Wednesday, March 19, 2008

To live and die in NCAA

The addiction to Kansas basketball started as it does with most, on my first trip to Allen Field House, the home of the Jayhawks.
I smelled popcorn as I walked past the security guard into the back entrance and clutching my trombone. It was the closest thing a band member ever came to being cool.
Students actually looked at me with envy, something I wasn't accustomed to while carrying my horn. I had a floor seat waiting for me, and all I would have to do to get it was play, something that in the past led to many of those students, or students like them, calling me a geek.
I nodded my head at the security guard as I walked on by. Just one the band members. Have a nice day.
I was still a little conflicted. I grew up hating the Jayhawks, as my parents both went to Missouri, Kansas' blood rival, and rooting for them seemed a little strange.
When I went my first tournament, against Indiana, I was no longer conflicted, but I wasn't entirely hooked yet, either. It was just something fun to do, and I was excited to get to see an NCAA tournament game live.
Now not only were strange students looking at me with envy, all of my dormmates were too.
Kansas went into the game as a heavy underdog. Indiana was the surprise No. 2 seed, as they finished the No. 2 team in the country, and not many gave us a chance as the No. 3 seed.
We started the game on a 26-5 run, and it was over in the first five minutes.
We played Arkansas next and its 40 minutes of hell, and the first half went just like everyone expected. The Razorbacks put us down by 12. But in the second half, we came out like lightning and won the game by 12. We outscored the top team in the country by 24 points.
Before the team came home to a packed Allen Field House, they allowed the band to run out to the floor and play a couple songs. We did, to bleacher-shaking screams, and when we played "In The Stone" by Earth, Wind and Fire, the place literally rocked.
I was no longer conflicted, and I was no longer indifferent.
I was in love.
The next year, we were heavy favorites to make the Final Four again, and it seemed like a lock after the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in our region were upset by the second round. I could taste a Final Four, and this year, I'd be able to go, as I was no longer a freshman and had first pick of the games I could attend and those I couldn't.
We went into the game against UTEP overconfident, but who could blame us, especially after last year?
It made the hurt that much sharper when the final seconds ticked down, and pretty soon, we all gathered in a circle as Roy Williams walked up the stairs and apologized for the loss, and I cried, hard.
My wife always wondered why I was so obsessed with Kansas basketball. She went to the University of Northern Colorado, a place that drew maybe 500 a game. I took to Allen one night over Christmas break, the only time it was possible to get tickets, and after the game she said, "I get it now."
Today starts another journey through the NCAA tournament, and loving Kansas basketball isn't much different than any other affair I've had. There's joy and moments of pure passion and searing heartbreak that stays with you forever.
Maybe she did get it that day, but I'm not so sure. I've sometimes wondered why I care so much about a team when it really has no affect on my daily life. The birth of my children, the day I got married and the day I had to leave the girl I was engaged all changed my life far more than the result of a basketball game.
Yet the games, especially this time of year, have stirred the same things I felt during those times.
The emotions are intoxicating, the memories invigorating, and they, just like the trombone, are a part of me.


kurokitty said...

Very nice! I guess it's similar growing up in North Carolina, being a freshman standing in front of the Dean Dome, watching players destined for the pros play a nasty no-ref pickup game at Carmichael Auditorium, a road win at Cameron. We even have Roy Williams in common! :)

Brooker Douglas said...

I don't seem to remember you hating KU as a kid. We were too into the Royals to really care, weren't we?