"Daddy, is it time to go to the basketball game yet?"
That was my daughters' refrain all last weekend. No matter how many times I told them we'd leave after lunch on Sunday, my daughters Loyette, 4, and Loyacita, 2 1/2 (not their real names), wanted constant updates on whether basketball time had finally arrived. Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, first thing Sunday -- they just kept asking. That's how excited they were to go see Denver host North Texas in both teams' final regular season game.
Of course, my daughters had no concept of the game's implications -- Denver fighting for a #3 seed in the Sun Belt tourney and a school-record 21st win, North Texas aiming for 3rd place in the SBC West and momentum heading into Hot Springs -- nor even necessarily the names of the teams playing in it, or the precise nature of the sport being played. ("Is he the quarterback?" Loyette asked me at one point early in the game.) They were mostly just excited to go on a fun adventure with Daddy.
As the father of three girls age 4 and under, I spend a good deal of time reading princess books, watching Dora the Explorer episodes, admiring pink-and-purple artwork, commenting on their beautiful dresses and pretty dance moves, and eating pretend meals that they've prepared for me in their toy kitchen. I anticipate years of playing with Barbie dolls, attending tea parties (the non-political kind), and inhabiting the role of Prince Charming as we "dance" to Disney songs. I'm fine with all of that. In fact, I love it. Being a daddy of little girls is great. But I also take it upon myself, now and then, to try and indoctrinate my girls with an interest in things that *I* think are awesome.
Music is a great example of this. In addition to Raffi and Disney tunes and other kids' songs, we routinely listen to Johnny Cash, the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, and other music that I like. (I myself was indoctrinated with a love of the Clancies & Makem by my dad when I was young. Multi-generational Irish folk-music indoctrination FTW!) We've done this often enough that, sometimes, the girls will specifically request those playlists, unprompted, which just delights me beyond belief. What's more, I'm fairly certain they know it delights me, which creates a positive feedback loop.
Similarly, when there's a big live event on TV happening between dinnertime and bedtime that I want to watch -- e.g., a big college basketball or football game, a political speech or debate, or an election night on CNN -- we will sit down and watch it together. Even if their attention wavers after a few minutes, the girls definitely take an interest, in large part because (again) they can tell how much it delights me when they do.
In March 2010, Loyette, then barely two years old, was indoctrinated into the Mid-Majority fold as a huge Butler fan, to the point where, when she caught a passing glimpse of an NBA game months later, she instinctively blurted out, "GO BUTLER!!!" This winter, both girls got caught up in Tebowmania, and Broncos games became appointment viewing in the Loy household, with the girls "Tebowing" and cheering on the local team with much flair and adorableness.
Meanwhile, some of my favorite moments of the 2012 presidential campaign have been hilarious comments by my daughters, like the time Loyette asked me during a debate, "Is Rick Perry crazy?" -- I waffled on that one -- and the time she asked me, apropos of nothing, whether "Mitt Romney, Butterfly King" is a "phrase." ("Yes," I responded, through nearly uncontrollable snickers. "Yes, I suppose it is.")
Just the other night, when CNN declared Romney the winner in the Arizona primary, Loyette was delighted -- he's her favorite GOP candidate, "because he's handsome" -- but Loyacita was incensed, protesting, "Daddy! I didn't WANT Romney to win!" When I asked whom she preferred, she thought for a moment, then declared confidently: "Ron Paul!" (#PANIC!)
But of course, live events on TV, whether athletic or political, are one thing; live events in person are another level of awesome. We've been taking the girls to collegiate sporting events since a very young age, and I do mean VERY young: Loyette, who was born in Knoxville during our brief stay there, attended a Tennessee Lady Vols game at the tender age of five weeks.
Loyette has been to five college football games in her life -- six if you count when she was in utero -- and I've lost track of how many college basketball games, both men's and women's, both above the Red Line and below. Whatever the exact number, it's a lot. Loyacita has been plenty of games as well, though of course Loyette had a head start, being a year-and-a-half older. Loyabelle, our 7-month-old, attended her first game when the whole family went to Denver vs. Boise State back in December, as you may recall from my recap of that game. She's too young to "get it" now, of course, but someday she, too, will hopefully appreciate the joys of watching sports with daddy.
For the North Texas game, though, we decided that just Loyette and Loyacita would go with me; Loyabelle, who was recovering from a double ear infection, would stay home with my wife Becky. As much as Loyette and Loyacita love their mommy and their baby sister, I think this arrangement made our basketball "date" even more exciting. Because Becky is a stay-at-home mom, while I work as an attorney, time with Daddy is precious commodity, and anytime the girls get to hang out just with me, it's automatically a special occasion in their minds.
As we got in the car to leave for our daddy-&-daughters basketball date, Loyette asked if we could listen to "basketball music" on the drive to DU. Loyacita concurred enthusiastically. So I put on -- what else? -- some Tom Petty. But after 2 or 3 songs, I remembered that I'd wanted them to get a brief nap (their usual naptime is 1:00 PM, meaning this unusual schedule created an orange-alert risk of post-halftime meltdowns), so I put on the songs that trigger an almost Pavlovian sleep response in the girls: James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James," Billy Joel's "Lullaby," etc. It worked. They were both sound asleep by the time we arrived at Magness.
Sunday was Senior Day at Denver, and I wanted to get to Magness in plenty of time to catch the pregame ceremony, so we had left around noon for a 1:00 tip, despite living a mere 25 minutes or so away. I had considered buying tickets online, but, out of a desire to dodge the fees, I decided to get them at the box office. Foolishly, I pictured waltzing up to the window, promptly buying tickets, and heading right into the arena. So confident was I that, upon arriving and parking at 12:25ish, I let the girls keep napping in the car for about 10 extra minutes, figuring the additional rest would pay dividends later, and we still had plenty of time to get in. This was a miscalculation of epic proportions.
As it turned out, we had to wait in the box-office line for about 20 minutes. Simultaneous lacrosse and swimming events made for an unusually high volume of ticket-buyers, and the ticket-sellers just couldn't keep up. Worse, the line was outside, in the cold, in a wind tunnel. Loyette and Loyacita were sufficiently miserable that I had to hold both of them for most of the 20 minutes, exhausting myself in the process. Over and over, they informed me that it was cold and they wanted to get inside. By the time we finally got our tickets and ventured into the arena, we were all freezing, and we'd entirely missed the Senior Day festivities and the tipoff. There were 18 minutes left in the first half.
Thankfully, despite the delay, I was able to get us really good seats, in the front row on the baseline nearest the cheerleaders and pep band. The view of the paint area was somewhat obstructed by the base of the hoop, but we could still see a good 90% of the action, and being closer made the game -- and the surrounding festivities -- infinitely more interesting to the girls... and presumably also their stuffies, Loyette's baby elephant Aurora and Loyacita's recently-replaced, errr, returned from vacation Dora the Explorer. Aurora and Dora joined the Brothers Ballz in a quartet of stuffed observers:
Our front-row location also facilitated our encounter with Denver Boone, DU's controversial, unofficial/historical mascot, who happily posed with the Ballys (see top of post) and with the girls and me. The girls were delighted when Boone played with the Ballys, giggling uproariously as he did so.
As for the game, Loyette quickly grasped that the "white guys" (ahem, that's referring to their *jerseys*) were Denver, while the "green guys" were North Texas -- and that we were cheering for Denver. On several occasions, she had Aurora do a celebratory dance when the Pioneers would score. But, as fun as basketball is, both girls were frankly more interested in something else: the prospect of popcorn.
They'd been talking all weekend about the possibility of getting popcorn in connection with the basketball game, and they'd repeatedly smelled the wafting scent of popcorn while waiting that cold line. So my hopes of waiting to get popcorn until halftime were quickly revealed to be quite unrealistic. At the under-8 timeout, we ventured up to the concession, got a big tub of the stuff, and brought it back to our seats.
With the girls now sated for a few minutes, I was able to at least half-watch some actual hoops. Denver had gotten off to a sluggish start against the Mean Green; indeed, both offenses were sluggish, with the score at each of the first-half media timeouts being: 7-2 UNT, 10-7 DU, 16-16, and 19-18 DU.
But the Pioneers went a run in the final 3:40 of the half, turning a 20-19 deficit into a 27-20 lead at the break. The last 2 points of that run came from Brian Stafford free throws off a technical foul on the Mean Green bench, which created a teachable moment with the girls, whereby I explained that North Texas was being punished because its coach was being mean and yelling. "A technical foul is sort of like being on the naughty step," I opined.
At halftime, the girls continued to work on their popcorn. Meanwhile, I was able to observe at least part of the day's halftime festivities, as the senior cheerleaders and pep band members were honored.
Also during the half, the Magness Arena jumbotron displayed a highlight reel of Denver successes in the Sun Belt, and the P.A. announcer waxed nostalgic. This was the Pioneers' last-ever home game, and last-ever regular season game, as a member of the Sun Belt; next season, they'll join the WAC. Despite the recent defection to the Sun Belt of former WAC commissioner Karl Benson - the same man who, in fall 2010, welcomed Denver to the WAC - the Pioneers on Sunday tipped their caps to the league that helped DU get on its feet as a Division I school. Denver certainly hopes bigger and better things are ahead -- one imagines that a WCC invite would be the holy grail, but the WAC will do for now -- yet on Sunday they paid a grateful tribute to the SBC, my signature Benson snark notwithstanding.
When the second half started, the girls were excited that we got a better view of Denver on offense:
A few minutes into the second half, I sensed that the girls -- who had by now tired of eating popcorn -- were becoming restless. So we ventured up to the concourse level and then wandered into the back halls of Magness Arena, "chasing" each other around a mostly empty hallway. There was much delighted squealing as they blew off steam, which I knew was essential to their remaining calm and under control for the remainder of the game. (This is basically the same concept as letting kids be somewhat boisterous and run around a bit in the airport terminal before a flight, so they'll be more tolerant of, and well-behaved during, the flight itself.)
During our wanderings, we ended up walking past a window looking down on the El Pomar Natatorium -- i.e., the swimming pool -- which was hosting a massive youth swim meet. The girls were pretty interested in that sight:
Even more interesting was the sight of someone walking by, eating some sort of mystery food that, as Loyette described it later, looked pink and "fluffy" and delicious. I didn't see the person the girls saw, but I quickly surmised that they were talking about cotton candy. We figured out where we could get some, bought it, and returned to our seats around the under-12 timeout.
As all this was happening, Denver had a huge sequence -- back-to-back #superhoops by freshman Brett Olsen, an #omgdunx by fellow freshman Royce O'Neale, and another #superhoop by senior Justin Coughlin -- that put them up 47-32, a lead that would never seriously be threatened for the rest of the game.
Loyette and Loyacita, meanwhile, now had a new bit of junk food that would entertain them for the rest of the game.
After I tweeted that above photo (with the caption "We have cotton candy. #DaddyFTW"), SI writer and my Twitter buddy Andy Glockner tweeted at my wife, "@MileHighBecky, @MileHighMids is stuffing your daughters full of cotton candy and popcorn after almost freezing them. #comesavethem :)" Heh.
This brings me back to my earlier point about indoctrination. Why is it that my daughters "buy in" so much to things like football and basketball games, or for that matter, watching cable-news election coverage? In part, it's simply because I'm Daddy and they worship the ground I walk on (it comes with the job description - at their current age, anyway), so I can't really go wrong by doing anything and including them in it. In part, it's because, as I mentioned earlier, they can tell how happy it makes me when they show an interest, so they do it more to elicit that response. In part, it's because there's a seed of genuine interest -- my 4-year-old actually does ask quite a few questions, be it what the point guard/quarterback is doing, or what the differently colored blotches on CNN's map of Michigan's counties mean.
But also, I realized on Sunday, it's partly because I spoil the girls more when we're doing something *I* want to do, instead of something *they* want to do. At a basketball games, I give them popcorn and cotton candy. On election nights, we eat tortilla chips on the couch (usually a no-no) and stay up a few minutes past their bedtime, and maybe I promise to let them paint their lips (with the lip gloss Santa gave them) after they brush teeth, as a "special treat." I let them have these extra treats not because I'm deliberately trying to associate "my" chosen activities with subsidiary fun, but rather because I figure the girls inherently deserve an extra bonus for putting up with, and playing along with, my random activity of choice, when they might prefer watching Dora and Boots to Wolf Blitzer and John King, or going to Little Monkey Bizness instead of Magness Arena. I'm also more willing to "bribe" them to behave well when I feel like I'm asking them to go above-and-beyond the normal expectations of good behavior (e.g., by sitting generally still for two hours at a basketball game after having a minimal afternoon nap).
I tend to do this "extra spoiling" without even consciously realizing it -- it's more a situational pragmatism that drives it -- and yet the unintended (but happy) side effect is that the girls end up liking "my" activities a lot, precisely because they associate them with all the fun stuff surrounding those activities. I wind up indoctrinating them even more effectively than I ever realized!
Getting back to the North Texas game, I eventually had to take away the cotton candy, lest the girls eat the entire giant tub in one sitting. So for the final few minutes of the game, we mostly just sat and watched. Then with 32 seconds left, Denver's two primary senior contributors, Rob Lewis and Brian Stafford, came out of the game to big applause and an enthusiastic greeting from the bench. I'd missed the pregame ceremony, but at least I hadn't missed this. Here's the video.
One of the substitutes replacing the seniors was actually another senior, walk-on Alex Pickert, Denver's "human victory cigar." Ten seconds after coming into the game, Pickert produced the game's signature moment, a beautiful layup for his only 2 points of his senior season. The bench went completely nuts, as you'd imagine. I wasn't expecting anything so awesome to happen, so I wasn't videotaping anymore, and didn't have my camera aimed well -- but I still managed to capture the moment, sort of, with a poorly framed photo:
The final score was Denver 64, North Texas 52, clinching for DU the #3 seed in the Sun Belt Tournament, and relegating North Texas to the #5 seed. Here's how that looks on my As-You-Go Sun Belt Bracket:
I should add that the #AYG SBC Bracket is now located on my Giant Bracket Wall, alongside blank men's and women's NCAA bracket. As I finish writing this recap on Saturday night, March 3, almost a week after the North Texas game, here's how the wall looks:
Anyway, the #3 seed that Denver earned by beating North Texas is critical, as it keeps the Pioneers away from any rematch with league regular-season champ Middle Tennessee State until a possible championship game. This is also important for me personally, since my travel plans -- and future 800GP plans -- hinge on Denver making it to the title game. If the Pioneers win their quarterfinal Sunday (March 4) against South Alabama, and proceed to win their semifinal Monday night (March 5) against, most likely, Arkansas-Little Rock, then I will hop on a flight to Little Rock, Arkansas at 6:00 AM Tuesday, March 6, and drive a rental car from Little Rock to the SBC tourney site in Hot Springs. With the semifinal game likely to end around 9:30 or 10:00 PM Mountain Time on Monday, I'd need to leave the house for the airport roughly 5-6 hours after the game ends -- if Denver wins. If the Pioneers lose, I'll cancel my flight, rental car and hotel reservations, and go to work in downtown Denver like usual Tuesday morning. If Denver gets to the semis, rarely if ever will a game outcome have been so personally consequential for me as Monday night's.
In fact, if Denver makes the semis, I will have to put the girls to bed Monday night without knowing whether I'll see them Tuesday morning, or not until Wednesday evening. Since I can't leave them with something so amorphous, I think I will have to simply tell them that I'm definitely leaving -- and then if Denver loses, and they wake up Tuesday and find that I'm still there, it will be a pleasant surprise.
What I'm still wrestling with, though, is what exactly to tell them I'm going to *do* in Arkansas. It'll be bad enough, in their eyes, that I'm leaving for two days. But if I tell them I'm going to a Denver basketball game, will they -- especially Loyette -- be not just upset about me leaving, but also jealous they can't come with me to watch more basketball? Probably. Ah, indoctrination.
Six days after the North Texas win, we went to an above-the-Red-Line women's basketball game up in Boulder -- the whole family this time, Becky and Loyabelle too. On the drive up, Loyette again asked for "basketball music," and was again treated to some Tom Petty tunes. Once we arrived, she informed me she was cheering for "Denver," which would have been a surprise to both Colorado and Oregon State. At halftime, she asked whether the ladies performing at halftime were the "DU Dancers."
And of course, we were barely there for five minutes when she asked the inevitable question:
"Can we go get popcorn now?"
at DENVER 64, NORTH TEXAS 52 02/26/2012
NORTH TEXAS 16-13 (9-7) -- A. Williams 5-12 0-3 10; T. Mitchell 4-9 1-1 9; R. Franklin 0-4 3-4 3; J. Holmen 3-7 0-0 7; T. Hall 3-6 0-0 7; B. Walton 4-5 4-4 13; T. Norris 0-0 0-0 0; N. Stojiljkovic 0-1 1-2 1; F. Robinson 1-3 0-0 2; A. Edwards 0-1 0-0 0; K. Hogans 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 9-14 52. DENVER 21-8 (11-5) -- B. Olson 4-8 0-0 10; R. O'Neale 5-10 1-1 11; B. Stafford 4-11 6-6 15; C. Udofia 5-13 2-2 15; R. Lewis 2-5 0-0 4; J. Coughlin 3-5 0-0 7; B. Foeman 0-5 0-0 0; T. Hallam 0-4 0-0 0; A. Pickert 1-1 0-0 2; T. Thalken 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 9-9 64.
Three-point goals: NTEX 3-7 (A. Williams 0-1; J. Holmen 1-1; T. Hall 1-2; T. Mitchell 0-1; B. Walton 1-2), DEN 7-25 (B. Stafford 1-5; J. Coughlin 1-2; T. Hallam 0-2; B. Foeman 0-3; C. Udofia 3-6; R. O'Neale 0-2; B. Olson 2-5); Rebounds: NTEX 36 (T. Mitchell 12), DEN 28 (R. O'Neale 11); Assists: NTEX 10 (N. Stojiljkovic 2), DEN 13 (B. Stafford 4); Total Fouls -- NTEX 7, DEN 16; Fouled Out: NTEX-None; DEN-None.