When I was in college, and later as a young 20-something, I developed a reputation with my parents for frenetic overscheduling of fun activities, particularly those involving travel. If I was going to be somewhere for even a few hours in between whatever activities I had planned, I'd inevitably schedule something to fill the time. My dad, who cherishes his downtime and relaxed schedules, would get exhausted just thinking about my plans, and turned to Kipling for the phrase to describe them. "Filling the unforgiving minute!" he'd merrily grouse. It became a family catchphrase, signifying that Brendan was off on another one of his crazy adventures, like making a 24-hour whirlwind trip to L.A. to witness presidential debate festivities in 2004, or stopping at the Adler Planetarium en route to Midway Airport in 2006 to watch the Transit of Mercury before flying to Denver for a football game.
Last year, I went on perhaps my greatest ever sports-related "unforgiving minute" adventure when I decided to attend two Mountain West basketball games in one night in two different states. Sure, it was above the Red Line, but it was still awesome. Jimmer Fredette and BYU were visiting Wyoming for a 6:00 PM tip at the Dome of Doom, while nationally ranked Top 10 team San Diego State was taking on Colorado State at Moby Arena at 7:15 PM. Rather than choosing between the games, I decided to attend the first half of Cougars-Cowboys and the second half of Aztecs-Rams, with an hourlong Laramie-to-Fort-Collins drive in between. So, amid a massive cold snap dropping temperatures to 20 or 25 below zero up in Wyoming and 10 below in Colorado, I set off on what turned into an epically memorable adventure, ending with SDSU's D.J. Gay hitting a buzzer-beater to crush the dreams of the amped-up home crowd at almost-sold-out Moby.
Fast forward to this year, specifically to Wednesday, January 11. The Denver Pioneers, "my" Other 24 team, were heading to Moby Arena for an in-state clash with the Rams. With CSU having beaten Colorado (which in turn had beaten Air Force), and CSU and DU both having beaten Northern Colorado, this was a "state championship game" of sorts between the Pios and Rams, who came in ranked #82 and #94 in the nation, respectively, by Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free robots, with records of 13-3 and 10-4.
"Denver's an outstanding team," CSU coach Tim Miles said beforehand. "It's Joe Scott's best team since he's been at Denver, and it's probably Denver's best team since they went Division I. I view that game as like a top three or four Mountain West team coming into Moby Arena. They're that good."
It was also a chance for Denver to pull off its fourth Red Line Upset of the season, which would have put the Pioneers in a tie for third place on the season's RLU list (with Harvard, St. Joe's, Saint Louis, Dayton, Fresno State and Wichita State), trailing only Creighton (6 RLUs) and Northern Iowa (5).
Despite all of this, I wasn't planning to attend the game. As much as I wanted to go back to Moby for it, we're talking about a 7:00 PM midweek tip time in Fort Collins. Moby Arena is more than an hour away from my house, and -- as has been discussed at length in several of my previous 800GP write-ups -- 7:00 PM is my daughters' bedtime. I hate missing bedtime during the week, and I also wasn't going to force my sleep-deprived, stay-at-home-mom wife to handle the entire evening, including bedtime, solo, just so I could attend this game. Moreover, having decided to skip the game for that reason, I had proceeded to make (post-bedtime) plans with some friends visiting from the D.C. area. We were scheduled to meet at Falling Rock Taphouse in Denver for some beer and conversation at 8:00 PM -- i.e., right around halftime of the game up in Fort Collins.
But on Wednesday, as the day wore on, I was increasingly antsy to drive up to Moby after all, and watch this big in-state clash. I really didn't want to miss it. "You fail at life," tweeted DU student and roving sports photographer Andrew Fielding when I mentioned that I wouldn't be coming, and I sort of agreed with him -- this was really a can't-miss game for a Colorado mid-major hoops blogger. So I fretted and stewed and schemed, and finally around 4:30 PM, I checked to see if tickets were still available. They were. So I started drafting a Facebook message to my D.C. friends, seeing if we could reschedule from 8:00 PM to 10:30 PM (I figured, correctly, that they planned to be out and about all evening anyway), thus allowing me to attend the game and then join them afterward. I abandoned the draft halfway through, deeming the idea silly... then, ten minutes later, reconsidered and started writing it again. At 5:02 PM, less than 2 hours before tipoff, I sent the message, thus starting the chain of events that would lead to my latest unforgiving-minute-filling basketball adventure.
My friend Jim called me back at 5:26 PM, as I was driving home from work, and said a 10:30 PM meetup was fine. So the plan was on -- my most last-minute game attendance decision ever.
At a stoplight, I used my iPhone to log onto CSU's ticketing website, only to find that tickets for the game were no longer available online; it was too close to tipoff, apparently. At the next stoplight, I texted Denver SID Mike Kennedy: "Was trying to buy a ticket to CSU game last minute but they're no longer available online. You think they'll let me in the building if I flash my DU press pass at the door (likely at halftime)?" My concern, of course, was that I wasn't credentialed by CSU (having made this plan way too last-minute to contact the Rams' SID), so my DU credential is technically not all that helpful. Mike didn't address the press-credential thing, but replied that he had some extra tickets, and would leave one for me at will call. Problem solved! But I decided to bring my press pass too, just in case.
Almost exactly an hour before tipoff, now at home, I logged onto my Mid-Majority 800GP page and "I Will"-listed the game. Then I set about getting the girls to bed as quickly as possible, just as I'd done before the Northern Colorado game. I hoped to be out the door by 6:45 PM, which I figured would get me in Fort Collins a few minutes before 8:00 PM, hopefully during halftime. But despite my best efforts -- and thanks in part to some last-minute drama that had me uttering words to the effect of "telling the truth about hitting your sister was a good choice, but hitting your sister was a very naughty choice" -- it became apparent that the 6:45 departure wasn't happening.
Tick, tick, tick. It was 6:57 or 6:58 when I finally got downstairs for good. Tipoff in Fort Collins was mere moments away, and I was still inside my house in Denver.
As has become my late-arrival ritual this season, I tuned to AM 1510 for "Voice of the Pioneers" Mitch Hyder's call of the first half. The game tipped off literally as I was pulling out of my garage. By the time I made it to I-25 (which was mercifully non-slick despite snow the night before, thus allowing me to head north with considerable dispatch, as you can *ahem* see above), Denver was trailing and looking listless. "The Pioneers better ratchet up the intensity and do it quickly, or this is going to be a long night," said Hyder several times (or words to that effect).
As DU made one uncharacteristic mistake after another, and the Rams jumped out to a 13-point lead, it started to feel like I was going to all this trouble just to personally witness the second half of a slaughter. Would the Rams win this game by 20 points? By 30? What on earth was I doing? The thought of changing plans, turning around, and heading back toward Denver briefly entered my mind, but I didn't seriously entertain it: I had said "I Will," and dammit, I Would.
The Pioneers rewarded my commitment. Around the under-8 timeout of the first half, by which point I was racing north through the hinterlands east of Longmont and Loveland, Denver's offense finally started clicking. First, they stopped the bleeding. Then, they began to gradually rally. A three-pointer by Brett Olson, cutting the lead to 7, had me taking my right hand off the steering wheel to pump my fist. I was also irrationally excited when a Brian Stafford 3-pointer at the 4:20 mark caused CSU to use a timeout right before the under-4 media timeout, since that delayed the game a bit. Every timeout or foul meant I'd arrive at Moby a little sooner in basketball time.
While Denver was clawing back into the game, I had a huge scare when, out of nowhere, a police car appeared in my rearview, racing in my direction, his lights flashing wildly. I was over the speed limit by perhaps 11 or 12 mph at the time, and was holding my cell phone in my right hand (checking my directions, not taking a picture; that was earlier, heh), so I was pretty convinced I was about to get pulled over for speeding and/or cell phone use while driving. Legal and financial implications aside, that might have delayed me long enough to doom the night's adventure without me seeing any basketball at all. I had several long seconds of #PANIC!!! But then the cop sped right past me, going maybe 95 mph as he raced to catch up with another police car, who had already pulled somebody over some 3 or 4 miles down the road. The car I saw had been called in as backup; I was fine. My heart still beating a mile a minute, I ticked down the cruise control a couple of mph, and soldiered on. Phew.
"Phew" was also the prevailing sentiment about the halftime score: Colorado State 38, Denver 31, thanks to a Rob Lewis putback at the buzzer -- another fist-pump moment for me, by then about 15 miles south of my exit -- that gave Lewis 999 career points. (Herman Cain would be so proud.) The Rams had dominated statistically in the first half, scoring as many field goals (15 of 27) as Denver had attempts (8 of 15), thanks in part to 7 DU turnovers. So it was frankly miraculous that the Pioneers were as close as they were. As my Twitter buddy Matt Zemek might say, the score felt a bit like "Denver leading, 31-38."
When the second half tipped, I was already off the highway and on surface streets in Fort Collins, heading toward the arena. And the closer I got, the closer Denver got, it seemed. When I pulled into the parking lot, Chris Udofia had just hit a 3-pointer to pull Denver within 44-41 -- the closest they'd been since 10-7. I got out of the car, took and tweeted an obligatory photo of DU Bally and Mile High Bally on the roof of my car in front of Moby, then walked toward the arena.
The last time I stepped into Moby Arena, coincidentally also with about 15 minutes left in the game, the place was absolutely electric. It was the night of the CSU-San Diego State game during my aforementioned "Excellent Adventure," and as I would write later: "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." This time, the cold outside wasn't quite so frigid, the warmth inside wasn't quite so stuffy, and the volume was a bit lower. But it was still a sizable crowd and a good atmosphere at Moby, in spite of the students being on break. A good number of people had turned out to see these two overachieving Colorado squads do battle.
Much like my previous visit to Moby, all the doors were closed when I arrived. (Understandably, they aren't exactly set up with the expectation of people arriving after 25 minutes of basketball have already been played.) But one door was slightly ajar, so I opened it and walked in. I asked the previously idle ticket-taker woman where will-call was; she informed me that it was closed. But she saw the press pass dangling around my neck and, presumably assuming that will-call was holding a press credential of some sort (rather than a mere game ticket), she told me to go right in. "I don't know where they'll seat you, but you can talk to someone inside," she said.
So I was in the building, and that was all that really mattered. I was more than happy to spend my time as a wandering nomad, viewing the action from a variety of angles and perspectives. A seat? I don't need no stinkin' seat!
I spent a few minutes watching from the entrance level, as you see in the photo above. Then I meandered down to the floor for a few minutes, making sure not to block anyone's view.
A couple of security guards gave me quizzical looks, but that dangling DU press pass -- despite not technically being good for access to anything at a road game -- was sufficiently official-looking to prevent anyone from asking any questions.
While standing down there, I was able confirm that Colorado State, its above-the-Red-Line status notwithstanding, is in compliance with Title R.
The game, incidentally, wasn't going too well for the Pioneers through all of this time. I mentioned earlier that the Pios had pulled within 44-41 as I was pulling into the parking lot at the under-16. Well, by the 13-miunte mark, it was 48-41 Rams, and by 11:50, it was 52-43. Denver had dug itself another hole to climb out of.
At the under-8 timeout, with Denver still down 9, I shuffled up to DU's aforementioned SID, Mike Kennedy, and reached over his shoulder to put Mile High Bally (a.k.a. my #tigerballz) on the scorer's table. "For good luck," I tweeted.
The good-luck Ballz effect seemed to help, albeit gradually. From 59-50, Denver climbed to within 63-56, then 64-58, then 66-61. But CSU was back up 68-61 at the under-4 timeout. The Pioneers were scoring pretty consistently now, but their defense, uncharacteristically, wasn't up to the task -- they just couldn't get the stops they needed.
Meanwhile, I continued my wanderings. Leaving the floor area, I headed up to the otherwise vacant back row of Moby Arena's mid-level press area -- the "no power tower," as Andrew informed me it's called, due to the lack of electrical outlets. Seated in front of me were six men, whether reporters or scouts or what I don't know, but five of them were wearing CSU clothing of some kind. So much for objectivity on press row! Heh. Anyway, I sidled in, again despite not technically having a valid press credential for Moby, and faced DU Bally toward the action.
Incidentally, if you look very closely at the scorer's table on the right, close to the Denver bench, you'll see a little orange dot -- that's Mile High Bally. He'd get quite a bit more exposure a few minutes later, as you probably noticed at the top of this post. More on that in a moment.
One amusing sight from that vantage point was the reaction of the nearby CSU student section (located directly to our left) when, during a timeout, a promotional video for Rams football and, specifically, new head coach Jim McElwain was shown on the jumbotron. McElwain is the offensive coordinator at Alabama, which, of course, had just won the Faux National Championship of American-Style Collegiate Football two days earlier. He's considered quite a "get" for a "mid-major" like CSU (if football had a "Red Line" it would pretty clearly be located above the MWC and C-USA, thanks to the corrupting influence of the accursed BCS), all the moreso now that he's coming straight off a "national title." There were definitely some pretty noticeable cheers for him as he appeared on the big screen.
Anyway, after a few minutes in the press area, I decided to check out yet another angle, so I walked up the steep flight of stairs to the very highest row of the arena, wanting to get a sense of the view from the top. It was kind of a neat perspective, actually:
By that point, there were less than 3 minutes left in the game, so I decided I'd better return to the lower levels for a better view of the ending. After briefly conversing, during a timeout, with a father adorably holding a cute 6-month-old boy decked out in CSU gear -- hey, as a dad of three girls age 4 and under, I'm a sucker for cute babies, above the Red Line or no -- I briefly infiltrated the corner of the CSU student section.
There were several moments in the final 5 or 6 minutes of the game where it felt like CSU was about to put Denver away for good, only to have a missed shot, a controversial call, or a good play by the Pioneers keep DU in it. The photo above is of one such moment: as I snapped it, CSU's Dorian Green was attempting a three-pointer that would have put the game out of reach, giving the Rams a 77-67 lead with 1:14 left. But the shot rattled out, Denver got the rebound, and ten seconds later, DU freshman Royce O'Neale hit a #superhoop of his own to pull the Pios within 74-70 with 1:04 left. Joe Scott called a quick timeout. We had ourselves a ballgame, ladies and gentlemen.
I wanted a better angle on Denver's basket for the final minute, so I moved over a section during the timeout.
The final minute was frenetic -- unforgivingly so, you might say. (See what I did there?) Denver's full-court press hassled the Rams enough to almost allow for a successful Pioneer comeback. You got the feeling that if the game were 20 or 30 seconds longer, the Pios might have won. But of course, then they probably would have started desperately pressing 20 or 30 seconds later. Oh well.
CSU hit two free throws to go up 6, then Denver pulled within 5 points with 35 seconds left on a 1-for-2 at the line by Rob Lewis. (That, unfortunately, was a theme for Denver, which shot 25-for-34 from the stripe -- not bad for many teams, but not up to Denver's second-best-in-the-nation pace, and certainly not as good as CSU. The Rams were 28-for-31, with one of those misses being likely intentional. That's 9 free throws missed by Denver versus 2 unintentional misses by CSU, more than enough to account for the final margin.)
After Lewis's free throws, the press was on again, and it forced CSU to call a timeout after 5 seconds of attempting to move the ball up the court. "Rams by 5 with 31.9 left," I tweeted at 8:59 PM. "DU needs a turnover." Well, they got it -- amid the frenzy of CSU trying to beat the 10-second clock, somebody knocked the ball away, Brian Stafford grabbed the loose ball, and Wes Eikmeier was called for fouling Stafford with 26 seconds left (the crowd wanted a jump ball, which would have gone to CSU). Stafford hit two free throws and, voila, it was a 3-point game.
At that point, the dream scenario for a team attempting an improbable late comeback -- getting the ball back in a one-possession game -- almost happened. Denver hassled CSU's Wes Eikmeier into momentarily losing control of the ball, and he very, VERY nearly lost it out of bounds. If he had, it would have been Denver's ball under its own basket with 25 seconds left, down 3 points. But Eikmeier saved it just in time, keeping both his feet and the ball inbounds on the sideline by Denver's bench, and the Pioneers were unable to successfully trap him. The ball ended up in the hands of Jesse Carr, and a foul was called on the Pioneers.
Anyway, Carr hit both free throws for a 78-73 lead with 22 seconds left. A relatively uncontested layup by Brett Olson with 13 seconds to go pulled the Pioneers within 3 again, but the Denver press was unable to force a turnover or near-turnover this time, and after 7 seconds losing a game of keepaway, DU sent Carr back to the line with 6 seconds left.
After Carr drained the first free throw for a 4-point lead, a pair of fans in my section headed for the exits. I overheard one saying to the other, "Unless Tim Tebow is playing out there, this game's over."
And indeed it was. Carr appeared to intentionally miss the second free throw, grabbed his own rebound, and held onto the ball to end the game. Colorado State 79, Denver 75, final.
I hung around for a while after the game, recharging my iPhone (which was down below 20% by this point) and commiserating with Mitch Hyder and Mike Kennedy, including showing Mike the photo of him and Bally. Finally, shortly before 9:30 PM, I headed for the exits, knowing I needed to hurry back to Denver for my 10:30 get-together with the guys at Falling Rock, the one I'd postponed from 8:00 PM so I could attend this game in the first place.
I almost forgot that I needed to get some gas for my car, then remembered at the last moment before getting on the highway. The delay resulted in me having to speed back to Denver in much the same way that I'd sped up to Fort Collins. But it was also a welcome stop in that it allowed me to purchase a beverage and some food, leading to Part 2 of my Dinner of Champions:
Then I hit the road, this time eschewing Tom Petty in favor of Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, who I recently saw in concert and with whom I've been somewhat musically obsessed ever since. My favorite song of theirs at the moment, "Gravity," was the first song I played, and I daresay it has some Mid-Majority-ish overtones:
I've got soul, my mama says so Says, son you'll move up, you're a fighter, I know You will see That life isn't free And everyone dies eventually
Gravity, you're knocking me out You're shaking me up 'til I twist and I shout Oh, gravity It's okay in the clouds But I love it right here with my feet on the ground
It's not Kipling, but hey. Everyone dies eventually, and it always ends in a loss. But until then, we love it right here with our feet on the ground.
I made it back to Denver around 10:35, and capped off the night with a Fat Tire, an Alaskan Amber (which was absolutely delightful), and some good conversation with friends. I left for home around 12:45 AM. Weeknight, shmeeknight: I can sleep when I'm dead. In the meantime, the unforgiving minute isn't going to fill itself.
at COLORADO STATE 79, DENVER 75 01/11/2012
DENVER 13-4 (3-1) -- B. Olson 4-5 2-2 12; B. Stafford 6-7 10-10 24; R. O'Neale 2-3 3-4 8; C. Hallam 3-5 1-2 7; C. Udofia 6-9 2-4 15; R. Lewis 1-5 7-12 9; B. Foeman 0-0 0-0 0; T. Hallam 0-1 0-0 0; J. Coughlin 0-0 0-0 0; C. Griffin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-35 25-34 75. COLORADO STATE 11-4 (0-0) -- W. Eikmeier 6-16 10-10 22; G. Smith 6-9 4-4 17; D. Green 5-8 5-7 15; J. Carr 0-1 7-8 7; K. Sabas 1-3 1-1 3; W. Bell 4-6 1-1 9; P. Hornung 3-4 0-0 6; C. Calcaterra 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-47 28-31 79.
Three-point goals: DEN 6-11 (R. Lewis 0-1; B. Stafford 2-3; T. Hallam 0-1; C. Udofia 1-1; R. O'Neale 1-2; B. Olson 2-3), COST 1-7 (W. Eikmeier 0-2; D. Green 0-2; G. Smith 1-2; K. Sabas 0-1); Rebounds: DEN 15 (R. Lewis 5), COST 23 (G. Smith 7); Assists: DEN 12 (C. Hallam 4), COST 6 (W. Eikmeier 3); Total Fouls -- DEN 27, COST 24; Fouled Out: DEN-C. Udofia; COST-W. Bell.