Tweetup! @TennisTarkheena, a DU fan in Greeley, meets the #BrotherzBallz, Mile High Bally and DU Bally.
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The Denver Pioneers and I had a lot in common Wednesday night in Greeley. We both fully intended to show up for the first half against the Northern Colorado Bears. We both failed to do so. But we both showed up eventually, and were better off for it.
* * * * * My delayed arrival at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion, unlike the Pioneers', was literal. I spent the game's entire first half in my car, driving up to Greeley and listening to the action on the radio.
I've now done this for three of my four 800 Games Project games: putting my daughters to bed, then leaving belatedly for the arena and showing up at halftime. The first two delayed-arrival games, Denver vs. Southern Miss and Denver vs. Iona, I planned that way, because I didn't want to test the patience of my wonderful wife Becky by forcing her to handle a whole bunch of solo bedtimes this season. Becky is a stay-at-home mom, and while she truly loves her "job," it can be utterly exhausting -- in many ways, it's a harder job than mine as an attorney -- so she depends on me to relieve her in the evenings after work, and run the show at bedtime. Last season, though, she handled quite a few bedtimes herself, as she let me go on a "20 Games Project" (14 Hoops Nation games, 2 Mountain West games, 2 Gonzaga games, 1 Big XII game and 1 women's game). That was a one-year thing, and I'm not going to push my luck this season by seeking too many more favors "for basketball reasons," as they say. Hence the compromise of the delayed-arrival games.
But this, tonight, was one of the games I intended to watch from opening tip to closing buzzer. It was the Colorado Mid-Major State Championship, after all, sort of the "Super Bowl" (if you'll pardon the vulgar expression) of my Mile High Mids blog. And it was in Greeley, which is a lot farther from our Denver home than DU's Magness Arena is. So, with the game tipping off at 7:00 PM, it wasn't exactly practical to put the girls down around their normal ~7:15 PM bedtime, then hit the road and get to the arena at halftime, as I'd been able to do with those two DU games.
Unfortunately, however, Becky was feeling sick this morning with cold/flu symptoms, and got progressively worse during the day, such that it became clear I would need to improvise. The best-laid plans of #ballz and men notwithstanding, Supermom just wasn't feeling well enough to handle a solo bedtime tonight. So, much to my daughters' surprise and delight, I came home instead of going straight from work to the game as planned, and took over parenting duties around 5:15 PM.
With tipoff at 7:00 PM, and Greeley a little over an hour away, I knew my schedule would be tight. So I parented with near industrial efficiency (a rarity for me). Almost as soon as I walked in the door, I started cooking their mac & cheese. While I got dinner ready, the 2 1/2-year-old and the almost-4-year-old entertained the 5-month-old -- something they're remarkably good at, as it happens. Then, while dinner was being eaten, I went upstairs and picked out jammies for everyone. Multitasking was key. As soon as the older girls were done eating, we all bounded upstairs and rocked out the pre-bedtime rituals: brush teeth, use the potty, change into PJs, pick out (short) bedtime stories. Boom, boom, boom, boom. I gave Mommy the baby to feed. I read the older girls their stories. I put the fed baby to bed. I sang the older girls two (short) songs of their choice. (They both picked the USC alma mater/fight song medley, so I sang it twice. Not very TMM-ish, but quicker than their usual favorites, "Sweet Baby James" and Billy Joel's "Lullaby.") I kissed them good night, tucked them in, and left. We did all of this tenderly but quickly, with none of my typical dawdling. Because they were so happy to see me, they were totally okay with all of this -- why, the 2 1/2-year-old even handled my inability to find her favorite stuffie, the plush Dora the Explorer she got from Santa last Christmas, with aplomb, accepting a substitute (her brown squirrel) without a fuss. 'Twas a mid-major miracle!
By 6:40 PM, everyone was in bed, more than a half-hour early. To ensure they stayed there and didn't bother Mommy after I left, the Elf on the Shelf magically "flew" upstairs to watch their bedroom door (a stroke of genius on my part, I must say).
Big Claus is Watching You.
With Santa's lil' surveillance tool in place, the girls went down with nary a peep or complaint. I brought Becky some requested chocolate (a cure for many ailments), poured myself some iced coffee, and was out the door by 6:45 PM. Greeley, here we come!
Now, I don't want to suggest that I was speeding on the drive north, but let me put it this way. It occurred to me that, if I happened to get pulled over for any reason, the police officer: 1) might wonder what's with the stuffed basketballs on my dashboard; 2) might not accept that the 800 Games Project is a legitimate reason to be in a massive hurry; and 3) might be skeptical of my excuse that I thought the signs for Route 85 signified a speed limit rather than a highway number.
Be that as it may, I was definitely in a hurry, so this wasn't quite the leisurely drive I'd anticipated when I put out a Twitter APB for Tom Petty songs earlier in the day. Rather than basking in the glory of the open road, listening to the official bard of the Mid-Majority, and stopping for #horchata4mids at Tacos Rapidos like I did last year before the Big Sky championship game...
...I was instead a man on a mission, driving like a bat out of hell up to Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion, and listening to "Voice of the Pioneers" Mitch Hyder's call of the game on AM 1510 (occasionally switching to Bears announcer Troy Coverdale on AM 1310 just for variety) so I'd know what to expect when I got there.
I really wanted to arrive during halftime, not at the tail end of the break or the beginning of the second half, in order to avoid the spectacle of blundering to my press-row seat during game action. I would have succeeded, too, but I was doomed by the need to get gas before leaving Denver (oops--forgot about that) and by a couple of wrong turns in Greeley. So by the time I arrived, the second half had indeed just tipped off. When I first got a look at the scoreboard, play had stopped for some reason at the 19:53 mark. The tally was unchanged from halftime: Northern Colorado 31, Denver 26.
* * * * *
That brings me to Denver's delayed arrival at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion, which was, of course, figurative. The Pioneers were awful in the first half, and the diagnosis of Mitch Hyder on the radio broadcast was simple: Denver hadn't "shown up" to play.
The Pioneers, Hyder said, seemed unfocused and lifeless. Whether because of the preceding off-week, or the road environment, or not taking their 3-5 opponent seriously -- whatever it was, the Pioneers sleepwalked through the half, and were lucky to be down just five at the break. Hyder went so far as to question the Pioneers' "effort," and to bluntly note that Northern Colorado (which recently suffered a Black Line Upset at the hands of NAIA squad Westminster College of Utah) isn't a very good team, so Denver's struggles against the Bears were hard to square with their previous successes this year.
"I'd like to be a fly on the wall at halftime" when Joe Scott lays into his team, Hyder said late in the first half. "But if I was, I'd probably be dead." Heh.
This game, though, was a Tale of Two Halves -- and I showed up at just the right time. (Or perhaps, as I suggested via Twitter, either I or my companions were good-luck charms.) While I was walking to my seat, Brian Stafford hit a #superhoop to cut the lead to 31-29. As I was sitting down, Rob Lewis hit another to make it 32-31 -- Denver's first lead of the night. Northern Colorado would never lead again.
Denver ended up going on an 11-0 run to start the second half (14-0 counting Royce O'Neale's #superhoop late in the first half, which had cut the deficit from 31-23 to produce the halftime score of 31-26), to take a 37-31 lead. UNC got within 39-38, then 44-42, before another 11-0 Denver run -- while I was away from my seat, having a brief but lovely #tweetup with the delightful @TennisTarkheena (pictured at the top of this post) -- stretched the lead to 55-42.
The Bears would claw (ha!) back in the closing minutes, twice pulling within 6, and twice gaining possession with a chance to cut the lead to 4 or 3. But they weren't able to convert on those chances. They finally did cut it to 4 with seven seconds left, but it was too little, too late, and Denver survived, 71-65.
The above picture was taken during my usual late-game photographic wanderings, but I watched much of the game (well, much of the second half) from a small "press row" on the other baseline -- directly across the court from where I'd watched the Big Sky title game during my first visit to Butler-Hancock last March, which was an utterly epic experience that ended with DU Bally and I rushing the court (video here), partly because I wanted to, and partly because I'd likely have been trampled to death otherwise. That produced the photo that serves as the logo for Mile High Mids:
Anyway, this experience was, of course, far different. The student section, instead of being packed to the gills with a crazed, screaming horde, was populated by a few dozen die-hards who came out to the game even though it's Winter Break at UNC. The media, far from filling up multiple long benches as it did for that Worldwide Leader-televised Championship Fortnight event, basically consisted of myself, an NBA scout, an ornery wire-service reporter, and Matt Schuman of the Greeley Tribune.
A brief word on the wire-service reporter, who shall remain nameless (we'll call him "WSR" for short). I ran across WSR at the Denver-Southern Miss game too, and I'm sure Kyle encountered plenty of journalists like WSR during his years on the road. WSR was quite obviously irritated to be forced to attend this crappy game between two crappy teams that, in his mind, nobody cares about. At the DU-USM game, he complained about some rare computer glitch that Denver's SID staff was encountering, at one point grousing that the whole place was a "dump" and a lousy operation. At this game, he mentioned that DU-USM experience again, and also loudly commiserated at one point with the NBA scout about how bad both teams were. (Not really true of Denver, actually! Though, granted, they didn't play well tonight.)
Anyway, I gotta say, as someone who does this for fun, I feel bad for WSR. It would stink to be stuck covering a game you have no interest in, particularly in the context of the professional print journalism industry as it exists today. It's unfortunate he can't appreciate the beauty of Our Game, even though he's not watching Kansas-North Carolina or whatever. I wonder what he'd think of the 800 Games Project if he knew about it?
WSR didn't stick around for postgame interviews at UNC's "Champions Room," but I did, just to check out the scene -- no #coachquotes for this write-up! Instead, how about #foodspreadpics:
Denver, as I noted in a snarky tweet to basketball SID Mike Kennedy, doesn't have a food spread for its postgame press availabilities. Just sayin', Mike, just sayin'.
I was also amused at the specter of two UNC players, and then coach B.J. Hill, answering reporters' questions (well, reporter's questions, really: the Tribune's Schuman was the only questioner, while I, SID Scott Ward and @jfreemyer, also there for the SID's office, listened in and recorded) as, in the background, the TV showed the press conference being held at that moment by the Denver Nuggets, announcing their signing of Nene. Ah, the perils of covering mid-major hoops in a pro-sports town.
In fairness, SID staff did mute the TV shortly after the player interviews started. Heh.
(Speaking of which, can I put a shout-out here to the Denver and Northern Colorado SID folks? I've just been teasing them both a little, but these people are really fantastic. They've been nothing but friendly, gracious and accommodating to this humble blogger -- who often shows up halfway through their darn games! -- and they truly do a great job. Great people, fantastic professionals, and unsung heroes of mid-major sports, for sure.)
After the interviews were over, I left the Champions Room and headed back into the gym. There, as the crew broke down the non-permanent parts of the game setup, the Black-Eyed Peas' ubiquitous "Gotta Feeling" was playing over the PA system. I remember hearing that song after the Big Sky title game last March, and tweeting that it had indeed been a good, good night for the NCAA Tournament-bound Bears. This night hadn't been quite so good for UNC, but the Peas were happily crooning about it anyway. For them, I guess, it always ends in a win.
After a few more minutes on press row, sending out a few more tweets, I packed up my stuff and -- after "boinging" Mile High Bally at Mike Kennedy on my way out -- headed for the exits.
* * * * *
My drive back to Denver was a lot more leisurely than my drive up, as I didn't have a hard deadline to meet. I was able to let my mind wander (while keeping my eyes on the road, of course), thinking about what I'd write in this essay that you're reading now. And I was able to play those Tom Petty songs that I'd downloaded earlier in the day, providing a wonderfully TMM-appropriate soundtrack for my return drive through the dark of night.
At one point, maybe 25 minutes into the drive, as I accelerated out of one of the small towns along the route and back onto the open road with its higher speed limit, my favorite Petty song, "American Girl," came on, and I cranked up the volume. Suddenly it struck me how often Kyle, during his years on the road, must have done this exact thing -- driving down a dark road after a game, by himself, listening to Tom Petty, and letting his mind wander to his next essay or his next game or whatever else it might feel like wandering to. And then it occurred to me how many other @800GP-ers have done, are doing, or will soon do, the very same thing as well: driving to or from games, listening to whatever their chosen road-trip music might be, and experiencing the solitary ethos of The Road. In that moment, I felt very connected to the All Of Us, Each Of Us collective of the 800 Games Project.
Connected, and yet also disconnected. There's something unique and really quite enjoyable about The Road, particularly when you're on it by yourself, alone with your thoughts. I'm sure Kyle must have felt that way at first, too, before The Road became, at least in part, a nemesis and a threat to his health and so forth. I'm sure many fellow @800GP-ers feel it too. It's hard to express -- I tried in my write-up of my 1-night, 2-game, 2-state Excellent Adventure last year, with limited success -- but I suspect many of you readers know what I mean.
This was my first real "road trip" of the 800 Games Project, the first game that will earn me any "miles" on the scoreboard, and when -- as "Listen To Her Heart" was wrapping up -- I saw a sign that said Denver was 20 miles away, I found myself a little disappointed that it would be over so soon. Sure, I need to go to bed, and go to work tomorrow. But can't I stay on The Road for a little while longer, before I have to get back to real life?
As I turned into my neighborhood, moments after the final notes of "Walls (Circus)" played, I saw a Geminid meteor streak across the southern sky. I immediately thought: Well now, that's a perfect ending to my night. A road trip, some Petty, and a shooting star, to go with a Mid-Major State Championship for "my" Denver Pioneers.
The Peas were right after all: tonight had been a good night.
DENVER 71, at NORTHERN COLORADO 65 12/14/2011
DENVER 7-2 (0-0) -- M. Davis 6-11 0-1 12; C. Udofia 3-7 4-4 10; C. Hallam 2-7 1-2 5; B. Stafford 4-10 4-4 16; R. O'Neale 4-8 5-6 14; B. Foeman 1-1 2-2 5; B. Olson 4-8 0-0 11; R. Lewis 2-5 2-2 7; T. Hallam 1-2 0-0 3; J. Coughlin 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-50 18-20 71. NORTHERN COLORADO 3-6 (0-0) -- P. Garnica 6-15 3-3 18; T. Unruh 7-15 0-0 19; T. Svihovec 1-5 0-0 2; E. Addo 1-5 0-0 2; M. Proctor 2-3 4-6 8; C. Osborne 3-4 1-4 7; T. Huskisson 2-2 0-0 5; A. Hawk-Harris 1-2 0-0 2; B. Keane 1-2 0-0 2; B. Douvier 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-53 8-13 65.
Three-point goals: DEN 11-32 (R. Lewis 1-3; B. Stafford 4-10; J. Coughlin 0-1; T. Hallam 1-2; B. Foeman 1-1; C. Hallam 0-3; C. Udofia 0-3; R. O'Neale 1-3; B. Olson 3-6), NOCO 9-21 (T. Unruh 5-10; P. Garnica 3-8; T. Svihovec 0-1; A. Hawk-Harris 0-1; T. Huskisson 1-1); Rebounds: DEN 22 (C. Hallam 5), NOCO 30 (C. Osborne 11); Assists: DEN 16 (R. O'Neale 5), NOCO 11 (P. Garnica 6); Total Fouls -- DEN 12, NOCO 18; Fouled Out: DEN-None; NOCO-M. Proctor.