Well, we’re headed home. No more Spokane. The Sooners were one and done, losing to North Dakota State 80-75 in overtime Thursday night. No grand adventures, other than basketball, on Game Day.
But I had quite an experience.
After the OU game, I was walking through a corridor of Veterans Memorial Arena, had just stopped to congratulate North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips, wish him and the Bison good luck, and was headed back to the press room, when I heard a voice say, “Cherry Root Beer?”
I turned and laughed and said, “yeah, cherry root beer.”
Then I stopped. Who was saying cherry root beer? I looked at a man I didn’t know and said, “How do you know about my cherry root beers?”
He said, oh, I read your blog. Then he introduced himself. Bill Lamberty, sports information director at Montana State University. Said he reads all my stuff. Grew up in Nebraska, which is how he got interested in anything someone from Oklahoma would write. Loved my travelblogs.
And I walked back to my seat amazed. Amazed at how small the world has gotten. Some guy in Montana could make a connection with some guy from Oklahoma, just through the magic of the Internet. Amazed at how popular these travelblogs have become.
They are not pristinely constructed. I whip them out with what I call meatball journalism. Got the term from Hawkeye on M*A*S*H. Meatball surgery. Nothing complicated. Nothing delicate. We’re in a hurry here. Let’s get it done.
But people, for whatever reason, like to read about other places. That’s all I try to accomplish with my travelblog. What’s it like in these places I’m so blessed to visit? I went to the Super Bowl and wrote eloquently about Oklahoma-connected players in the game, wrote with great insight about the Seattle defense and Peyton Manning. And by far the most popular thing with readers was my accounts of the New York subways and Broadway shows.
New York, Spokane, the Hill Country of Texas, South Bend, doesn’t matter. People like the travelblogs. So I’ll make a deal. You keep reading, and I’ll keep writing, and if you see me somewhere, just say Cherry Root Beer. I’ll know.
BREAKFAST & BASKETBALL
When you wake up in the Pacific Time Zone, the NCAA Tournament starts at 9 a.m. on Thursday and Friday. 9 a.m.! That’s sort of cool.
Now, it’s a total drag at night, because the games end early. When covering the NCAA, or heck, being at home and doing all kinds of stuff, I like to get back to my room and watch ball into the night. You can’t really do that out West. But man, you can watch in the morning.
Before noon, Ohio State was out of the tournament and Cincinnati was in trouble.
I actually woke up way early, got a little work done, then fell back asleep. Slept until 8 a.m. Spokane time. That’s a little late. I went down to the gym and got in a bike ride, Doug Gottlieb came into the gym, we chatted a little hoops, OU and OSU, and Doug was like everyone else, he thought OU and OSU would win but wasn’t sure. He knew North Dakota State was capable. Actually, all of us did.
I got back to my room just in time to start my online chat, which is at 11 a.m. Oklahoma time but was 9 a.m. out West. So I just worked and watched ball, snuck in a shower, and headed for the arena at about halftime of the Michigan State-Delaware game.
The new NCAA television package is mostly fantastic. All the games are available. CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV. Now, truTV is a total joke. It has no sports presence, it’s hard for most of us to find – I have no idea where to find truTV back on my Cox Cable at home. And in the Davenport Hotel, I can tell you that CBS, TNT and TBS are in high defintion, but truTV is not.
I used to shrug off the value of high def, but it’s like everything else. We’ve gone soft. I barely can watch non-high def anymore. I couldn’t easily tell if the ball was even going through the hoop. But at least truTV was on the Davenport cable package.
This scheduling of the Spokane games was idiotic. Actually, that’s not true. That infers that someone didn’t know what they were doing. That’s wrong. The NCAA knew exactly what it was doing. It just didn’t care.
The NCAA scheduled the Spokane games with tip times that couldn’t possibly be pulled off in terms of getting the arena ready for the second session. I wrote about this a little in my OU report card after the game, which you can read here.
The NCAA scheduled Cincinnati-Harvard at 11 a.m. (Spokane time), Michigan State-Delaware at 1:30 p.m. and OU-North Dakota State at 4:27 p.m. That’s doable, in terms of getting the teams in and out. But there’s a slight problem. You’ve got 11,000 fans to get out of the arena after that Michigan State game, then 11,000 fans to get back into the arena.
Of course, Cincy-Harvard went longer than two hours, and Michigan State-Delaware went a little longer, too, and suddenly it was clear that at 4:27 p.m., that second game would barely be over, much less ready for OU-North Dakota State. So the Sooners were pushed back to 4:55.
Still not enough. Not by a long shot.
And so, with 3:29 left on the pregame clock, the Sooners jog onto the court, for what is the biggest game of most of their lives, for an event they’ve watched and heard about and dreamed about their whole lives, and there weren’t 200 people in the stands. Literally. I went to my 6-year-old nephew’s basketball game a couple of weeks ago. I swear, there were more people in the bleachers at Whittier Middle School than in Veterans Memorial Arena when the Sooners came onto the court.
The public address announcer was reading promotions and information, and he literally was talking to no one. It was the dangdest scene you’ve ever seen. At pregame introductions, the fan base had grown to maybe 1,000. At tipoff, maybe 1,500. And five minutes into the game, the seats were full.
Can I say something that hopefully won’t offend coaches and administrators? I’m tired of this bull about wondering how to get the fans re-energized for college basketball. How to get fans to come to the games.
This is not complicated. Give a damn about the fans. Quit catering to television and quit catering to coaches. Quit starting home games on campus at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, and quit starting NCAA Tournament games before fans have a chance to even get in and out of the arena. How’s that for a start? If I had paid good money to watch the Spokane games, and I was ushered out of the arena and had to get in a long line to return to my seat, and the game started without me through no fault of my own, I would be hacked off.
This was absurd. This was a plan designed to fail. This was a plan to keep the NCAA Tournament on its superb path of great and riveting television while screwing the paying public. But the public has the ultimate revenge. Memory. The public remembers. So when the sport keeps its 35-second shot clock and a battalion of timeouts so that coaches can micromanage everything, and when the sport hands its decision-making over to television executives who carry only about March ratings, the public remembers.
The least the NCAA could do is not start the game without the fans.
Confession time. I came to town with a bad attitude about Spokane. When I was here 13 years ago, I wasn’t all that impressed. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good impression of Spokane. It was that I didn’t have a good impression at all.
I was wrong. Spokane is a cool place. I know what my problem was 13 years ago, when I covered the Sooner women in an NCAA regional. We didn’t stay downtown. Didn’t get a feel for the city.
We did this time, and it was great. I’ve written about the Spokane River and the bridges and the falls. An excellent downtown setting, with a vibrancy that you need from downtown. Our photographer, Sarah Phipps, did even more exploring and found all kinds of cool stuff, including the massive steam plant that provides a great cityscape for I guess the south part of downtown but in which you can go in and look around. See how steam is made. Like on Seinfeld, when Kramer got to look inside of bone.
Anyway, I thought you might like a little more info on Spokane.
* It’s the fifth-largest city in the Pacific Northwest, behind Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Boise. It’s 92 miles south of the Canadian border (we couldn’t go to Canada; I signed a piece of paper that said I wouldn’t take the rental car out of the country), 20 miles west of Idaho, 232 miles east of Seattle, 277 southwest of Calgary and 1,378 west of Minneapolis. I would love to go to Calgary some day. Calgary and Vancouver. Heck, I haven’t been to Boise. Hope to get there if OSU fulfills that home-and-home series in football coming up in a few years.
I like the Pacific Northwest. Like everything about it, except maybe the wind. It’s been a ferocious wind in Spokane since we’ve been here. The 40-degree weather, I was expecting. The wind, not so much. It was wind like you’d expect in Lubbock or Custer County.
* Spokane was established in 1810 as a trade post; it was the first long-term European settlement in Washington. I know that sounds old, by Oklahoma standards, but sometimes we sell ourselves in Oklahoma. Sure, the land run didn’t come until 1889. But Oklahoma’s history extends before that. The Five Civilized Tribes, of course, had quite evolved civilizations throughout much of the 19th century, but Indian Territory had European influence, too. My dad’s hometown, Salina in Mayes County, began as a trading post in 1796, founded by Jean Pierre Chouteau. It’s the oldest white settlement in Oklahoma.
But back to Spokane. As you’d expect, Spokane became a hot spot for timber and mining, plus agriculture. It was incorporated as a city in 1881.
* Spokane claims to be the birthplace of Father’s Day. I don’t know any evidence to deny the claim. So as a father for 32 years (man, I’m getting old), I say, thank you.
* Spokane hosted the 1974 World’s Fair Expo. When I was a kid, the World’s Fair was a big deal. I remember reading about it. I couldn’t tell you the last time I heard about a World’s Fair.
* Spokane’s name came from an Indian tribe called Spokane. Which is pronounced, best as I can tell, spo-CAN. Not spo-CANE.
* Spokane’s population at the 2010 census was 208,916. Counting the Coeur d’Alene area over in Idaho, the metro population is 666,247. And I would count it. Apparently, not until 2010 was Coeur d’Alene counted in the Spokane statistical area.
* It gets hot in Spokane. A bunch of 100-degree days, I’m told. But the winters, while cold, never get too frigid. Something about the setting of the mountains keeps the arctic air from penetrating too deep. Spokane gets only half the rainfall of Seattle, though I’m assuming that still could mean lots of water.
* By the way, it snowed a little Thursday. I didn’t see it. I was already in the arena.
The basketball was great. In Spokane alone, we had two overtime games (OU-North Dakota State, San Diego State-New Mexico State) and the Harvard upset of Cincinnati. Plus great finishes everywhere else. Heck, it was hard to keep up with all that was going on. During timeouts of the Sooner game, I was trying to keep up with the Connecticut-Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis-North Carolina State games, both of which went overtime, too. Also tried to follow the Thunder’s goofy game in Cleveland.
When it was all over, we went back to the hotel, dropped off our bags and went looking for a pizza joint. They were all closed, even though it was only 10:30 Spokane time. So we went to the Ale House, a pub-and-burger joint a block from the hotel. Lots of basketball fans in there. We had some burgers with our pals from the Tulsa World and Norman Transcript. Saw Kevin Kruger, Lon’s son, who was sort of dejected, as you might think.
I know fans get despondent over their teams losing. Heck, I was pulling hard for the Sooners. I want nothing but the best for Lonnie Kruger, a class act if ever there was one. I hope Travis Ford and the Cowboys beat Gonzaga on Friday (no offense, Spokane). But let me assure you. No one takes the losses harder than the people within the organizations.
Back at the hotel, I jumped on the elevator to get to my room on the 18th floor, and I ran into an old friend. Bill Lamberty, the Montana State publicist who I had met a couple of hours earlier.
He was still marveling about my Sonic devotion. I told him I’d like to get to Montana some day. He said he’d love to host me, but beware. There’s no Sonic on Bozeman. Lamberty said he didn’t think there was a Sonic in the entire state of Montana. His assistant was with him, and she said she thought there was a Sonic on Great Falls, three hours away. I told them it would be well worth the drive.