p.m. eastern time, I had not slept a wink.

We started out at the Budweiser Tailgate Party. For $20 admission, patrons were given the opportunity to buy overpriced hamburgers and beer and become inundated with advertising from Bud, Taco Bell, and various mobile carriers. But they did have a country music group that I had never heard of blaring from the speakers. So that's something. We left after 15 minutes.

I was fascinated by the Hokie/Jayhawk fan dynamic before the game. Instead of excessive trash talking, which I had expected with a late kickoff and lots of time to drink beforehand, the two contingents were generally cordial. My theory? Jayhawk fans were just happy to be there and Hokie fans didn't take our team seriously.

Once inside the stadium, we found our seats were surrounded by fellow KU fans - so we immediately made 10 close friends. As the game began to play out, I was shocked: instead of the Hokies overwhelming KU with their athleticism and speed, we overwhelmed them with our physicality and aggressive game plan.

My uncle and I went to get food at halftime, when KU led 17-7. We got caught in long lines waiting for food, and we didn't immediately return to our seats for the second half. Instead, we watched it on a big screen in a concourse restaurant. The Hokies scored a touchdown, shut the 'Hawks down, and then started marching again.

"We better get back," I said. As we rushed to our seats, the drive had stalled and the Hokies were kicking a field goal to tie the game. The kick was blocked. There was delirium. We were thanked and back slapped and hugged by our new friends in the surrounding seats. They thought our return had changed the momentum. We did too, frankly. We promised to stay in our seats the rest of the game.

Kansas scored again and held off a late charge to win. I wish all Jayhawk fans could have been in the stadium for what ensued - fireworks, tens of thousands of Kansas fans dancing in the aisles to the song "Celebrate Good Times," hugging, kissing, and crying. Some men took giant cigars from their pockets and lit them, silently taking in the scene with each puff, goose bumps no doubt proliferating on their necks.

Most Kansas fans congregated in one corner of the stadium, cheering on the players until they finally left the field. Mark Mangino and Aqib Talib were interviewed, their voices piped over the PA system and accompanied by cheers upon the conclusion of each sentence.

My buddy, the current sports editor for the University Daily Kansan who spent the week in Miami covering the game, wrote me this text after the game: "Yeah, I realized (stuff) had gotten out of hand when Sebelius almost nailed me in the head with an orange : she just got up on that podium with Talib and was just throwing oranges everywhere. Good times."

During the post-game melee, my uncle put his hand on my shoulder and said: "Soak this in. Remember it. This may never happen again for the rest of our lives."

He's right - I'll probably be telling my son in 25 years about how I watched the Kansas Jayhawks win the Orange Bowl in person. I get chills just writing the sentence. Thanks, Mom.

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