As the final horn sounded Monday night and Loyola had officially won the MAAC, I half-expected Jimmy Patsos to run to the middle of the court and rip off his suit, revealing a white T-shirt. Then, I thought, the lights would go out, a spotlight would shine on Patsos, water would start to stream from the ceiling of the MassMutual Center, and Morgan Freeman's voice would echo over the PA system:
"Jimmy Patsos, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. Jimmy Patsos, headed for the NCAA Tournament."
Yea, my memory has a tendency to run wild like that. It was only a basketball game, after all.
In reality, Patsos somewhat calmly walked to the Fairfield bench to shake hands with opposing coach Sydney Johnson and had a pretty tame celebration, really mild by Patsos standards.
The game itself was far from a thing of beauty, although much of the credit for Fairfield's pathetic offensive performance has to go to the Greyhounds' defense, particularly inside. Loyola had eight blocks, five by Erik Etherly, as every time the Stags tried to come to the basket, they were denied. Plays that looked like they were going to end up as easy baskets were altered into misses.
When Fairfield also went cold from the outside, it managed only 14 points in a frustrating second half. While the Stags were left to wonder what might have been with a completely healthy squad (Derek Needham could have likely made a big difference), Patsos and his staff had made the correct adjustments for the second time in three days (and you could argue all three, really).
While the media focused on Bobby Seale and the Guggenheim and whatever else they could get their hands on, the Loyola coaching staff found a way to shut off Fairfield's biggest threat, Rakim Sanders, who had taken down Iona the day before. After 10 points and seven free throw attempts in the first half, Sanders managed only two points in the second half (1-for-9 from the field), and did not attempt a single foul shot. By the end, he was completely frustrated, and the Stags didn't have the weapons to overcome even a mediocre offensive effort by the Greyhounds, who didn't have a field goal in the final 5:47.
But when everyone is looking for the next story, the next great hook like a music producer, the basketball becomes secondary. That blurry line where sports meets #sportz shows up. Did you know that Patsos was a bartender? How about that he makes funny faces when he's coaching? Hey, did you hear he went triangle-and-two on a single player a few years ago?
Best of all, did you know Patsos was a huge Grateful Dead fan?
And with every wonderful piece by tremendous journalists like Pete Thamel, you want to scream at people, "Didn't you read this? We knew about Jimmy Patsos years ago. Where were you?"
Of course, that's just selfish behavior. As much as I love Kyle's piece - and I think it's one of the best pieces of writing I've seen in a long time - there is no exclusive right to knowing a person, especially after they become successful. You don't expect the fabulous hole-in-the-wall with the best food around to turn away customers that would make them more money and eventually make their life better.
You hope they remember their originals, their regulars, and how loyal they were, and you hope that the experience remains the same, but most times it doesn't - even if the best efforts are made to do so.
My Tweet at the conclusion of this game was a reference to Kyle's piece: "Loyola 48, Fairfield 44 final. Jimmy Patsos has finally rowed his way to shore. Congrats, brother."
Kyle added a link to the Dead song, "Row Jimmy", which always seemed perfect for Patsos, as I'm sure it occurred to him.
"Row, Jimmy, row. Gonna get there? I don't know. Seems a common way to go Get down, row, row, row row, row"
But the song doesn't really talk about what happens when you actually get there. Does it mean Patsos looks for a job above the Red Line? Or does it mean Patsos changes in some way into something different than what he was? We hope not in our neck of the woods, but it's possible.
The Dead were popular by the time Row Jimmy came out in 1973. They obviously got more popular as time progressed from there. I'm sure there were plenty of people that said they had "sold out" or weren't true to where they started. There are surely men and women around that saw the Dead in the Bay Area in the mid-60s that thought they knew the guys best and no one else ever would.
But if something is good or noteworthy, why shouldn't it be shared with the rest of the world?
Unfortunately for Patsos, the college basketball world can be much crueler than the music world when it comes to success. If he stays at Loyola, he's likely bought himself a few seasons' grace period and more people will recognize him now, but if he doesn't get back to the tournament, people will slowly forget and move onto the next big thing.
You could argue he was a little lucky last week: the Greyhounds beat an extremely young Niagara squad that had already played a game, then topped a Siena team that played only six players and had won a draining overtime game just 16 hours earlier, and finished it off against a less than 100 percent Fairfield. They never had to deal with the best team in the MAAC this season, Iona, whom Fairfield took care of for them (the counterargument, of course, would be that Loyola put themselves in that position by being the No. 2 seed).
If he does leave for a major conference, the pressure will be more intense to win. He'll have to row harder, faster to keep up. But if succeeds there, he'll likely never be forgotten.
It's also possible that the rowing is what it's all about. When it ends in a loss in the NCAA Tournament (and it always does), maybe Patsos jumps back into that "river of shit" because he (like a lot of coaches) just likes the struggle, the battle, the everyone-against-me game.
After watching 11 games in four days (complete with job and other duties), I was tired, my body needed rest, I thought to myself, "I'm never doing that again." But now it's a couple of days later, the memories come back, and you start to think, "That was a blast, wasn't it?" The struggle makes the human existence more meaningful.
In the big picture, college basketball is not going to cure disease, bring world peace, or solve hunger in third-world countries, and I think deep down we know that. Ironically, bringing up Seale and New York City museums proves the Patsos gets that as well.
As a soccer person, I once read a book on Anson Dorrance, the most successful NCAA women's soccer coach of all-time at North Carolina. He tells of a secretary frantically trying to get a hold of him, finally catching up with him to tell him that he has an urgent message.
"I'm a soccer coach. How could I have an urgent message?"
Yes, Patsos is just a basketball coach. But, behind the shenanigans and brash behavior you'll keep hearing about this week, he's a darn good one.
And, no matter how dirty and disgusting it can get sometimes, he loves his job, which shows through in his passion for his work.
If only we could all be so lucky.
LOYOLA (MD.) 48, FAIRFIELD 44 03/05/2012
FAIRFIELD 19-14 (12-6) -- M. Barrow 5-16 0-0 10; R. Olander 3-11 4-4 11; C. Nickerson 2-2 0-0 4; D. Wade 1-5 1-2 4; R. Sanders 3-14 6-7 12; J. Fields 0-1 1-2 1; K. Matthews 1-3 0-1 2; S. Crawford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-52 12-16 44. LOYOLA (MD.) 24-8 (13-5) -- R. Olson 2-7 2-2 7; D. Cormier 2-5 1-3 5; R. Williams 0-3 3-3 3; E. Etherly 4-12 2-2 10; S. Walker 1-3 2-4 4; A. Winbush 2-4 0-0 6; J. Drummond 2-6 4-4 8; J. Latham 2-5 1-1 5; J. Brooks 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-45 15-19 48.
Three-point goals: FAIR 2-11 (R. Sanders 0-4; D. Wade 1-1; R. Olander 1-6), LMD 3-8 (S. Walker 0-1; E. Etherly 0-1; A. Winbush 2-2; R. Olson 1-1; D. Cormier 0-1; J. Drummond 0-1; R. Williams 0-1); Rebounds: FAIR 34 (M. Barrow 13), LMD 27 (E. Etherly 7); Assists: FAIR 12 (D. Wade 4), LMD 8 (D. Cormier 3); Total Fouls -- FAIR 17, LMD 16; Fouled Out: FAIR-None; LMD-None.