I am an American male – so therefore, I am a sports fan. And I admit it. I like to watch sports on television and live. It’s an entertainment, beauty and skill… it’s a demonstration of man’s abilities to exceed his putative limitations… and it’s something that there is no way to know the outcome ahead of time.
Now, I do believe in cheering for the teams that represent the city that you live in. Here in Dallas, there is an extra lift in the steps of the folks on Monday after the Cowboys win the weekend before – and that is a good thing. Otherwise, though, I try my best to avoid the trap of rabid fandom, of believing that the winner or loser of a sporting event is important beyond the game itself. I try, but I am not always successful.
The one team that I am an admitted fan of is the Kansas Jayhawk Basketball team. I feel that is my right, as I did graduate from there and it is a team with support, future, and history that deserves and rewards this fandom.
I thought of all this Monday night as I wasted too much time watching the Kansas/Baylor game on television. It was a home game for the Jayhawks and Allen Field House was rocking – they said on television that the crown noise was at 114 decibels. Kansas was ranked seventh in the nation and Baylor was third and undefeated.
It was not a very good game for anyone other than Kansas fans – KU pretty much stomped all over the Bears, the game was not in doubt after the half.
Photo by Nick Krug from Kusports.com.
Thinking about it, I remembered about another Kansas/Baylor basketball game, in 2007. It is impossible for me to get tickets to home Kansas games, but living in Texas enables me to see an away game every now and then. At that time Nick was a KU fan too and we drove down to Waco. I wrote about it in my blog back then:
Hey, over here!
Have your picture taken with a
Today only, we’ll throw in a
free autograph! But wait,
—-Thomas Pynchon, The Simpsons
When I went from high school to college I knew nothing about basketball. Actually, we played basketball, but at ANS it was played outside, in the tropical heat, on a concrete court with no spectators and no players over six feet tall. Once I arrived at KU I was convinced to buy student tickets to the basketball season, though I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.
It was amazing. The excitement and the sound were something I had never experienced before and have never experienced since.
In those simpler days tickets at KU were twenty dollars a season and, though some hardy souls would hang out to get better seats you could walk up at game time and sit in the rafters of Allen Field House. What I liked the most was the ebb and flow of the games – how one team would eke out a lead and then the other would go on a run. The whole thing was driven by emotion, fear, and confidence. Those were only kids out there, after all, and were obviously susceptible to the foibles of us all.
Several months ago, Nick and I noticed that the KU Jayhawks would be playing a Wednesday evening game in Waco against Baylor and before Christmas I bought a pair of tickets from their web site. Late January seemed a long time in the future, but time flies and here we were. Nick skipped soccer practice to get out of school a bit early and I took a half day of vacation. The trip was easy – I have made that drive to Waco a thousand times but I was worried about parking. I shouldn’t have given it a second thought – the basketball fanaticism in Waco isn’t as strong as I feared (not too surprising, given their sordid recent past) and parking was not only plentiful and close, but free (I’ve lived in the big city too long… free parking is a rare treat).
The game was, as expected, a blowout win for Kansas. The facility was beautiful, though not nearly half full. There seemed to be as many Kansas fans as Baylor fans in the place. With home tickets so difficult to get, KU fans do tend to pack in the visiting arenas. Near the end of the game the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant was really obvious, especially around our seating section. A Baylor student behind us shouted, “But what does it mean?”
For Christmas, Candy ordered a KU basketball for Nick. When it arrived, I noticed that half the ball was covered with white leather. “That’s not a ball for playing,” I said, “That’s for getting autographs.” Nick decided to take the ball to Waco and see if he could get someone on the team to autograph it. Now, I know nothing about getting autographs – didn’t even know if it was possible. After the game, we fetched the ball and a black sharpie and walked around the arena. In the back was a steep driveway full of television trucks and littered with thick cables. At the top of the driveway was a couple of long-haul buses, idling, air brakes hissing, their cargo holds open and full of athletic bags. There was another family standing there, two kids, one with a ball like Nick’s, the other a poster.
“This must be the place,” I said, and, sure enough, one by one the players came hiking up the driveway, each carrying a pizza box. They all looked exhausted, most limping, but were very friendly and accommodating to the three kids that wanted autographs. A couple of walk-ons were first and they seemed really happy to have someone ask for an autograph. Then the starters started coming out and signing Nick’s basketball. A center, Sasha Kaun, from Russia, signed and Nick said, “I’m used to tall players, there’s some high school players almost seven feet tall, but his hands were huge. When he took the pen out of my hand I couldn’t believe how big it was.”
We stood out there for almost an hour and collected autographs from all the players on the team, plus Danny Manning, and head coach Self. It had worked out perfectly with the players stringing out over time, in no real hurry to board the bus, and only three kids standing there. They were quiet but all did talk a little; they kept asking the kid with the poster, “Where’s me?” so they could sign in the right place.
After the last signature we hiked back to the parking lot while the bus pulled out. When I was in school I had a Center from the basketball team in my 7AM Analytical Chemistry lab and he would be so worn out during the season – arriving back from west coast games and going immediately to class for the next day.
We had it a little easier and made it home around one in the morning.
Unfortunately, I cannot find any of the pictures I took of Nick getting the ball signed. I wasted most of this evening digging through my backup files… I’m afraid they are lost. I had good pictures of him with both Danny Manning and Coach Self.
This was in 2007, the team won the national championship the next year. The championship team’s signatures are all on the ball except for Cole Aldrich.
Nick was a fan of Kansas Basketball for his whole life up until his senior year in high school. Over time, he built up a nice collection of Kansas Basketball memorabilia with the autographed ball as the most prized item.
Then he applied for early consideration to Duke University. For those of you that don’t know American Basketball, Duke is another of the elite Basketball schools.
I was in Seattle on business and on a plane flying back when the decision would come down on whether Nick would get into Duke or not. When I arrived home, I looked in my office and there was a pile of Kansas stuff that Nick had hauled out of his room and heaped up on the floor. The signed ball was on top.
So I knew he had got into Duke.