I had waited for this day for weeks: I was finally going to see a road game for my school.
After making the 100-mile trip, 77 as the crow flies, I came into the city by the bay. As fun as it was to finally cross the new Bay Bridge, I quickly realized the freeway dumped me right into downtown San Francisco. I had been to San Francisco before but that was years ago and I wasn't traveling alone in the middle of a work week.
I figured I would face some animosity since I would be supporting the road team, but since USF was still in intersession, I encountered a mostly full lower bowl and a student section consisting of one guy with a megaphone.
Ian covered most of the feelings of a road fan but the only animosity I got were strange looks from celebrating made free throws with the traditional "Whoosh Pilots!" and the occasional "Portland Sucks!" by a youth contingent.
As the Dons hit their threes and showed their experience, forcing mistakes, making no-look passes for open superhoops, turning steals into breakaway dunks or lazy layups, locking down the perimeter and pushing around the younger Pilot big men, Portland closed the gap to fifteen by playing to their strength: using youthful athleticism and drawing fouls.
During halftime's CYO game I wandered around the WMG and caught up with former Pilot and current Don law student Ethan Neidermeyer. I bought a meatball sandwhich which was twice the price of a Don Dog, but at the time I took the four dollar hit, thinking nothing of it.
The second half brought more of the same. USF looked like the Pilots of a few years ago, hitting a total of 13 superhoops, every one of them prompting roars from the crowd and plunging a metaphorical dagger into the hopes of being a member of the 40% road winners club. Both benches played their allotment of 13 players; the Pilots kept missing shots, the Dons forced turnovers, turned many of those turnovers into points and I understood how visiting Gael fans felt during the last of Mauro Potestio's 898 consecutive home games.
One of the few bright spots came from the classiness of the Don fans. After USF went up by 25, the great majority of fans let the cheers of the lone student representative fall onto respectful silence, outside of the made superhoops.
After the final buzzer I made my way down courtside to catch up with the radio voice of the Pilots, Bill Johnson. I tried to point out the rematch was just nine days away, but this was not the night for silver linings. Mr. Johnson compared the game to the 1996 NCAA first round game against Villanova, in which his partner sat in stunned silence the entire second half because he could not say anything positive.
Before making the long journey back to Sacramento, I stuck around to thank the player who had left me a ticket and ran into a another recent alumnus of Portland who used to work with the trainers and lived in the city. The two of us joined Ethan as we made our respective walks home. Ahead of us for the first few minutes was USF Head Coach Rex Walters. I have a feeling he heard me say that I thought the Pilots had a better chance of beating USF than St. Mary's but I believe he was not offended by the remark. In conference, one likes to think they have a better chance of beating a winless conference team than the defending regular season co-champions.
After soaking in the loss I quickly compiled a playlist I thought would help me come to terms with the loss and move on to the next game. The starting trio: the Animals' "We've Gotta Get out of This Place;" my newer song to play after losses, "Anyone" by Freedy Johnston; and the classic anthem of Championship Fortnight: "Love TKO" by Teddy Pendergrass.
While speeding through the city and through the Bay Bridge, I decided to reflect on the game and the post-game interactions. After declining the offer to make another trip, this time to the "friendly" confines of Moraga, I felt like I had let the team down in advance. I declined partly because of the distance, my schedule (driving 100 miles the night before flying did not seem like the best way to end a break), my plans, and partly the fear of seeing them get blown out again. I was not ready to become a two-time loser, not at this time.
Times like this make the Road another enemy to happiness, trapped in a fast moving metal box alone with your thoughts and hopefully good music.
As I moved along a road that moved with the land, I realized I knew what love was, I embraced some California Love and imagined a place where Nothing ever happens, the pain of the loss continued to subside. By the time the intro started on Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, I was ready to move on to Saturday.
I thought back to the post-game discussions in the WMG lobby. One of the Don faithful commented, "You must be a Portland fan with that outfit." As I was wearing a sport coat, a purple collared shirt, a purple bow tie and purple and white camo pants, I took the comment in stride. Ethan noted I had to have some kind of investment to make the road trip to see the team on break. Perhaps the journey was not all disappointing.
Passing by the ARC of UC Davis, I asked myself what was so funny about peace, love and understanding, and reaching the skyline of Sacramento, I heard a potential harbinger for my next game: "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet."
Sometimes it's hard to maintain an emotional investment, but whatever my standing in life is when this team comes together, I'll know this night was one of the many painful but educational building blocks that helped build a cohesive unit.
at SAN FRANCISCO 104, PORTLAND 70 01/12/2012
PORTLAND 5-12 (2-2) -- R. Nicholas 3-6 6-6 12; T. Douglas 5-6 1-1 11; D. Cason 3-6 2-2 9; T. van der Mars 1-3 4-6 6; K. Bailey 2-9 4-5 9; N. Mitrovic 2-7 0-0 4; T. Riley 3-7 0-0 7; D. Carr 2-4 0-0 5; E. Waterford 1-4 5-6 7; J. Bailey 0-1 0-0 0; K. Thieleke 0-0 0-0 0; D. Rodgers 0-2 0-0 0; T. Mossman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-55 22-26 70. SAN FRANCISCO 11-8 (1-4) -- C. Doolin 2-4 0-0 6; M. Williams 3-7 2-2 9; R. Green 8-9 1-1 19; P. Blackwell 4-10 2-4 10; C. Dickerson 4-6 0-0 11; D. O'Connor 6-9 4-6 16; A. Caloiaro 6-6 2-3 16; J. Raffington 1-2 2-2 4; G. Hoffmann 0-0 0-0 0; C. Adams 1-1 0-0 3; K. Murphy 2-2 0-0 5; J. Wey 2-2 0-0 5; A. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-58 13-18 104.
Three-point goals: PORT 4-14 (E. Waterford 0-1; N. Mitrovic 0-3; T. Riley 1-1; T. Douglas 0-1; K. Bailey 1-4; D. Carr 1-3; D. Cason 1-1), SF 13-18 (R. Green 2-2; A. Caloiaro 2-2; D. O'Connor 0-1; M. Williams 1-3; K. Murphy 1-1; C. Dickerson 3-4; J. Wey 1-1; C. Doolin 2-3; C. Adams 1-1); Rebounds: PORT 24 (T. van der Mars 9), SF 30 (P. Blackwell 9); Assists: PORT 6 (T. Douglas 2), SF 20 (M. Williams 5); Total Fouls -- PORT 16, SF 21; Fouled Out: PORT-None; SF-None.