"And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me -- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before"
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
I had no plan to hit the Fairfield-Siena game on Sunday. My mind had eliminated the possibility when the Saint Peter's-Loyola game was a 2 p.m. start.
But moved up to noon, a strange feeling started to come over me as I stared at the MAAC Sunday schedule in New Jersey. The Fairfield game was at 3:30. I literally had to drive by Webster Bank Arena on the way to the Super Bowl party, and I would probably be getting to Bridgeport just about as the game was going to tip off.
Sure, I would late to the Super Bowl party, but pregame shows are ridiculous, and as noted college basketball aficionado and Larry Bird fan Elwood Blues appropriately pointed out about the 800 Games Project, "This is a lot bigger than any domestic problems you might be experiencing." And so the Super Bowl party would have to wait.
Besides, there seemed to be a strange force drawing me to the beautiful, but horribly oversized, arena, some supernatural force that was hard to explain.
Making fantastic time, I actually got to Bridgeport by 3:20, and was able to save $10 by finding a rare parking spot on the street. Win. As I got near the ticket window, someone stopped me.
"How many tickets do you need?"
"Here you go, I'm not going to use all these anyway."
I looked down at the ticket, Row BB, second row, as it turned out, right near the Siena bench.
Amazing, I hadn't spent a cent and there I was in the second row. Of course, I was starving, and my unused wallet allowed me to get the Mid-Majority answer to the basic pretzel on my limited budget (unrelated note: a pretzel and soda cost $8 in Bridgeport, and exactly half that in Jersey City):
I didn't have much time to look up as Fairfield raced to a 17-4 start and forced Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro to call two timeouts in the game's first seven minutes.
Finally, with pretzel devoured, I had a chance to regain my bearings. I still had that weird feeling that something wasn't right, that someone was watching me.
As the Stags lead ballooned to 19, I looked to my left, and there it was.
The Evil Black Curtain.
It was the one that was drawing me to this game. It was the one that had arranged the great seats, not coincidentally just a few feet from the monster.
It was the one making Lucas the Stag crazy. I'm just lucky I reacted quickly with my camera to chase him away.
See, my theory is this: the Curtain knows I have a strange effect on the Stags; they actually seem to play to their full potential when I show up. This was the third time I've been to Bridgeport to watch them play, and the third decisive victory, all of them in conference. Actually, to take it one step further, I was watching on television when they beat up Arizona State early in the year.
I can't understand why Fairfield is only 13-10 this season, but the Stags have the talent -- as Rakim Sanders (23 points) and Derek Needham (19) showed Sunday afternoon -- to win the MAAC.
Of course, the Curtain should also understand that the opposing competition I've seen has been very mediocre. Siena, the gold standard for the MAAC in the not-so-distant-past, dressed only nine players Sunday and really played only six. O.D. Anosike, who pulled down a ridiculous 22 rebounds and was already the nation's leader coming in, is a talent, and tiny (5-foot-8, 147 pounds) freshman guard Evan Hymes has plenty of potential, but Siena appears to be in rebuilding mode this time around.
As the game wound down, and Fairfield was cruising to another easy victory, I stared down the Curtain. Like Poe's Raven, it stared back:
"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered words, 'MAAC Tourney' This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the words, 'MAAC Tourney' Merely this and nothing more."
Unlike last season (when top-seeded Fairfield was upset by Saint Peter's at home), the Curtain will not be in the building for this year's MAAC Tournament. But I think I will. I'm sure the Curtain knows that, and will feel better about Fairfield's chances because of it. He also is well aware that he can be replaced at any time, and how much nicer he would look with new banners that say "MAAC Champions 2012" and "NCAA Tournament 2012". After all, it's now been 15 years since the Stags have danced with the big boys in mid-March.
The Super Bowl was an hour away, so the staring contest had to come to an abrupt conclusion. In the end, as much as we are enemies, I think we're starting to develop a little bit of an understanding. After all, he got what he wanted (a Fairfield win), while I got what I wanted (another number toward 800).
I thought about going up to touch the monster on the way out, but thought better of it. I did nod, though, and I'm pretty sure he returned the favor.
After all, as Aristotle said, "A common danger unites even the bitterest enemies."
I'll try to bring home the title for you next month in Springfield, big guy.
at FAIRFIELD 64, SIENA 56 02/05/2012
SIENA 10-13 (5-8) -- K. Downey 6-16 4-4 17; E. Hymes 5-12 0-0 14; O. Anosike 2-8 8-8 12; O. Wignot 1-7 1-2 3; R. Poole 0-5 1-2 1; B. Walters 3-8 1-1 7; M. Hopper 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 18-58 15-17 56. FAIRFIELD 13-10 (8-4) -- R. Sanders 9-16 1-1 23; D. Wade 1-4 0-0 2; D. Needham 7-13 0-0 19; M. Barrow 1-6 6-6 8; R. Olander 0-3 1-2 1; C. Nickerson 2-2 0-0 4; K. Matthews 3-7 1-1 7; S. Crawford 0-1 0-0 0; G. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-52 9-10 64.
Three-point goals: SIE 5-16 (K. Downey 1-3; O. Wignot 0-3; E. Hymes 4-7; M. Hopper 0-1; R. Poole 0-2), FAIR 9-18 (R. Sanders 4-6; D. Wade 0-2; S. Crawford 0-1; D. Needham 5-9); Rebounds: SIE 35 (O. Anosike 22), FAIR 29 (R. Sanders 9); Assists: SIE 6 (O. Wignot 2), FAIR 14 (D. Wade 4); Total Fouls -- SIE 12, FAIR 15; Fouled Out: SIE-None; FAIR-None.