By Brendan Loy
Just over a month ago now, DU Bally and I set out on an Excellent Adventure, an odyssey of open-road travel and (barely) above-the-Red Line basketball that took us to two separate Mountain West games, involving two Top Ten teams, in two different states, in the space of less than 3 1/2 hours. It was the most awesome hoops-related thing I’ve done since BracketBusters 2006. It was so much fun. And although it’s taken me a while to do a full write-up due to a busy February, it deserves such a post before my memories fade.
At the heart of the adventure was, obviously, basketball. But years from now, when Colorado State’s bid for a 2011 NCAA Tournament bid is consigned to the dustbin of history, when San Diego State is back to being a perennial bubble team or worse, when “The Jimmer” is just another hazily remembered sweet shooter of NCAA lore alongside Steph Curry and Adam Morrison and the rest, I think the thing I’ll remember most from the Excellent Adventure might be… this:
It may not have the same effect on all of you, but for me, that video — taken by my iPhone, nestled on my dashboard as I drove — is mesmerizing. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps the slightly off-kilter camera angle is part of its appeal. A bigger part is simply the gorgeous visuals: the stunning landscape of southeastern Wyoming speeding by, the dormant midwinter grass lit up by the setting sun to an almost overworldly yellow-orange hue — but most of all, those wispy, insubstantial filaments of blowing snow, dancing across the otherwise pristine, frozen blacktop, dry and powdery to the point of appearing nearly substanceless in the frigid, 15-below-zero degree air outside. I’ve never seen blowing snow behave quite that way before, and the sight was breathtaking; it’s the reason I took the video in the first place. (Skip ahead to around the 1:20 mark for the best blowing-snow segment.)
Then there’s the music: “The Man Comes Around” and “Easy Silence,” two very different songs, but somehow both very appropriate to the scene. And of course there’s the droning hum of road noise, a reminder that this isn’t some heavily edited highlight reel, but a video snapshot of real life. Note also the absence of conversation over the music and the road drone, a sure sign that this was a solitary road trip — just me, all alone with my thoughts (and my stuffed basketball, and my country music playlist in random shuffle mode — hence Johnny Cash followed by the Dixie Chicks).
I think all of that adds up to the real reason I like the clip so much: not just because of what it shows, but because of what it evokes. It’s like a video postcard from The Road, that plain, romantic black ribbon of asphalt about which so much has been written by so many writers more talented than I, from Jack Kerouac to mid-major basketball’s facsimile thereof, Hoops Nation’s traveling philosopher-poet-journalist Kyle Whelliston, whose travels helped inspire my Excellent Adventure in the first place. There’s just something wildly evocative and endlessly memorable about the feeling of hurtling down the interstate, inside a small automotive bubble of warmth surrounded by impossibly cold Arctic air, all by my lonesome, in the middle of freakin’ nowhere, busting through those filaments of snow and speeding toward Laramie, the Dome of Doom and The Jimmer.
It’s a feeling and a memory I won’t soon forget, even once the day comes when I can’t remember the name of the SDSU player whose dagger with 1.8 seconds left sunk Colorado State (D.J. Gay) or the Wyoming coach who was fired shortly after I witnessed the first half of his team’s near-upset of BYU (Heath Schroyer). Don’t get me wrong, the basketball was great (well – some of it). But above all, Brendan & Bally’s Excellent Adventure was a glorious road trip. Objectively, it was rather foolish and silly and pointless (and used a lot of gas). It was also unforgettable.
The genesis of the Excellent Adventure was a screwup. I had intended to go to Colorado State’s Moby Arena with my parents, who were visiting from Connecticut, on Saturday, January 22, to watch The Jimmer in action. But I dawdled in buying tickets, and before I got around to it, the game sold out. So I missed the chance to see Fredette go off for 42 points in a tight BYU win over the Rams. Dammit!
I felt strongly that I needed to go see Jimmer before the season was out. But BYU’s game at Air Force on February 9 was inconveniently timed, and I had already bought a ticket to go see then-undefeated San Diego State at CSU on February 2, the night of BYU’s game at Wyoming. Things looked bleak for my intended rendezvous with Jimmermania.
But then I looked at the scheduled game times for February 2, and realized I could potentially go to both games — BYU-Wyoming in Laramie, SDSU-CSU in Fort Collins — if I was willing to miss some action, and attempt a crazy fast drive in between. I originally thought there was a 2-hour gap between the tipoff times; I eventually learned it was just an hour and 15 minutes. Still, that made it possible, in theory, to see the first half of BYU-Wyoming and the second half of SDSU-CSU. After a few days of deliberation, I decided to do it. I contacted the Wyoming SID’s office, which had previously agreed to credential me for the Denver-Wyoming game in December (which I ultimately was unable to attend), to see if they’d give me a press pass again. They graciously agreed, and voila, I had a spot on press row at the Arena-Auditorium for BYU-Wyoming at 6:00, and a seat in Section B at Moby Arena for SDSU-CSU at 7:15.
The only remaining obstacle was the weather. My plans were touch-and-go for a while, as the massive early-February blizzard that crippled the Midwest and Northeast started its life by dumping snow on Denver and the Front Range late Monday, January 31 and early Tuesday, February 1 — and then ushered in a bitterly cold Arctic air mass in its wake. I was afraid the snow, with no chance to melt, would not be sufficiently cleared off the roads by Wednesday to make the Excellent Adventure safely possible, given how fast I’d need to drive between the two games.
But by Wednesday morning, Denver’s major roads were in pretty good shape, and it was clear from traffic cams that the roads up north were pristine — they hadn’t gotten as much snow up there. The only issue was, it would be really, really, really freakin’ cold. But the road conditions were fine. So the Excellent Adventure was a go.
After working from home Wednesday morning, I started packing up and getting ready to leave in the afternoon. As I was getting ready, I tweeted a photo of DU Bally standing next to a literal “Red Line,” captioned, “Almost ready to jump across!”
I hit the road shortly before 3:00, stopping first to get gas, then broadcasting live video to my Excellent Adventure liveblog as I jumped on the I-25 North to the strains of Johnny Cash playing from my iPhone:
The one concession I made to the weather was a decision to take I-25 north to Cheyenne and then I-80 west to Laramie, instead of cutting across on US-287, which is 25 miles shorter and, according to Google Maps, roughly 15 minutes quicker. But I couldn’t be as certain of the road conditions on Route 287 — and also, I was more worried about being in the absolute middle of nowhere, in the bitter cold, if my car were to break down on that road, as opposed to on the interstate. As for the timing, I figured I could make up most of the 15 minutes by staying on the interstate and speeding a bit (for which I was later chided). So I hit the road for Cheyenne.
On the drive north, I tweeted several audio clips in lieu of text updates on my progress. Here’s the first one:
As it turned out, I would have quite a bit more free time when I arrived in Laramie than I anticipated at the time of that audio clip. But we’ll get to that. Anyway, here’s clip #2, clip #3 and clip #4. And finally, the most entertaning one, clip #5:
As that clip relates, at the very moment that I was finishing up the recording of clip #4, I saw a cop car with flashing lights suddenly appearing behind me and speeding toward me, and I was briefly in a veritable #PANIC that I was going to be pulled over for speeding. However, the cop car got in the left lane, pulled up right next to me and a bit past me, then slowed down abruptly, pulled into one of those special police-only U-turn thingies in the middle of the freeway, and started rocketing south on the other side of I-25, presumably to catch a speeder or some such law violator heading southbound. #UNPANIC! :)
At 3:55 PM, I passed the Fort Collins exit. I entered Wyoming at 4:18 PM, and managed to tweet a photo of the state-line sign at 4:20 (hey, there was nobody on the road!). A few minutes later, I exited the I-25 North and got on the I-80 West — and that’s when things got really beautiful.
I already talked about this at the beginning of the post, but the blowing snow was really breathtaking — and its beauty somehow emphasized just how inhospitable the outside was, with temperatures in the negative double digits, and wind chills of God-knows-what. Inside the cocoon of my warm car (actually Becky’s car; I took the Mazda instead of the Camry because I figured it was less likely to break down in the freezing middle of nowhere), knowing how incredibly cold it was outside, I felt almost like a spaceship flying through the lonely, hostile vacuum of space, or perhaps the inhospitable atmosphere of an alien planet, with instant doom to follow if a window were to open.
That feeling might have intensified if I’d noticed that, during the course of the trip, the longstanding crack on Becky’s windshield significantly expanded, presumably due to the bitter cold. I didn’t notice its expansion until the next day, but looking at pictures that I snapped out the windshield while driving north on the almost-empty highway, you can clearly see that the crack was expanding during my drive. #RetroactivePANIC!
Anyway, let me just say another word about the grass along the side of the highway. You saw it in the video at the top of this post, and again in the picture at right, but neither does it justice. The color was almost neon- or radioactive-looking. It was just a bizarre, freakish, beautiful hue, made all the moreso by the dusting of white snow and the brilliant blue sky. Simply gorgeous.
What wasn’t so gorgeous was the bright glare of the setting sun on the car’s dirty windshield. I hadn’t thought to clean the windshield before I left, and certainly, spraying it with windshield washer fluid wasn’t an option, knowing how ridiculously cold it was outside — antifreeze is nice, but it isn’t magical, and I wasn’t going to risk having an icy dirty windshield. So I spent a goodly portion of the drive west from Cheyenne to Laramie squinting and tilting my head in odd ways in order to see properly. Luckily, with the exception of the occasional long-haul truck chugging along in the right lane, there was almost nobody else on the road, so the drive was easy despite that annoyance. And when the road would curve in such a way as to reduce the glare, I was able to appreciate the scenery. The sheer desolation of that part of the country is just remarkable, and there’s a stunning beauty to it, if you give yourself a chance to take it in.
At 4:55 PM, exactly an hour after passing the Fort Collins exit, I crested a hill and suddenly found myself descending into Laramie, with more than an hour till tipoff.
I had made really good time from Denver, to use a euphamism for “speeded like a mofo.” :)
Less than ten minutes later, I was pulling into a random parking lot reasonably close to the Arena-Auditorium, a.k.a. the “A-A,” a.k.a. the “Dome of Doom.” My instructions had been to park near the arena, walk up to will call, and pick up my press pass and parking pass, then (presumably) re-park my car in the proper parking lot. As it turned out, I had lucked into the correct lot — but even so, I still had to leave, then come back and re-park after getting my passes, because I had forgotten to fill up my gas tank upon arriving in town, which was essential to do before the Wyoming game; I wouldn’t have time to get gas after leaving at halftime for the mad dash to Fort Collins. Time would be of the essence then.
Anyway, at 5:10 or so, I reluctantly ventured out of my warm car into the bitterly cold, 11-below-zero air — quite possibly the first time I’ve personally experienced air temperatures (not wind chills) of double digits below zero in my life — walking past tradition and pride en route to the other side of the dome. I picked up my passes from the friendly will call staff, then headed back to the car, ascertained I was in the right lot, made a mental note of how I’d gotten there, then looked up the nearest gas station on my iPhone, and drove off to fill ‘er up. By the time I returned, the sun had set, casting the Dome of Doom in a lovely dusk silhouette.
As I walked to the arena, I uploaded the dusk photo and tweeted with frozen fingers, “Wyoming’s Dome of Doom. Will it spell doom for The #Jimmer? (No.)” Actually, it’d come a helluva lot closer than I ever would have imagined.
I suppose at this point I should give a little basketball background on these teams. BYU entered the game 20-2, ranked #8 in the country, led by the nation’s top scorer, National Player of the Year candidate and pop culture icon Jimmer Fredette, a.k.a. “The Jimmer.” Wyoming? They were 8-13, 1-6 in conference play, with an RPI ranking well into the 200s. They were less than a week away from firing their coach.
I should also note, for Red Line discussion purposes, that BYU has an athletic budget of $35.6 million, second-highest in the Mountain West. Wyoming? $24.6 million, second-lowest. And their men’s basketball budget is $1.7 million, lowest in the league, and barely half of BYU’s $3.2 million. If the Cowboys were a conference, they’d be a “straddler” (above $20M but below $2M), and would be treated as “below the Red Line” for Mid-Majority purposes. But because they belong to the Mountain West, they’re considered to be a big-money team. (Oddly enough, BYU will become a “below the Red Line” team when it joins the WCC next year, because that conference is much smaller-budget. Wyoming will, of course, remain above the Red Line. So next year, BYU over Wyoming would be considered a “Red Line Upset” — which Wyoming surrenders a lot of, by the way. Five just this year, and 26 in the Mid-Majority Era, the most of any team out there.)
Anyway, the point is, for reasons both monetary and basketball-related, BYU was a heavy, heavy favorite to win this game. Like, a two-touchdown favorite — literally. The line was 14 points. And most people probably would have bet on the Cougars to beat that spread. But, as I would soon learn, funny things can happen at the Dome of Doom.
The first thing that happened at the Dome of Doom was simply that I got inside and warmed up. With the sun having set, the temperature was plummeting outside — it would be -14 degrees by tipoff, and -23 an hour later, per Weather Underground — so rather than walking from my car to the main entrance halfway around the Dome again, I convinced some kind-hearted person to let me in the back way. I then proceeded to walk all the way from the very tippy-top of the seats down to floor level, where my press-row seat would be. But first, I took a quick movie:
The A-A is impressive — at 15,028 seats, it definitely doesn’t feel “mid-major,” whatever the budgetary numbers might say. For comparison’s sake, Notre Dame’s Joyce Center holds 9,800, less than two-thirds of the Dome of Doom’s capacity. USC’s old Sports Arena (their basketball home when I went there) holds 16,161, only slightly more than the A-A; their new Galen Center holds just 10,258, substantially less.
Having spent most of this basketball season watching games at Denver’s 7,200-seat Magness Arena (usually with between 1,000 and 3,000 fans in attendance), walking into the A-A felt like stepping off a small regional jet and onto a 777. “While the schools’ athletic budgets are almost indistinguishable, this does feel more ‘major’ somehow than Denver,” I tweeted. (In contrast to Wyoming’s status as one of the smallest-budget schools in a big-budget conference, Denver — athletic budget $24M, basketball budget $2.3M — is the biggest-budget school in a small-budget conference, the Sun Belt.)
“This would be a pretty awesome arena if it had more people in it,” I added. Attendance, though, was just 5,131, barely a third of the dome’s capacity (and that was probably generous). Even the Power of Jimmer, which triggered sellouts at such places as Colorado State and TCU, wasn’t enough to pack the A-A.
Anyway, I walked down to the floor, asked a couple people for help finding my seat, and eventually got situated, about ten minutes before tipoff. I was seated between someone with the Laramie Free Press, on my left, and Ray Jones, a scout for the Memphis Grizzlies, on my right. We were all in the second row of press seats, arcing all along the opposite sideline from the benches.
Thankfully, we were on the left side of press row, which meant I was closest to the basket where BYU would be scoring in the first half — the only half I planned to be there for. Since my primary purpose in coming to Wyoming was to see The Jimmer in action, this was a blessing. I had simply assumed that, given BYU’s vast superiority and Fredette’s tendency to play lights-out on the road, 20 minutes of basketball would be more than enough to see the Cougars and The Jimmer put on a show. And I was now perfectly positioned to watch it.
A few minutes before tipoff, my Twitter buddy Eric Schmoldt, who covers Wyoming sports for the Casper Star-Tribune — and live-tweets the games he’s at, always with the hashtag #gopokes — came over to say hi. We had a nice, brief chat. Then he headed back to his seat, over toward the right side of press row, and we both settled in for tipoff.
My tweets in the games’ first few minutes were comically dismissive of the notion that Wyoming might keep it close, or that Jimmer — who, as I mentioned, had been superb on the road all year — might struggle. At 6:03 PM, I tweeted: “Wyoming scores first! UPSET ALERT! 2-0.” At 6:04: “4-0 WYOMING! #BYUPANIC (ok not really).” At 6:05: “Two minutes in, no #Jimmer shots yet. #unacceptable :)” But Wyoming kept leading, and Jimmer kept not scoring. Frustration mounted. #PANIC gradually began to set in.
Before long, my tweets began scrutinizing the referees. First: “Jimmer draws a foul, crowd boos, clearly feeling he’s getting the J.J. Redick treatment from the refs.” Then: “If the WYO defender on Jimmer, JayDee Luster, hugged him any more blatantly, I think they’d be legally married in some LDS sects. #sorry” And therein lay the contradiction of the first half: sometimes, it seemed like the refs were protecting Jimmer, and other times, they were just letting him get absolutely mauled. (“FREE JIMMER,” I tweeted at one point.)
Eventually it became clear that the refs were just horribly inconsistent — and this fact was hurting BYU, flustering the Cougars and preventing their superior talent from carrying the day. It was sort of a “junk” game, filled with both ticky-tack fouls called and serious maulings uncalled. Very frustrating.
The worst part was, Jimmer — the man I’d come to see — wasn’t playing well. At 6:14 PM, seven minutes into the game, I tweeted, “Jimmer finally gets an unmolested #superhoop try… and misses. #unacceptable #Ionlyhave13moreminutes.” At the under-12 timeout, Wyoming led 14-8, and I began to contemplate the unthinkable. In response to @theupsetblog‘s comment that “our poor friend @brendanloy [is] not getting much of a show on the 1st part of his #ExcellentAdventure,” I tweeted, “If this keeps up, I may need to cancel Part 2. Both b/c I’m not leaving w/o seeing a #JimmerShow, and b/c, what if WYO wins?!?” Then as play resumed, I added:
Jimmer’s “superhoop” was part of what ultimately became a 15-0 Cougar run, turning a 14-8 Wyoming lead with 12:29 left into a 23-14 BYU lead with 6:03 left. Yet the Cougars will still playing like crud — a level matched only by Wyoming’s even crappier play. Zach Bloxham, recalling another lackluster BYU performance I recently witnessed, tweeted, “My friend @Brendanloy was at the AFA-BYU football game and now the Wyo-BYU basketball game. Curse? Tell him to leave at halftime.”
That, of course, had been my plan all along. But now I was really debating what to do. “Seriously wrestling with whether to stay for second half,” I tweeted with around six minutes left. “1st half looking like a #FAIL. But will 2nd half be any less ugly?” During the under-4 timeout, I added, “Can I really say I’ve seen The #Jimmer & BYU after this ugly half? But will 2nd be better?” (NBC’s Mike Miller responded, “Seen him? Yes. At his best? no. Such is life when you play at the Double-A.”)
Then came the following series of agonized tweets, as the half wound down:
AND-ONE for Wyoming, and crowd erupts! It’s 25-22 BYU, foul shot pending. 2:52 left.
#Jimmer misses another open shot! #PANIC
WYOMING #SUPERHOOP AT THE SHOT CLOCK BUZZER and the Pokes lead, 26-25!! 2:01 left.
BYU timeout. #ExcellentAdventurePANIC
During that timeout with 2:01 left, I pondered feverishly what to do. This was obviously going to be a close game at halftime. The first half had clearly been a relative #JimmerFAIL. Those had been the two criteria I’d pondered pre-game as potential reasons to abandon my plans, screw the SDSU-CSU game, and stick around for the second half of BYU-Wyoming. But the game was close largely because it had been so ugly! Did I really want to stick around for more of that? I was torn, but I needed to make a decision: should I stay or should I go?
I started to come around to the conclusion that I should probably leave. Based on the teams’ level of play and the refs’ level of officiating, I felt that the second half was likely to be ugly too, and that BYU was likely to ultimately win — so I’d see neither an epic Jimmer performance nor an epic upset. Meanwhile, I might miss an epic second half in Fort Collins if I stayed in Laramie. (Keep in mind, the CSU-SDSU game hadn’t even started yet, so it’s not like I could check the early score in Fort Collins and base my decision on that. I would be spending the entire first half of that game in the car, driving to it.) So I started to gather my things and tentatively get ready to go. But I was still uncertain.
Fresh off the timeout, Jimmer made my decision a little easier by hitting a monster long-range 3-pointer, right in front of me — a vintage Jimmer Moment in what certainly hadn’t been a vintage Jimmer Half. “#JIMMER!!!!!” I tweeted again. “There’s your #Jimmer shot. You can go now,” wrote @quikandskinny, doubtless worried about the “curse” posited by Zach. “Right in front of me, too. #sweet,” I replied.
The half ended, the score all tied up 28-28. Wyoming had a chance to take the lead just before the buzzer, but couldn’t get it done:
I put on my coat, grabbed my things… then hesitated for another half-minute or so. I looked down at Eric Schmoldt, on the other end of press row, who looked at me and made a gesture along the lines of, “What? That wasn’t good enough for you?” I sort of shrugged and continued to stand there indecisively. Then I finally made up my mind and started heading for the exit.
Schmoldt tweeted: “@brendanloy is packing up for his wacky trek down [to Fort Collins] for the other game. Apparently he hasn’t bought into the upset brewing.” On my way out of the A-A, I tweet-replied, “No matter what I choose, there’s a good chance I’ll regret it. So I’m going with the crazy two-game experience.” I added, “The betting here is that BYU guts out an U-G-L-Y win. Let’s say 61-53. CSU-SDSU has more potential, I think. We’ll see. #PANIC.”
My brief hesitation in leaving the A-A did have one happy result. It caused me not to miss the baby race. Without question, this was the highlight of the Wyoming-BYU game. Just look at it! Racing babies! So cute!
The babies crawl! Across the basketball court! First one to halfcourt wins! OMG!
Apparently this is a regular thing at Wyoming, and I love it. I gather it doesn’t always go so smoothly, but in this case, the racing babies were incredibly calm about their task, what with 5,000 people cheering them on and all. They performed their task admirably, generally moving forward rather than sideways or backward (with big smiles on their faces). The baby closest to me won, and there was much rejoicing in the land.
Best. Halftime entertainment. Ever.
And with that, I ventured out into the cold, and I mean cold — it was 23 below zero by this point, by far the coldest air temperature I’ve ever experienced in my life — for the mercifully short walk from the arena’s back entrance to my car. Upon getting inside the automotive cocoon, and warming up my fingers sufficiently to operate my phone, I tweeted: “Back in car. OFF TO FORT COLLINS.” It was exactly 7:00 PM. The Colorado State-San Diego State game would be tipping off in about 15 minutes. The BYU-Wyoming game would be resuming in about 5. And I had a 75-minute drive, give or take, ahead of me.
Again, I stayed on the interstates, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, contrary to the advice of those suggesting I drive on the more direct US-287. So: I-80 East from Laramie to Cheyenne, I-25 South from Cheyenne to Fort Collins. It was pitch dark on the road throughout the first leg of that drive, out in the middle of nowhere on the 80, with no streetlights for miles around, nor any traffic beyond the (very) occasional truck. It was downright spooky: just me, my headlights, a curvy mountainous road, and the knowledge of blisteringly cold air just outside.
Oh, and the radio. I had come prepared with a list of various stations that air Wyoming and Colorado State games, and had also bookmarked the ones that were available in my iPhone’s streaming radio apps, so I’d have options — over-the-air radio if it was available, streaming radio if I could get phone reception. I knew there was likely to be a dead zone between Cheyenne and Fort Collins where I’d have no AT&T service and the radio stations would be too far away, but I wanted to maximize my ability to keep up with the games as much as possible.
Throughout the drive from Laramie to Cheyenne, I switched back and forth between the BYU-Wyoming game on the radio and the CSU-SDSU game on my phone. San Diego State jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, causing me to #PANIC that it would be a blowout and I’d made the wrong decision. But soon CSU rallied, and eventually took a 13-12 lead — only to have the Aztecs build back and maintain a cushion of 5 to 6 points for much of the half. Meanwhile, BYU and Wyoming remained achingly, #PANIC-inducingly close. On the bright side, there was no real epic Jimmer outburst that I was missing — though he did end up with 26 points — and the game remained quite ugly, as I expected. But the possibility of an epic shocker remained very real. I didn’t know it until later, but around this time, Andy Glockner tweeted, “If @brendanloy bailed on a huge upset, I will chuckle heartily.”
BYU eventually took a 10-point lead with 6 minutes left, and it looked like I might be in the clear. But then, as my radio reception began to fade, Wyoming started to rally. I switched to a streaming Wyoming station on my phone, but then my AT&T signal cut out. I was south of Cheyenne by this point, racing toward Fort Collins, moving into the dreaded dead zone. I switched back to the radio, and found a different station on the Cowboys Radio Network, but it too quickly started to fade. Before long, I was hearing more static than commentary, but I was still able to make out most of what was going on. Wyoming within 4 at the under-4 timeout. Wyoming within 1, less than 2 minutes left. #PANIC!!!!!
(Interestingly, BYU was stuck on 61 points all the way from the 5:30 mark, up 61-51, to under a minute left, up 61-60. Remember my tweeted prediction? “The betting here is that BYU guts out an U-G-L-Y win. Let’s say 61-53.” I was acutely aware of this throughout Wyoming’s rally. Maybe there really was a Loy Curse! Had I doomed the Cougars to score exactly 61 points, and lose?)
The last thing I heard before I completely lost radio reception was a barely audible reference to Jimmer being fouled while hitting a basket to put BYU up three (and finally pushing them past the 61-point mark) with under a minute to play, and going to the line for the and-one. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if that’s what I’d heard — the broadcast was 90% static by this point — but that’s what I thought the announcer had said. I was right: Jimmer’s old-fashioned 3-point play had put BYU up 64-60 with 47 seconds left. Wyoming would cut it to 64-62 on a pair of free throws 17 seconds later, but the Cowboys wouldn’t score again. BYU won, 69-62.
I wouldn’t know that for sure, though, until I arrived in Fort Collins.
Meanwhile, because of all the late drama in BYU-Wyoming, I didn’t listen to as much of the latter part of the first half of the CSU-SDSU game as I might have. But the Rams, after trailing 31-23 with 2:59 left, had rallied to within 31-29 at halftime. I caught the tail end of the half on a local radio station, did the math, and concluded that I was likely to arrive at CSU’s Moby Arena sometime around the under-16 timeout of the second half.
At some point after exiting the freeway, while driving toward the Colorado State campus, I heard the radio announcers on the CSU station mention that BYU had beaten Wyoming. Phew. Disaster averted. Now, to hope for an exciting ending, and hopefully an upset, in Game #2 of the Excellent Adventure.
I drove directly to overflow parking, figuring that the lots near the stadium would certainly be full. At 8:21 PM, an hour and 21 minutes after leaving Laramie, I tweeted, “Parked. CSU up 2, second half just underway. To Moby! #ExcellentAdventure.”
The walk from my car to the arena was longer than I realized it would be, and intensely cold. Weather Underground says it was a mere -1° or so, much warmer than I’d experienced up in Laramie, but I’m skeptical — it felt colder than that. Regardless, tweeting while walking was basically impossible; my fingers would freeze too quickly to finish composing a tweet. I managed to retweet Glockner’s tweet with the added hashtag “#phew,” but that was about it. (He responded, referring to CSU’s lead over #7 SDSU: “Maybe you found the upset?”)
I suppose, again, some basketball background information is needed. San Diego State came into the CSU game with a 21-1 record (the only loss being to BYU the week before) and a #7 ranking in the nation. Colorado State was 15-6 overall, 5-2 in the Mountain West, and looking for a home win over San Diego State to perhaps push them off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament field. This was not like the BYU-Wyoming game, where a blowout was expected. This was always likely to be a tight game (SDSU was a 5.5-point favorite), with the home team having a real chance — that’s why I’d bought a ticket in the first place, before BYU-Wyoming was even on my radar.
I approached Moby Arena on foot, from an odd angle, had a bit of trouble finding the entrance. Ultimately, I had to be let in by a ticket taker at a side entrance whose door was locked (admittedly, not very many people arrive, with tickets in hand, 4 minutes into the second half) but who took pity on my freezing soul and opened it for me. As I stepped inside, out of the frigid cold, it was like being enveloped in a gloriously stuffy oasis of warmth. And it was instantly loud, too. It quickly became clear that I’d walked into something special.
To get to my seat from the entrance I’d used, I had to walk down and across a bunch of sections. I took a video as I was doing this walk. WARNING: It’s unshaky, and might make you a little seasick. (I was focusing primarily on walking and looking around, not taking a beautiful video.) But it gives a little sense for the environment at Moby:
What can I say about the scene at Moby? Man, it was just awesome. It was almost certainly the most incredible atmosphere, crowd-wise, that I’ve ever seen at a basketball game (remember, I went to football schools), with the ’06 Butler-Southern Illinois BracketBusters game at Hinkle being the only real competitor. Just absolutely phenomenal. Colorado State hasn’t had a team this good in a long time, and the fans are clearly very, very excited about it. It wasn’t quite sold out, but it was close — maybe 95% capacity. And any time CSU would hit a big shot or make a key stop, the crowd would erupt. The videos don’t do it justice — trust me, it was loud in there. It also looked to be about 50 or 60 percent students, and they were jumping up and down madly in the final minutes, desperately trying to will their team to victory.
A better sense of this comes from the video below, taken by somebody in the student section. Be warned, the end of the clip shows the ending of the game, which I’ll talk about later. But, up until the last few seconds of the video, it mostly just shows you the fantastic environment at the arena.
Anyhow… it was actually almost the under-12 timeout by the time I walked into Moby. Colorado State had squandered the 39-33 lead they’d built while I was walking to the arena, and now trailed 40-39. At 8:41 PM, tweeted, “Moby: incredible atmosphere. No question I made the right choice. Oh and it’s 40-39 SDSU at the under-12.”
By the under-8 timeout, San Diego State had increased its lead to 50-44, and it looked like the Rams might let their chance of victory unceremoniously slip away. But the Rams rallied, and with 5:25 left, pulled back within two points:
The game’s final minutes can best be described by the word tension. There wasn’t a lot of scoring, but there was plenty of defense, and just a tremendous buzz in the air as both teams tried to find an advantage. The clip below shows the critical stretch from 4:07 down to 2:20, as both teams failed repeatedly to score, until SDSU ended the empty-possession string with a Billy White jumper to take a 54-52 lead.
“Was just a tie game, but SDSU now up 2 with 2:13 left,” I tweeted after that sequence. “CSU ball. 100% chance fans rush the court if Rams win this. Incredible atmosphere” — repeating myself on that last point. I added: “Not sure I’ve ever been to a basketball game with such energy in the arena.” Later: “Heart racing. Crowd in a frenzy.”
Nobody would score again until the final sequence. Here are two video clips that show how the game ended — first with CSU squandering a chance to tie the game, then getting the ball back on a key defensive play on SDSU’s inbounds attempt, and finally…well, you’ll see:
Obviously, it was a major bummer that San Diego State pulled out the victory, breaking the home crowd’s hearts — and furthering a pattern I noted in a series of tweets later that night, after I got home:
Off the top of my head, in chronological order, the four best home-crowd, close-game college basketball atmospheres I’ve personally seen are:
• Oregon at USC in 2002, my junior year, with the Pac-10 title on the line. Only time the Sports Arena ever felt like a real basketball arena.
• Georgetown at Notre Dame in 2006, my 2L year, a triple overtime game. Great atmosphere at the Joyce Center for that one.
• Southern Illinois at Butler in 2007, my 3L year, in the BracketBusters marquee game at Hinkle. Utterly awesome college hoops experience.
• And finally, tonight, San Diego State at Colorado State (well, the 2nd half…well, most of the 2nd half), Part II of my #ExcellentAdventure.
What do these games have in common? The home team, the team I was rooting for, lost dramatically in all four. Once, just once, I’d like to be at an ultra-dramatic, awesome-atmosphere college hoops game where “my” team – the home team – actually wins.
Adding to the disappointment, the loss may ultimately prove to have played a crucial role in denying the Rams a rare NCAA Tournament bid. (They’ve gone 3-4 since that game.) But even so, what a finish, eh? And what a clutch shot by D.J. Gay:
(“Great example, BTW, of a coach letting his team make its own shot at the end. Often better than taking a timeout. And a clutch, clutch shot,” I tweeted. At almost the same moment, Matt Zemek tweeted, “Take note: Steve Fisher let the action unfold instead of calling a set play. Didn’t overcoach situation.” He then noted the similarity and called it a “#HoopsMINDMELD.”)
But above all, what an atmosphere for a college basketball game! An almost perfect ending to the Excellent Adventure, leaving no doubt whatsoever that I made the right choice by leaving Laramie for Fort Collins.
In addition to taking Bally pics, I wanted to let the crowd leave and let traffic clear out. But I think I also just didn’t want the Excellent Adventure to end. I may have only seen 33 minutes of basketball, give or take — seven minutes less than a full game — while going to a helluva lot more trouble than just attending a single game. And yet the night had, without question, been a smashing success.
“What a ride on the 287 Basketball Bonanza!” Boehlert tweeted at me from Laramie. (Technically the I-80/I-25 Basketball Bonanza, but close enough.) “You couldn’t have picked two better games to attend tonight…good work,” wrote Nyghtewynd. Indeed.
A few days later, discussing Kyle Whelliston’s #LastMan project with a skeptic who shall remain nameless (as our conversation was via DM), we had the following exchange:
HIM: “I don’t like things that are staged. It’s fine to not pay any attention to the Super Bowl. I barely watch it these days. But taking it to an extreme and mapping out a plan to avoid the planet is retarded, IMO.”
ME: “Retarded like driving Denver-Laramie-Fort Collins to watch a total of ~35 minutes of Mountain West basketball in just over 3 hours? :)”
HIM: “No, that was epic. That was exactly what you should have done.”
I don’t agree with that person’s characterization of #LastMan, but I do agree with the latter point: the Excellent Adventure was most certainly epic.
I’ll probably never be able to do anything quite like it again, or at least not for a long time — it’s a miracle Becky has let me get away with doing so much basketball stuff this year, and I definitely won’t be pushing my luck in future years. I’ll soon have three kids, and opportunities for these sorts of solitary adventures are going to become harder and harder to carve out. But I’ll definitely remember this one for a long time. ‘Twas a most excellent adventure.
Comments on "3 hours, 2 games, 2 states, 2 top ten teams: a most Excellent Adventure"
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