Talk about March Madness.
We were sitting in our hotel room in Oklahoma City on the first day of spring watching it snow and blow. Forecasts were reporting gloom and doom for any drive home that night.
Meanwhile we watched Milan-San Remo, the famed early season, one-day cycling classic, on the computer. While, it didn’t seem super warm in Italy, it surely looked better mentally at the moment.
Laura, reading the Oklahoman, reported that just east of OKC, a small 2.4 magnitude earthquake was reported Friday.
Since beginning work for KU in 1997, Oklahoma City and Norman just to the south have become second homes for me. With the Big 12 softball and baseball championships here every year along with regular post-season basketball, I now know the area quite well.
Some of the worst weather I have ever encountered seems to be somehow tied to the OKC area. A storm blew up so fast at a softball game a few years ago that you could see the wall of water as it rolled towards the diamond as I sat on top of the dugout. Another game was on hold when it began to hail. A quick drive to safety under an interstate overpass saved me from a big insurance claim as the hail grew to near baseball size.
Soon after Laura and I married, we thought it would be fun to take my daughters along with us for a weekend in Laura’s college home of Norman. The KU men were playing a Sunday afternoon game against the Sooners and the day before the OU women were having a basketball reunion before and during a game that included Laura.
It was a great trip until we headed home in heavy, heavy snow. The 360 spin on the interstate probably still strikes fear in the hearts of Julie and Kelly any time it snows. Around and around we whirled before stopping in the same direction we started. Off we drove in eerie silence as if nothing had happened. It was a torturous drive. Stopping at a Turnpike rest stop south of Wichita, we ran into Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison’s parents. They all looked totally worn out, and they were heading to Iowa!
Finally, the late Pete Goering and I flew to Norman in a single-engine plane for another KU-OU game years ago. We walked into the arena in shirtsleeves and exited to heavy sleet and winds. After lumbering into the air for the flight back to Topeka, we never made it the Kansas border before the pilot informed us he had to land “now” due to ice buildup on the wings. As it seems to down here, the storm blew out just as fast, and we managed to get back in the air and home safely.
What made this all seem so unreal is that it was 72 on Friday. Laura and I got in a long, hard-paced ride Thursday in unusually light winds. For the first time this year, no tights or arm warmers were needed. I actually have some tan lines on my arms and legs.
Oscar Freire outsprinted his teammate Tom Boonen to the line to win Milan-San Remo. Of all the wonders computers have brought to our lives, being able to watch live racing from Europe has to be one of the best. Sadly, doing so in a hotel is still not that great. The bandwidth just isn’t strong enough and our coverage froze on us right in the midst of the sprint. Bummer.
Any trip to OKC should include a trip back in time with a visit to the Cattlelmen’s Steakhouse and Cafe. Set in the heart of Stockyards’ City, this classic steakhouse is always a treat. Amid saddle and tack stores and western wear outlets, the old steakhouse is true cowboy. The huge building spreads through many rooms all worn and aged, but the food never changes. Huge platters of prime rib and monster steaks are carried overhead by waiters to hungry cowboys and even wimps like the two of us who order the petite filet.
Another usual site are all the men out fishing along the dam at Lake Heffner in the heart of OKC. The road system around the large lake carries us 10 miles, and we can do as many laps as needed. Along the large dam area, poles are carefully set out and their owners gather together to share tall tales as they wait for a big catfish to bite. One fisherman told us there were plenty of 20 pounders under the usually choppy water waiting to be caught. Our Wednesday ride was cold and blustery, but the fishermen were there just as always.
The Ford Center, where KU played, has been dramatically enhanced since OKC got an NBA team, the Thunder. In a beautiful lounge just off the court, a baked potato, soup and salad bar provided what we thought was a great pre-game meal Thursday.
We found out later the sports writing group didn’t agree. Used to stuffing themselves on fattening bar foods that eventually forces them to wiggle all that fat through narrow arena aisles to get to their seats, the complaints were loud. Racing to media hotel bar to get their quota of grease and alcohol, we were treated to a late array of excellent wraps and sandwiches brought down from one of the suites as we wrapped up our photo gallery at one o’clock in the morning.
One writer still on site was Lawrence’s Gary Bedore. A great guy and absolute workaholic when it comes to reporting, seemingly, every breath a Jayhawk player or Bill Self takes, he was thrilled to join us and other photographers for the late night treat. He told us the next day how much he loved telling the other writers in the hotel bar later about the free extra dinner.
The arena caterer must have heard the complaints because come Saturday, the spread was back to dry hamburgers and overcooked hot dogs, sportswriter delights.
This is blaspheme to the KU faithful, but by the time we get to NCAA basketball, I am so tired of basketball and working inside. I’m dying for warm weather, sun on the skin and outdoor sports. For most others, this time is referred to as “Living the Dream.” For them the “Dream” was far too short lived.
For Bill Self and the team, win or losing comes with the job and the scholarship. It doesn’t make losing less painful, but I am always amazed at how resilient student-athletes are, no matter the sport. I always find myself thinking about some rather obscure people after a game like Northern Iowa and how disappointed they feel.
Let me mention four young men that are part of the radio crew for the student station, KJHK. The station was granted broadcast opportunities for the NCAA this year for the first time. I shot a photo of the four in their assigned spot during their pre-game show for use by the University. It was so easy to see how excited they were to be there. After the game, I thought about their disappointment.
I did think about Bill Self too. I told Laura about talking with the wife of Mitch Holtus after the Joe Montana led Kansas City Chiefs lost the AFC Championship game to the Bills in Buffalo many years ago. Holtus is the radio voice of the Chiefs. I asked his wife how Mitch was feeling. She told me that he felt there were only a few opportunities in a broadcasters career to broadcast a Super Bowl. One had just past him by. Another has never come along.
I’d guess Bill Self might feel the same. You always think there will be many more opportunities coaching at a school like Kansas, but no one really can ever be sure. That was one gifted team this season.
On Sunday, I got my first e-mail stating, “I’m guessing your work load just got lighter??????” I’ll hear that many times more in the next few weeks. I have to laugh. After deciding to wait until Sunday to drive back, we rose well before the sun and headed back to Topeka so that I could get to Lawrence in time for KU’s WNIT women’s basketball game. The workload doesn’t lighten. It only changes.
Basketball, baseball and tennis are all on the schedule for this week. Rowing and softball join the fun next week. Finally, spring football starts Saturday. Maybe now I’ll finally be able to answer the other question I hear all the time. “So Turner Gill? What do you think?”