Wrapping up the sports season of a lifetime

Now that col­lege bas­ket­ball is over, I can mark the end of the most amaz­ing sport­ing sea­son I am like­ly to ever enjoy.

First the Red Sox win the World Series (again).  Then KU’s woe­ful col­lege foot­ball pro­gram pulls the most amaz­ing per­for­mance ever out of its col­lec­tive bum, ends the sea­son 12–1 with a vic­to­ry in a BCS Bowl… prob­a­bly the best KU foot­ball sea­son ever.  Then the Patri­ots make it all the way to the Super­bowl (where they lost, sure, but it was a fun sea­son to watch).  And final­ly, the KU men’s bas­ket­ball team goes all the way, win­ning the Nation­al Cham­pi­onship, and pos­si­bly com­plet­ing the best sea­son ever for KU’s sto­ried bas­ket­ball pro­gram.

It has been a lot of fun.  It’ll nev­er hap­pen again.  (Pos­si­bly because I’m trad­ing my base­ball fan­dom for a return to soc­cer.… base­ball has lost me with all the scan­dals.)

Thoughts I had while watching Kansas win

Watch­ing the game last night, there were a lot of non-game relat­ed things I want­ed to touch on.  This might be of more inter­est to those of you who haven’t been fol­low­ing KU bas­ket­ball all sea­son.

  • God.  In all the play­er inter­views before the game, dur­ing all the plays of the game, dur­ing all the cel­e­bra­tion after­wards, in all the arti­cles about the game, and even in what I saw of the post-game pressers, God was men­tioned three times.  Just three times.  I find that sur­pris­ing­ly low.
  1. Mario Chalmers point­ed to the sky a lit­tle while after his game-tying three point shot.  This is the clas­sic, “Thank you, God” ges­ture used in sports all over.  Or maybe he was point­ing to the Jum­botron.
  2. Ron­nie Chalmers, Mar­i­o’s Dad, car­ried a lit­tle bit of scrip­ture in his pock­et ((Source: Luke Win­n’s ESPN Tour­ney Blog, about halfway down the arti­cle)), and read it to him­self qui­et­ly towards the end of reg­u­la­tion.
  3. Cali­pari, the head coach of Mem­phis, told a reporter right after­wards that he told God, dur­ing Der­rick Rose’s one-of-two final free throw appear­ance, that if they both went in, it was meant to be, and if they did­n’t, it was not meant to be.
  • Ed High­tow­er was the Ref­er­ee for the game.  I remem­ber him well from our sev­en years in Iowa City.  His main stomp­ing grounds is the Big Ten, though he’s doing more games in the Big 12 (where we are now) late­ly.  Inci­den­tal­ly, he was also the Ref for the last time KU won the Big Dance, in 1988.
  • When they set out the lad­ders for the net snip­ping, the lad­der was rather mod­est­ly embla­zoned with the com­pa­ny’s name, Wern­er.  They did get a Greg Gum­bel announce­ment as the Offi­cial Lad­der of the NCAA Tour­na­ment, but real­ly, I would have made sure the cheap seats knew who made the lad­der.  And nobody fell off.
  • Relat­ed ques­tion: who makes the scis­sors that are used?  Those things are sharp.
  • Anoth­er relat­ed ques­tion: Do the ladder/scissor com­pa­nies cheat?  Like how burg­ers in com­mer­cials are faked up to look bet­ter than they are in real­i­ty.  Are the steps gummed up to ensure nobody slips?  Are the scis­sors ground extra-sharp, to a lev­el no home­own­er would be allowed to have?
  • Bill Self, the KU coach, is report­ed­ly going to be offered the Okla­homa State coach­ing job (his alma mater) for some­thing like $3.5 mil­lion a year with a $6 mil­lion sign­ing bonus.  That’s $10 mil­lion for show­ing up for a year.  Most peo­ple seem to believe he will stay at Kansas, but get a nice salary bump from his cur­rent $1.4 mil­lion annu­al­ly.
  • How classy is Roy Williams (coach of Car­oli­na, for­mer 15-year coach of KU)?  He stuck around for this game, and even allowed a Jay­hawk stick­er be stuck to his black sweater.  He even wore it dur­ing a half­time CBS inter­view.  I think any ani­mos­i­ty Lawrence had for him is gone now.
  • It took a lit­tle while for arti­cles about the game to get pub­lished, but sev­er­al were out with­in hours of the end of the game.  Which means these sports­writ­ers must have notes, ideas, even par­tial arti­cles writ­ten before the game even begins, right?  A col­lec­tion of these “What if” drafts could be fas­ci­nat­ing for a sports fan to read.
  • There’s only one Luther Van­dross song I can stand ((Offi­cial CBS crap­py con­troller with com­mer­cial, or Unof­fi­cial YouTube sure to be pulled edi­tion)).
  • We will prob­a­bly pick up some sort of Cham­pi­onship DVD Com­mem­o­ra­tive Video Pack­age Sea­son Thing when they come out.  I nev­er did under­stand that.  But hav­ing watched these kids for two years, hav­ing watched every game this sea­son, know­ing their sto­ries and watch­ing them play last night, I think I’d like to watch it again in five, ten, fif­teen years.

We watched KU win the National Championship

We watched the game at home, live (not delayed via TiVo), as it tipped late enough that we were done with all par­ent­ing duties.  Our boys were tucked safe­ly in their beds, dreams of Jay­hawks danc­ing through their heads.  They both wore their new KU shirts to school, and the lit­tlest one (he’s 22 months old) insist­ed on show­ing every­one his “J Awk,” even if that meant tak­ing his hood­ie off repeat­ed­ly.

We were hop­ing to watch in HD and lis­ten to the local guys on the radio, but when we start­ed the game, the video was behind the audio by almost five sec­onds.  That means the “shot was good!” before the play had even been set up on screen.  Some­thing hap­pened at half time though, and it was all synced up, so we got local col­or for the sec­ond half and the over­time.  The local announc­ers are so delight­ful­ly biased (and I still believe Pack­er and Nance were entranced by the idea of Mem­phis) that it makes up for their being fur­ther from the floor/booth stats.

Watch­ing this game was awe­some.  It was just the two of us, Sweet­ie and I, but we were up and down, ner­vous, groan­ing, I know I cursed at the screen repeat­ed­ly, Sweet­ie was tense, lit­er­al­ly on the edge of her seat.  We could hard­ly believe it when Chalmers’ shot went in, and when it was all over we rushed out­side to hear the scream­ing and honk­ing and fire­works from down­town.

Then we watched it over again (thanks to TiVo) with the TV audio, just to see it once more.

Here are my thoughts on the game.  Please note, you may have to know some­thing about bas­ket­ball, col­lege bas­ket­ball, and/or KU bas­ket­ball to grok much of this.  Sor­ry.

  • Here in Lawrence they are call­ing it “Mario and the Mir­a­cle,” a ref­er­ence to KU’s last cham­pi­onship team, dubbed “Dan­ny and the Mir­a­cles” after Dan­ny Man­ning (now a KU assis­tant coach).  But I much pre­fer the sim­pler, more apt, “Super Mario.”  In my two pal­try years in Lawrence, I’ve seen Mario Chalmers take a clutch shot like that a num­ber of times.  And not one arti­cle before the game, not a sin­gle one from the Nation­al Media, sin­gled him out as any­thing oth­er than part of a guard four­some.
  • All sea­son, Hell, all of his two years, Dar­rell Arthur has been hailed as this great, ath­let­ic, won­der boy.  All of his two years I have failed to see it.  Some games he has been good, even great.  Most games he lets balls slip through his fin­gers, he fouls a lot, he con­tributes a few points.  But this game he was excel­lent.  20 points and 10 rebounds, and a cool hand from start to fin­ish.  His poten­tial is so high that he’ll prob­a­bly jump to the NBA, but this was an excel­lent part­ing per­for­mance.
  • Sher­ron Collins, instru­men­tal in the game, is a play­er I love and hate.  I cussed him up and down the floor both in this game and the Car­oli­na game on Sat­ur­day.  He is mad­den­ing­ly bull­head­ed, but mad-skilled, and for every time he dri­ves the lane against four guys and los­es the ball, or pass­es to nobody, or drib­bles it off a team­mate’s foot, there are those times he strips the ball, weaves the trees for a score, or drains a  three at the cru­cial time.  One more year in school and he will be some­thing to see.
  • How impor­tant was the review of that three-point­er?  If the offi­cials did­n’t have the abil­i­ty to go back and exam­ine that play, KU los­es and the game gets a huge aster­isk (at least, here in Lawrence).
  • Only one ana­lyst gave KU the nod before the game.  Jay Bilas, of ESPN, has been pick­ing KU since Octo­ber.  Every time he was asked about it dur­ing the tour­na­ment, he reaf­firmed his pick.  Right before the game, he said it again, though he hedged his bet a lit­tle.  Hats off to him.
  • They are call­ing this team the best team KU has ever pro­duced, and they are call­ing KU “Bas­ket­bal­l’s most sto­ried pro­gram.”  That makes this the best team ever from bas­ket­bal­l’s most sto­ried pro­gram, in case you were won­der­ing.

This may have been the most fun I have ever had watch­ing sports, right up there with Argenti­na’s win in the World Cup Final in 1986.

Preparing for the Big Game

Tonight is the Final game of the 2008 NCAA Men’s Bas­ket­ball Tour­na­ment.  The Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas, where I live (and where I am new­ly employed!) is play­ing in this game, against the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mem­phis.  Tip off is at 8:21 pm, our time.  That means the boys will be in bed, and we can watch it live, with the radio guys announc­ing along­side.

I am ter­ri­bly ner­vous.  Our game on Sat­ur­day was awe­some, and fright­en­ing, and shows exact­ly what our team can do, both good and bad.  We need the good to show up tonight, not the bad.

I am doing what I can to help them.  I am wear­ing a new t‑shirt today, but I’ll put the oth­er one on before the game.  That’s the one I’ve worn for each game this Tour­na­ment.  The boys both have new t‑shirts they are wear­ing (I think I have yet to see a sin­gle per­son today who is not wear­ing some sort of KU mer­chan­dise).  We have our flag out front (the house came with a flag sock­et).  I have a new hat (one that fits, yay).

It’s all I can do, except wish them luck.

Skipping my first day of work

Today was to be my first day at work. But I resigned from that job this past Fri­day. Because I have anoth­er new job now.

The big news first, I guess. I have secured an hon­est-to-good­ness, full-time job at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas. First, I’d like to thank my moth­er, who pro­vides the open­ing ice­break­er for all my inter­views. When they read my appli­ca­tion and call me Robert, I tell them to call me Dan­ny. Then I say with a smile, “I blame my moth­er, for nam­ing me one thing and call­ing me anoth­er.”

I’d also like to thank my ref­er­ences, who always tell me they sing my prais­es from the top of the near­est moun­tain. Except for Tobias, who always tells me he tells them I’m a right bas­tard. But I think he’s lying to me. Thank you, Colette, Mol­ly, and Den­ny. And Tobias, sure.

Here’s how it played out.

Back in Jan­u­ary I applied for two KU jobs at rough­ly the same time.  One was a half-time posi­tion.  But that’s what you do when you’ve been look­ing for work for ten months.  You apply for every­thing.

Two months lat­er, after hear­ing very lit­tle from those jobs (so go the wheels of HR in High­er Edu­ca­tion), the half-time job called me.  They want­ed to hire me.  Yay!  But I had to tell them that, since apply­ing, we had decid­ed to put our lit­tlest boy in the most expen­sive day­care (that’s how we roll), and the half-time salary (which was gen­er­ous for half-time) was not enough.  I could take the job, but they had to know I would con­tin­ue look­ing for full-time work.  They were incred­i­bly gen­er­ous and kind, said that would be fine, and start­ed work­ing hard to find anoth­er half-time posi­tion to make up the dif­fer­ence.  In the mean­time, I signed a let­ter to start work­ing for them half-time.  Today was to be my first day.

Then last week it all bub­bled up.  The half-time job found full-time fund­ing (by adding half-time in anoth­er unit) and the full-time job inter­viewed me and almost imme­di­ate­ly offered me a job.  It took some delib­er­a­tion, but in the end the new job won out.

It was a very sur­re­al Fri­day last week.  I heard from the new job that they want­ed me, and I accept­ed.  I called HR to ask how to resign a job I had not yet start­ed.  “I don’t want KU to have to cut me a check for $8,” I said.  The HR woman thought for a sec­ond, and said, “Well, if you don’t show up for work…”  Prob­lem solved.

Then I emailed the orig­i­nal job’s two direc­tors (the two half-times) that I was quit­ting, which seemed an odd thing to do since I had­n’t start­ed, real­ly.  Through it all, their staff has been so kind, and under­stand­ing, and gen­er­ous with their time and effort.  I am gen­uine­ly sor­ry that I won’t be work­ing with them.

I’d spent ten months get­ting reject­ed and reject­ed, after work­ing at places where peo­ple loved me (well, except for Tobias!), and it has been so nice to have peo­ple want me again.

I am excit­ed to start work­ing.  This week­end we went and bought a ton of clothes for me (to replace two years of jeans and t‑shirts).  I am excit­ed to have col­leagues again, and to be part of a Uni­ver­si­ty com­mu­ni­ty again.  And I know things will have to change (I’ll have to get up ear­li­er, for one) but it will be nice to have the mon­ey num­bers going up, instead of down.

Yay me!

KU plays the game of its life to get to the NCAA Final

Best head­line so far this morn­ing is from the local guys, “KU cools heels.”  Fol­lowed close­ly by the sub­head, “Kansas beats tar out of UNC.”  I’m sure sports­writ­ers who cov­er Car­oli­na all the time have used these before, but this was my first expo­sure to it.

In case you missed it, read this recap of the game by Stew­art Man­del of SI.  And this arti­cle by Pat Forde of ESPN is an excel­lent sum­ma­ry of the good and the bad of the game.

We could hard­ly believe it.  Those first fif­teen min­utes were pure agony.  Kansas end­ed that run up 40–12, and Tiffany and I were hor­ri­fied.  All sea­son we have had a way of blow­ing huge leads like that, of get­ting incred­i­bly slop­py and near­ly los­ing games.  Of show­ing how ter­ri­bly imma­ture we can be.  So a lead like that ter­ri­fied us.  And right­ly so.

But unlike all those years at Iowa, when Steve Alford would take a bad sit­u­a­tion, coach his guys, and make it worse, Bill Self is actu­al­ly a good coach.  He reset the game after UNC’s stun­ning come­back, and had the guys play­ing well again.

I admit that I have not seen Mem­phis play all year, but from what I read and hear, they can beat us.  And maybe they even should beat us.  Just like Car­oli­na.

On the “We Hate Roy Williams” front, even after being beat­en by his for­mer team, he report­ed­ly spent a while on the Riv­er Walk in San Anto­nio last night, pos­ing for pic­tures with Kansas fans and even spend­ing a lit­tle time at a Kansas-fest­ed restau­rant, chat­ting with any and all.  If noth­ing else, that shows the idio­cy of this sup­posed bit­ter­ness.

See you Mon­day night (or Tues­day morn­ing, more like).

In the Final Four: thoughts on the Tournament so far

So, Kansas made it into the Final Four.  Bare­ly. ((We won 59–57 ver­sus a tal­ent­ed David­son team that deserved more than a 10-seed, if I do say so myself.  Here’s a good sum­ma­ry of the game.)) It has been an enter­tain­ing tour­na­ment so far, though there have been few bright spots.  In fact, Kansas is respon­si­ble for snuff­ing one of those bright spots out, the David­son team was a Cin­derel­la for the ages in the mak­ing.

But now that all the #1 seeds have made it to the Final Four (for the first time, ever) we should have a lot of com­pet­i­tive bas­ket­ball to watch next week­end.

Here are a few of my thoughts so far.

  • I’m wear­ing my Kansas shirt for every game.  It’s not that I’m super­sti­tious, but just in case.  Plus, Rus­sell Robin­son, one of our seniors, asked the fans, “we need you to wear your lucky socks, wear your lucky shirt … what­ev­er you do to help us win the games, you’ve got to con­tin­ue to do that the rest of the sea­son.”  So I am.
  • I’m doing a lot of laun­dry, as a result.
  • I’m think­ing about buy­ing a flag­pole and a flag, too.  Band­wag­on!
  • My sports year con­tin­ues to be charmed.  The Red Sox win the World Series.  KU’s foot­ball pro­gram goes 10–1, then wins the Orange Bowl.  The Patri­ots make it to the Super­bowl.  And now KU makes it to the Final Four.  I should clear­ly enjoy it now, as this will nev­er hap­pen again.
  • I see Steve Alford got a con­tract exten­sion (to the 2015–2016 sea­son) at New Mex­i­co.  And they are wel­come to him.  “Until the walls and rafters ring! Go Hawks!” ((That’s from the Iowa fight song.))
  • We (KU, that is) played pret­ty bad­ly in the last game vs. David­son.  The pun­dits said the team was “tight.”  I say they were bad.  Except for the big Russ­ian.  Go Sha­ka Kaun! ((Yes, that’s a joke, his name is Sasha Kaun, but the announc­ers test­ed call­ing him Cha­ka Khan for a while.  It flopped.))
  • I’m afraid North Car­oli­na is going to crush us.  We can beat them, but we have to have a per­fect game.  At least it should make good Tv.  News arti­cles have been call­ing it Roy Williams’ night­mare. ((Because he coached KU for fif­teen years before jump­ing to UNC, his alma mater.))
  • This arti­cle at ESPN.com on pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for the Tour­na­ment is a fun read now that it is almost over.  It helps if you’ve been watch­ing, of course.

Your thoughts?  Are you even watch­ing bas­ket­ball, or are you all “Iron Chef is the best, man!”  ;)

Time to move on from college football

I like col­lege foot­ball. I also like the NFL (this may make me unwel­come in some places, but there it is), but there’s some­thing about the semi-pro nature of col­lege foot­ball, and the sheer num­ber of pro­grams, and the rival­ries, and the radio announc­ers, and the ter­ri­bly flawed bowl system(s, past and present)… it is messy, but some­times out of the mess comes some­thing as won­der­ful and fun as the 2007 sea­son was for us, here at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas.

It start­ed with a cream­puff non-con­fer­ence sched­ule that was delight­ful to watch, as we piled up points and yards and spec­tac­u­lar plays on unsus­pect­ing teams. Nobody thought much of it, but it was fun for us. But when KU start­ed win­ning con­fer­ence games (albeit with­out meet­ing any high cal­iber teams like Texas, Okla­homa, or Mis­souri), it got even more fun. We nev­er got much nation­al media atten­tion until this last week before the Mis­souri game, but that was fine. We did spawn a nick­name, the Fight­ing Mangi­nos, as well as some unmen­tion­able t‑shirt slo­gans, and the Gov­er­nor of Kansas was the guest of hon­or in our Home­com­ing Parade (that did­n’t hap­pen at Iowa). The whole town had fun with it.

We were lucky enough to be in Iowa in 2002 ((Wikipedia has a pret­ty com­plete page on the 2002 Iowa Hawkeyes)), when they had their excel­lent sea­son that end­ed 11–2. And now we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy this sea­son at KU. A sea­son which will hope­ful­ly end 12–1, not 11–2. No offense to the Iowa team (which had play­ers the likes of Dal­las Clark, Bob Sanders, and Nate Kaed­ing), but the bowl game in 2002 was dis­as­trous. I hope for bet­ter from KU this year. At least Iowa lost the game to Car­son Palmer and USC (my moth­er’s always-root-for team).

The game in Kansas City this past week­end was dif­fi­cult to watch, though we are glad we stuck with it, as the team did account for itself well in the last twen­ty min­utes of reg­u­la­tion. We switched to the radio announc­ers at half­time, even with the HD video being about twen­ty sec­onds behind the radio (it was like always-on instant replay!), and we had a much bet­ter time, despite the los­ing part. But now it is over.

Every­one here in Lawrence is very hap­py for the foot­ball team, and very con­grat­u­la­to­ry on their sea­son (despite send­ing impos­tors out for the first half against Mis­souri… real­ly, we could have won that game). And every­one is, en masse, turn­ing to bas­ket­ball.

There’s anoth­er unde­feat­ed team in town.

This game is proving hard to watch

Third quar­ter. This is awful. KU is play­ing like the team they were last year. Mis­souri is play­ing as adver­tised. I have offered a cou­ple of times to stop watch­ing and put on this week’s Sur­vivor instead. A Miz­zou fan holds up the best sign of the game, “Kansas Foot­ball, a Tra­di­tion since Sep­tem­ber.” I can laugh at it because it’s fun­ny. The KU radio guys are say­ing that KU has to be per­fect from here on out to win. The score is 28–7 Mis­souri, and my wife adds, “And what, Mis­souri is going to have to go home?”