Most of the writers for this season's Game go simply as fans and pay for their own tickets. They may follow one team predominantly, or take advantage of the many colleges in their area to see as many games and teams as they can. I sometimes wish I lived in an area with more mid-majors, but on the whole I have it pretty good since I get into all the Portland Pilot home games I can make it to (and I might miss one a season) for free. I just have to "work" playing trumpet in the band. This recap is a summary of what I do when I go to "work" at a Pilot game.
I usually don't think of this as work though, since I love music. I started in sixth grade, 20 years ago, and I haven't stopped. I've made many good friends and picked up tons of great stories along the way. And since I started high school the music I've liked most is the pop and rock charts we played at basketball games.
Because many students go back to their homes outside the Portland area over the winter break, the Purple Pride Pep Band needs alumni like me and my friends to make sure we have enough of a band to play at games between the semesters. There are a half dozen or so of us who keep coming back after graduation and this continuity keeps the band sounding good. But it really starts with our enthusiastic and intelligent directors, first Phil Cansler;
, who we all wish was still here, and his successor, Dr. Patrick Murphy, now in his fifth season. The students here include some very talented musicians who make Portland's band the best it can be.
This game, against BYU, is on a Saturday night, so I've spent most of the day relaxing, checking other games online and doing the usual weekend errands. It's also a 7:30 start, a half hour later for ESPNU, so I have a little extra time. After putting on the standard purple band polo and khakis, it's time for an important choice: the shoes to wear to the game. I have a few pairs of purple shoes (I guess nobody wants to pay full price for purple sneakers because I've found them all at the Nike outlet over years) and go with whatever Bally feels like that day. Tonight it looks like we're going with the Hyperdunks. Good choice.
I like to get to the Chiles Center about an hour before tipoff, to find a good parking space, unpack my horn, and warm up. On a weekend it takes about 25 minutes from my house in the south of the city to the Portland campus up north. I allow more like 40 minutes on weekdays when I'm driving through rush hour and avoiding the freeway. I'm usually the first member of the band to get there. Darren, a percussionist who graduated in 2008, typically arrives around the same time. I also talk a little basketball with Greg Crawford, a columnist for a local cable affiliate. Greg's a smart guy, knows basketball in the Northwest, and goes to even more games than I do.
Over the next half hour Dr. Murphy and the rest of the band file in, and about 20 minutes before tipoff we start our first song, in this case "Johnny B. Good." We'll do another four or so before the end of warmups, as well as play the Star-Spangled Banner. The pregame routine is the same every night: With one minute on the clock it's time for the Victory March, written by Dr. C himself, then a series of chords as each Pilot is introduced. New to the book this year are a handful of mostly good tunes. We have "Moves Like Jagger" for the kids, "Livin On A Prayer" if you like classic rock, and Earth, Wind, and Fire's "Sing A Song," with classic horn line. And in accordance with Hoops Nation law we also have added that instant classic, Gangnam Style.
That's a page from the script. It tells everyone involved in game ops what announcements are getting read, what graphics go up on the video screen, and who--the band or the sound booth--plays the music before the game, at halftime, and most importantly for our purposes, during the media timeouts. As you may know, Division I games being broadcast in some fashion (which is to say, almost every one) have timeouts at the first dead ball following the 16-, 12-, 8-, and 4-minute marks of each half. Additionally, each team gets four 30-second and one 60-second timeout per game. You can have a maximum of three 30s in the second half and the first team timeout of the second half is extended to the length of a media timeout. Clear? It is when you play long enough. Anyway, in this game we're playing three of the four media timeouts each half, which is pretty normal. Since it's a TV game Dr. Murphy knows we'll probably finish whatever song we're playing before the end of the timeout, so he'll be calling for another one as soon as we're done.
As soon as the game tips off it's time to relax for a second and wait for Dr. Murphy to call the song for the first timeout. Our charts are all numbered so they're easy to find in the books. This is important when you have about 60 or 70 songs like we do. As I watch the game I keep an eye on the clock and as it ticks down below 16:00 I start anticipating the next whistle and media timeout. Over the years I've grown accustomed to watching college games four minutes at a time. Play stops, the horn goes off, and after a PA read it's showtime. Repeat two more times in the first half and three times in the second. Relax at the under-8 in the first half and the under-12 in the second because those aren't ours.
The first half itself has been all too familiar to Pilot fans. BYU, led by national Top 10 scorer Tyler Haws, Brandon Davies, and Matt Carlino, are finding good looks and scoring. Portland can't take good enough care of the ball to even put up a shot and have a dozen turnovers. Still, they only trail 29-19 at halftime. The huge number of BYU fans in Portland make the crowd bigger than normal, and a group of guys in togas on their way to a dance after the game liven up the student section. I see the rumors about conference moves like everyone else in Hoops Nation and I don't know how much longer BYU will be the WCC. I started wondering when they'd leave as soon as they were announced as a member. This may have been the last time the Cougars come to Portland for a conference game. However long they stay athletic departments around the WCC will appreciate the bump in ticket sales. Tonight's crowd was announced as 3078, not a sellout like the Gonzaga game always is, but a decent crowd for the Chiles Center.
Halftime is a time to grab one of the free soft drinks in the cooler next to the band section, mix in some of the BLAPP that is kept in an undisclosed location under the stands (only for those who have signed the waiver and provided proof of insurance) and prepare for the second half. We'll play a song or two, then the Victory March at 1:00 on the clock.
The second half was more of the same. Portland struggled to make shots and BYU had too much talent. Things did get livened up six minutes into the half when Portland's Tanner Riley, who had just come into the game, jumped onto a pile of bodies going after a loose ball, grabbed BYU's Brock Zylstra, and then as the players were getting separated, took another swing at him. So ended Riley's night, which consisted of the following line: 1 min, 1-1 FG, 3 pts, 1 reb, 1 foul. He'll be sitting out Portland's next game, Thursday at Santa Clara. Tonight's game continues to expose a glaring hole in the literal middle of Portland's lineup. The centers, Riley Barker and Thomas van der Mars, have not been producing this season. For some reason they haven't developed as much as they need to in order for the Pilots to improve.
Teams save timeouts for second half, as you know, and these are more opportunities for us to play. But in a game like this they just prolong the inevitable. Eventually Portland calls its last one and the clock quickly counts down to an 85-67 BYU win. After the final horn we play the Victory March one last time, and when we win we follow that with "All Right Now." Tonight, though, we pack up and head out, either to the school dance or back home to go through pictures for their next recap. Either way it's time for a few days off before the next gigs, women's games Thursday and Saturday. The Pilots may not play the best basketball, but at least I get a good seat and I make a little money. Not a bad deal for a college basketball fan.