Thursday, December 7, 2006

10 Games in 10 States in 10 Days: The Epilogue

Mission Accomplished…and Exceeded
As it turns out, double- and triple-headers helped me see 14 games in 10 states/DC in 10 days. Bonus games included Bucknell women hosting Marist, Navy women taking on Georgetown, and both Notre Dame-Maryland and Virginia Tech-George Washington in the BB&T Classic.

The All-10-10-10 Team
Game: Harvard at New Hampshire
Venue: Rider University's Alumni Gymnasium
Mascot: Horned Frogs
Walk-Around Mascot: New Hampshire's Wildcat
Fans: Rider University
Graduation Rate: Bucknell and Navy
Pep Band: United States Naval Academy
Cheerleaders: United States Naval Academy
Dance Team: University of Texas at San Antonio
Floor: Delaware State's Memorial Hall Gym
Bed: Charlie & Marie Meseroll's guest room
Drive: Exton, Pa to Hamilton, NY

An End or Beginning?
Many people have asked if I will make this an annual ritual, something I really can’t answer without the advice and consent of Mrs. Pattie McGlinchey. That said, she was one of those who asked, which I interpret as a tentative pre-approval.

I had such a great time, it's likely I'll pursue another basketball adventure, but will probably retire the “10 Games in 10 States in 10 Days” format and use a new approach to pack the most games into a short time.

A Gift in the Window
I’ve been saving this story to protect the anonymity of my benefactor. I won’t say where it occurred.

After some challenges in finding one of the courts, I arrived at game-time and realized I had only $3 in cash, well short of the ticket price. I raced to the ticket window and asked if they accepted credit cards. No dice. I asked where the nearest ATM was, and the gentleman at the window said he didn’t know.

“Are you a member of the faculty?,” he asked. I shook my head. He said, “If you were, you’d get in for free.” After watching me anxiously look around, wondering how to find an ATM, he said, “OK…tonight, you’re faculty” and pushed a free ticket across the counter.

This almost comical generosity is another example of what differentiates mid-major basketball from the big-time programs…imagine that happening at UConn or Maryland.

No Overdose
Road-weary? Yes. Hoop-weary? No way.

When I began my journey, I was a little nervous that by the time it was over, I might have college basketball burn-out. I’m happy to say my love of the game is fully intact and has only been enriched by my experience.

Day 11?
I won’t be attending a basketball game tonight, but will be doing something even better—playing the game myself. I’m about to record two firsts in my basketball career: playing in a church league, and playing in a “35 and over” category. Tonight is the team’s last practice before the season starts next week. My trip caused me to miss all the other ones and I'm looking forward to getting in synch with my new teammates.

What Made it Great
The last 10 days have created a beautiful tapestry of memories... Reuniting with old friends. Exploring new campuses and basketball venues. Meeting my friend Jim Vitali’s sister and father at their restaurant near Scranton. Talking hoops with Bucknell University Hall of Fame coach Charlie Woollum. Strolling beautifully-lit Hamilton, New York. Being invited to join the student section at Sojka Pavilion. Giving Bucknell-George Mason tickets to budget-conscious Bucknell students. Appearing on three half-time shows. Leading cheers in the Verizon Center. Calling in to the Tony Bruno radio show. Meeting a Bucknell grad who went to junior high with my mother. Realizing that another Bucknell couple knew my grandfather, and hearing a great new story about him. Three overtime periods. Enjoying a great Rider game with Marie Meseroll, grandmother of my friend Forrest Chilton. The grateful smiles of the Bucknell women’s basketball team as we supported them on the road. And more.

It's All About the Love
The most frequent question I received about my quest? "Why are you doing this?"

A simple question deserves a simple answer, one that I will borrow from an old inscription on a plaque at the Palestra:
To win the game is great.
To play the game is greater.
But to love the game is the greatest of all.

Game inventor: Dr James Naismith
“BP McThree” nickname: Derrick Kann
Lodging: Tim & Raelene Houck, Wanda McGlinchey, Forrest & Gioia Chilton
Laptop case: Steve & Nicole Nunziata
Food: Nina & Jim Vitali, Tim & Raelene Houck, Mason Eubank, Marie & Charlie Meseroll, Bucknell University, Forrest & Gioia Chilton, Wanda McGlinchey, LTC Geoff Ballou.
Help finding Metro station: Gioia Chilton
Halftime Interview Hosts: Bill Daughtry (Iona), Doug Birdsong (Bucknell), Jason Minnix (UTSA)
Blog design and support: Sean McGlinchey
Pre-game nap: Marie & Charlie Meseroll
Game-day driving: Forrest Chilton (UNI at Bucknell), Wanda & Sean McGlinchey (Bucknell women at Delaware State)
Tickets: Bucknell coaching staff, Iona University, Marie & Charlie Meseroll, Wanda McGlinchey, UTSA.
Love, patience and permission: Pattie, Patrick & William McGlinchey

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Day 10: Texas Christian University Horned Frogs at Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners

UTSA Convocation Center (capacity 5,100)
San Antonio, Texas

The Result: TCU 62, UTSA 46
UTSA raced to a 7-0 lead, but TCU retaliated with a decisive 23-8 run. The home team exhibited great hustle, but poor shooting did them in as the Roadrunners hit just 32.6% from the floor and converted only 5 of 21 three-point attempts. UTSA will have a shot at revenge on TCU’s court later this month, completing an unusual home-and-home series against a non-conference rival.

Venue Rating: B+
Facility: B. While the seating is all chairbacks, the place has something of a bleacher feel to it, and the wood beneath your feet is a good stomping surface. The building is a little too cavernous, leaving me wishing it were all squished into someting a bit smaller. Because of the low angle at which the bleachers rise from the floor, the views from the upper section can be easily obstructed by the fans below.

Attendance (1,063): B+. The official attendance figure seems low. The crowd filled most of the two large sections of bleacher closest to the court, and unlike so many of the other places I visited during my tour, students were out in force.

Whatever the number, it was dramatically higher than it was when I went to a game against Jackson State last season. Perhaps San Antonians are finally waking up and realizing they have an exciting Division I college basketball program right here in town.

Basketball Environment: A-. Compared to other stops on my tour, UTSA boasted the largest number of students with painted bodies. My friends and I enjoyed discussing the relative artistic merits of the UTSA rowdies. Fan favorites: a student with pointy silver headgear, another with blue handprints on his torso, and a third with a hairy monster mask.

UTSA also had a pep band, cheerleaders and a dance team. Put it all together and it made for a very good college basketball environment with the potential to be even better as word gets out.

Fan Face-Off: UTSA Fans Win Easily
While I spotted quite a few purple-clad TCU fans in the crowd, they never mounted any kind of organized cheering effort. The core of UTSA’s student section did a good job until the game fell out of reach. If their zeal spreads to a majority of the students, UTSA’s home court could become a very difficult place to visit. The students lost points, however, for that common but profane chant used to express disagreement with a referee’s call.

Best Mascot: Horned Frogs
"Roadrunner" is a pretty nifty mascot, but "Horned Frogs" may be one of the top 10 mascots in Division I. I chose "Horned Frogs" even despite the fact that my grandmother, Gladys Polite, likes roadrunners and has collected their images throughout her adult life.

“Horned Frogs” wins not only because it’s a unique mascot, but also because these are large and aggressive creatures that can squirt blood from their eyes when threatened…though I didn’t observe any TCU players attempting this on defense.

Graduation Success Rate: UTSA 50%, TCU 33%
Can we really say UTSA’s basketball program “wins” with a 50% graduation success rate? Ivy League forfeits aside, this is the lowest combined total of my adventure, and an embarassment to both institutions.

Cotton, Sweet Cotton
Almost everywhere I went over the past 10 days, cheerleaders threw school t-shirts into the crowd. And for nine long days and nights, I jumped up and down in vain. That all changed on this, the final night of the 10-10-10 odyssey.

During the second half, Rowdy Roadrunner—UTSA’s walk-around mascot—threw one in my direction. Jostling with my friends, I touched it as it sailed through the air before it fell behind my seat. Like a player groping for a loose ball, I turned and siezed it, then held it aloft in with two hands, showing it to the world and, at long last, savoring the feel of soft cotton which I had craved for so long.

Life on the Road
I flew home from Philly this afternoon and enjoyed dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse with my wife, Pattie, and sons, Patrick and William, before heading over to the game. (William made my t-shirt feat look easy, nabbing a shirt of his own minutes after I did. )

My friends Sharon Fitzpatrick, Jim Vitali, Roy Travers and Paul Miller met me at the game to help make the grand finale even more special. I also enjoyed my third half-time interview, this one with UTSA play-by-play man Jason Minnix.

Total Miles: 2,402 road + 3,042 air = 5,444 total

Next: A look back at the adventure.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Day 9: Bucknell Bison at Delaware State Hornets

Women’s Basketball
Memorial Hall Gym (capacity 3,000)
Dover, Delaware

Women’s Basketball? Why Not?
I took some ribbing from a few friends when they saw a women’s basketball game on my 10 Games, 10 States, 10 Days itinerary. You know who you are, and I hereby publicly admonish you.

My respect for female athletes goes back to my early youth. When I was a very small child, my family began taking me to basketball games at Immaculata College, my mother’s alma mater and then an all-female school. The Mighty Macs made history, winning the first national collegiate basketball championship in 1972. Since those days, I’ve never looked down on an athlete because she’s a woman.

As I planned my itinerary, I hoped for a game in Delaware on this night. When I discovered the Lady Bison would be playing in Dover, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

Our presence was clearly appreciated. The players gave us a friendly wave as they left the court, and head coach Kathy Fedorjaka came to the bleachers to thank us for coming.

The Result: Bucknell 53, Delaware State 42
It’s often said that basketball is a game of runs, something that rang true in Delaware State’s Memorial Hall gym tonight. After the Bison raced to a 7-0 lead, the Hornets battled back to tie it at 11. Bucknell then put together a 9-0 run and, later, a 13-0 burst to help keep the Hornets at bay. Bucknell’s Jacquie Seawright played a spark plug role off the bench, contributing 10 points, six rebounds and several hustle plays that aren’t reflected on a box score.

Venue Rating: B-
Facility: B-. Delaware State’s home court is a gym at its purest. It gets points for having bleachers comprise all its seating, even if they are made of hard plastic. The floor was my very favorite of the tour so far: A large hornet logo at center court is complemented by a honeycomb pattern inside the three-point lines.

Attendance (275): B-. The crowd, which looked larger than the official figure in the box score, grew steadily as the game progressed and was larger than I expected. Perhaps it’s the fruit of the team’s recent success, as the Hornets have advanced to the MEAC championship game in four of the last six years.

Basketball Environment: B-. There was no pep band, cheerleaders or dance team to liven things up at Memorial Hall Gym. Not even the usual time-out entertainment with fans competing in races or free throw contests. And while the crowd was a decent size, they weren’t very revved up until the Hornets' final last run. Fortunately, a certain Hornet supporter took matters into his own hands and kept me smiling all game (read on).

Fan Face-Off: Stand-out Fan Carries Del State to Victory
We postioned ourselves behind the Bucknell bench and cheered throughout the game, but didn’t keep pace with a young Hornet fan seated just to our right. He was loud, rowdy and entertaining for the full 40. “All I want for Christmas is a Delaware State win!”, he announced early on. He continued the theme, nicknaming Bucknell’s Jacquie Seawright “Mrs Scrooge” after she hit a three-pointer in the first half. “Mrs Scrooge isn’t going to ruin my Christmas!”

He was a bundle of energy, taunting the Bison with humor, as he did when the Bison called a timeout during a Hornet run: “You’re scared! You’re scared! Who’s scared? You’re scared!” He stood for most of the second half, and got part of the crowd to join him in a “de-fense” chant with his foot stomping the bleachers.

The rest of the fans were pretty lackluster, but like the potential Fan Hall-of-Famer that he is, he put them on his back and carried his fans to a cheering victory.

Best Mascot: Hornets.
I’m not sure how much the Bucknell women like being compared to North America’s largest mammal. “Hornets” wins as a more flattering mascot for female athletes. Their mascot imagery is quite menacing, too.

Graduation Success Rate: Bucknell 93%, Delaware State 80%
For the Hornets, a loss with a silver lining—they came the closest of any of the three 10-10-10 teams that dared to challenge Bucknell basketball academically.

Life on the Road
My mother and brother, Wanda and Sean McGlinchey, joined me for tonight’s game. We enjoyed a nice pre-game dinner at the Macaroni Grill on Concord Pike in Delaware. As usual, we had lots of laughs, many of them with our able server, Kristy.

This morning my mother and I went into West Chester, Pa, my hometown, for some business and then lunch at Teca, a great Italian restaurant on Gay Street. We also drove a lap around my high school, West Chester Henderson, so I could check it out following a major expansion and renovation.

Since I am flying back to Texas tomorrow, I also returned my rental car this morning. Between my 10-10-10 travels and earlier trips to Penn State and Yale for Bucknell games, I put more than 2,700 miles on my “Toyota Corolla or equivalent.”

With my visit to the northeast lasting three weeks, I think my wife, Pattie, has been a little nervous that I may want to move back here. But after pumping gas in breezy, 23-degree weather tonight, I think she can stop worrying.

Total Miles To Date: 2,386

Next Game: Tomorrow I return to Texas for the grand finale: Texas Christian at the University of Texas-San Antonio. Wife Pattie and sons Patrick and William will join me, and I’ll be the halftime guest on the UTSA radio broadcast.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Day 8: Howard Bison at Navy Midshipmen

Alumni Hall (capacity 5,710)
Annapolis, Maryland

The Result: Navy 79, Howard 75 (2OT)
The Midshipmen and Bison served up two extra scoops of hoops at Alumni Hall tonight. I took special interest in this game since Navy is a Patriot League rival for Bucknell. As a Bison fan, I had an “uh-oh” feeling in the early minutes as Navy crisply and confidently executed its offense. Then the Midshipmen went almost five and a half minutes without scoring a point. The first overtime was primarily a free throw contest. Navy pulled away pretty easily in the second.

Venue Rating: C+
Facility: B.
It’s a little on the big side, but still feels pretty cozy in the lower level. It’s an interesting place to stroll around, with mounted crests representing each of the graduating classes, and nifty displays like giant model ships.

At most venues, the ushers are kindly older folks out for some spending money and an interesting evening. At Navy, the ushers are midshipmen in formal uniforms and white gloves. For a moment, I felt underdressed.

It’s a treat to visit another Patriot League venue because I know I’ll see a Bucknell banner hanging from the rafters. At Alumni, they have the eight school banners hung in pairs, two in each corner in alphabetical order. An interesting result is that archrivals Lafayette and Lehigh share a corner. I was seated opposite the Bucknell banner, and by either benign accident or divine intervention, it is the most brightly lit of the eight.

I would have given Alumni slightly higher marks, but the scoreboard leaves much to be desired. A gift from the Class of 1957, it looks like the bottom half fell off. The board is modern, but doesn’t identify who is in the game, their points or fouls, or even the number of timeouts each team has left.

Attendance (961): F. Filling less than a fifth of your seats is bad enough…but Navy fans abandoning ship when the game went to overtime was almost more than I could take.

Each night, I ‘ve been pulling for overtime. So imagine my shock when the end of regulation prompted several Navy spectators to head for the door. “See you next time!,” I heard one of them say to a friend with a smile. Worse, another small wave washed out at the end of the first overtime. I have never seen this happen before.

Their departure took the wind out of Alumni Hall’s sails. (Yes, I’m unleashing a veritable bombardment of naval metaphors!) Instead of the venue building to a bigger frenzy with each extra session, it became quieter and quieter but for a few key moments.

Basketball Environment: B. It’s hard to judge this attribute without some carry-over from the attendance. There’s nothing worse than peace and quiet during a basketball game, and there was plenty of it tonight.

On the plus side, the academy pep band is easily the best I’ve seen during my tour so far. They did a very good job of cheering throughout the game, and played a wide variety of songs very well. (Even Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Sounds good all brassy!) The cheerleaders were also the best I’ve seen in the past eight days of traveling.

Fan Face-Off: Middies Win the Battle
Three Howard fans seated behind me yelled during free throws late in the game, but it wasn’t enough to capture the victory. The Navy pep band carried the day, along with some rowdy midshipmen in one corner, and an energetic fellow over in mine.

Applying their military training, the cheerleaders changed tactics when battle conditions warranted it. Specifically, when the game went to overtime, they redeployed themselves throughout the stands to better motivate the fans.

I like classy fans, and was right in anticipating that Alumni Hall would be an environment devoid of crass fan behavior. Military discipline goes a long way: I imagine if a midshipmen tried chanting “bull****,” he would have to drag an anchor around the Yard for a few days.

Best Mascot: Midshipmen.
I was put off by Howard’s imagery, which is a cheap knock-off of the Buffalo Bills logo.

Graduation Success Rate: Navy 100, Howard 17
Navy’s resounding academic defeat of Howard is even bigger than Bucknell’s thumping of UNI (100% to 22%). Perhaps Howard athletes should audit a few courses at the academy—they might learn how to navigate to a classroom.

Life on the Road
I enjoyed dozing til 9:30 this morning, then rode a Metro train to the Pentagon where an old Army buddy bought me lunch and gave me a tour. Geoff Ballou and I were fellow second lieutenants at Fort Polk, Louisiana in the early 1990s. He’s now a lieutenant colonel responsible for managing gazillions of tax dollars.

My Pentagon visit featured many interesting moments, but the one I’ll always remember was when I stood at the place where American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building on September 11.

Before arriving at the academy, I set up a temporary camp in my car in the parking lot of a Days Inn outside Annapolis. I used their wireless internet feed to catch up on messages.

Driving onto the Naval Academy was interesting. Invariably, as I arrived on each of the other campuses, the first thing I saw was jogging students. After clearing the academy’s security checkpoint, the first thing I saw were midshipmen dressed in sharp black uniforms and hats, walking to a beautifully lit dining facility with huge windows and a high ceiling.

Total Miles To Date: 2,244

Next Game: It’s Ladies' Night, Oh What a Night: I'll support the Bucknell Lady Bison as they visit the Delaware State Hornets.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Day 7: Bucknell Bison vs George Mason Patriots

BB&T Classic
Verizon Center (capacity 20,000)
Washington, DC

The Result: Bucknell 60, George Mason 57
A few hours after losing to a very strong Northern Iowa team yesterday, the Bison boarded a bus and traveled three hours to Washington, D.C. Despite the travel and lack of recovery time after a hard-fought game, Bucknell earned the victory it hungered for, defeating Mason on the same court from which the Patriots advanced from the NCAA regional to the Final Four in March.

Jason Vegotsky was the team's spark plug early, nailing two three-pointers in the first three minutes of the game. Donald Brown went a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor, scored 16 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. He also had two great blocks. Philly native John Griffin added 13 points, including a huge three-pointer with two minutes left.

Venue Rating: C
There is little that is collegiate about the Verizon Center. While it is the primary home court for the Georgetown Hoyas, it's also home to Washington D.C.'s professional basketball and hockey teams. It's a big, gleaming building with dazzling lights and carpeted concourses, but I'd take an old gym with wooden bleachers over it any day.

I always take interest in the championship banners hanging from the rafters of each venue I visit. Today, eyeing Georgetown's 1984 NCAA championship banner, I was reminded of Villanova's huge upset of the Hoya's the next year. I was a high school senior living in West Chester, Pa, just 20 miles from Villanova. I'll never forget watching the Wildcat victory in my family's living room. We taped the game, and I watched it over and over. April 1, 1985 was the day my interest in college basketball became a passion.

After admiring the Georgetown banner, I spotted what are easily the most ridiculous banners I've ever seen. There are not just one but several banners honoring the WNBA's Washington Mystics for being "Attendance Champions." Strong attendance is certainly admirable, but--for crying out loud--it isn't banner-worthy.

Fan Face-Off: Bucknell Wins by One
I's hard to observe an activity when you're participating in it. More to the point, it was difficult to gauge how loud the rest of the crowd was when I was yelling my head off. The Bucknell and George Mason fans seemed roughly equal in cheering frequency and intensity. Frankly, I'm awarding it to Bucknell because I'm exuberant over our victory and feel like sharing in it here.

Todd Dowling, the student Forrest Chilton and I gave our extra tickets to yesterday, was in strong form, validating our "investment." His approach to supporting the Bison is loud, brash and civil all at the same time. When he disagrees with a call, he booms things like, "That was a terrible call, SIR!" " SIR, we beg to differ!" The "sir" is simultaneously polite and comical. Who needs profanity when you're equipped with an intelligent sense of humor?

Best Mascot: Bison
As a former Army officer, I was feeling a little uneasy about the notion of choosing something other than the "Patriots." The decision became easy, however, once I saw the costumed version of the Patriots' mascot walking around the Verizon Center floor. Nicknamed "Gunston," Mason's walk-around mascot is a furry green creature with a colonial hat. What?!

Late in the game, Dowling yelled, "We don't like your mascot!" For good measure, I added, "Send it back to Sesame Street!"

Speaking of wisecracks, as the game announcer asked us to stand for the national anthem, I noticed the Bison were on the court but the Patriots were not. The irony was too much, and I used the pre-anthem silence to bellow, "And you call yourselves PATRIOTS?!" (Listen to an audio clip of the Bucknell broadcast where you can hear me in the background!) It was a little edgy so close to the anthem, but I got it off just in time and I think I would do it again.

Graduation Success Rate: Bucknell 100%, George Mason 64%
It's tough taking on Bucknell basketball in academics. Even if you play a perfect game, the most you can accomplish is a tie. Mason's graduation record, however, is a long way from perfection.

Life on the Road
Today was all basketball, as I enjoyed two bonus games not counted in my 10 Games, 10 States, 10 Days tour. Bucknell-George Mason was the first in the BB&T Classic triple-header. Forrest Chilton and I stayed to see George Washington come from behind with seconds left to beat Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame defeat Maryland. Things got a little frosty when I was rooting for the Irish against the Terrapins Forrest has supported all his life, but I'm happy to say we're talking again.

This evening, I enjoyed some brief drive-by tourism. I've been to D.C. several times, but always enjoy its visual appeal. The Verizon Center is in downtown D.C., and the ride back to Forrest's house at night was beautiful, taking us past the Capitol Building and many of the monuments, all brilliantly lit.

Earlier, a pre-game Bucknell reception brought some special moments. First, I met Bucknell grad John Battan, who went to junior high school with my mother in West Chester. This conversation led to another revelation.

Attending a variety of games, I've come to know and like fellow Bucknell grads and Philadelphians Geoff and Bobbie Mynott. But it was not until today that they realized that my grandfather is Larry Polite, who owned and operated a regionally famous restaurant called The Guernsey Cow in Exton, Pa. Geoff had golfed with my grandfather many times, and shared a wonderful story about him.

Larry--"Big Daddy" to us grandchildren--died just a two weeks ago. Geoff and Bobbie reminded me that his memory and legacy live on.

Total Miles to Date: 2,100

Next Game: It's a short drive to Annapolis to watch Bucknell's Patriot League rival Navy host Howard (followed by a not-so-short drive to my mother's house outside Philly).

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Day 6: Northern Iowa Panthers at Bucknell Bison

Sojka Pavilion (capacity 4,000)
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

The Result: Northern Iowa 57, Bucknell 48
While the Bison led early and trailed by only four at the half, Northern Iowa proved too much for Bucknell, which mounted a number of comeback attempts, but fell short. Said Bison coach Pat Flannery, "We're still trying to find that spot at the end of the game where we develop consistency."

Venue Rating: B-
Facility: A-.
Sojka Pavilion opened in 2003, and replaced the venerable Davis Gymnasium as the home of Bucknell basketball. With 4,000 seats, it still keeps everyone close to the action, and has a sharp color scheme and bison logo on the court. There are two large student bleacher sections behind each hoop. It’s a modern facility that manages to carry on much of the small-court spirit of Davis Gym.

Attendance (4,011): D. The box score may say there were 4,011 at Sojka Pavilion today, but I'm not buying it . There were many, many empty seats, most glaringly in the student sections.

My attendance ratings give some consideration to the home team's opponent. I cut Rhode Island some slack for their half-full arena when they played Iona on Tuesday. Conversely, I am taking Bucknell students and the Lewisburg community to task for only filling about 80% of the seats for a game against a high mid-major team. Not only that, but a team that beat us in a double-overtime thriller at their court 10 months ago. Worse, this is only the second and already the last home game for Bucknell before January.

Basketball Atmosphere: B. Pep bands, cheerleaders, a “Bucky Bison” mascot and a great student performance of the national anthem. If only the fans lived up to their potential.

Fan Face-Off: Bucknell Steals One
You may think there’s some “home cooking” going on here, but there isn’t. Truthfully, after observing this game and the Wake Forest's visit last month, I would prefer to give the honors to UNI, but can’t remember any meaningful activity by the few fans who came all the way from Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Why fire a shot across my own school’s bow? The non-students almost never stand or chant, and only about a third of the students put forth a full forty minutes of effort.

The Bucknell men’s soccer team is the heart and soul of the student fan population. Today, they originated almost every cheer, and used large signs to communicate which one would come next. It appeared all of the team stood behind the south basket. They would double their effectiveness by splitting up and sending half their forces to the north basket, where the student section left a lot to be desired. The north side has a critical role, since they are on defense in the second half. They would surely benefit from the soccer team’s leadership.

The fans do deserve praise for cheering the Bison on with class. The university recently implemented a “Bison Good Sports!” campaign to promote a positive atmosphere, and it appears to be highly effective. Today's favorite chants: a sloppy turnover prompted a chant of “fundamentals!” while a traveling violation sparked another of “you can’t do that!” When the students attacked the refs, they were pointed without being profane.

Best Mascot: Bison
No contest…the bison is a striking, noble beast and—as the largest mammal in North America—a majestic symbol of the United States of America.

Graduation Success Rate: Bucknell 100, UNI 22
Aside from the Ivy League’s forfeits, this is the biggest blow-out so far. While the NCAA calls every competitor a “student-athlete,” there’s no reason to roll your eyes when you use that term at Bucknell. It’s one of the aspects of Bucknell basketball that makes me so loyal to and enthusiastic about the program.

Shirts and Superstition
Most fans and athletes have at least one superstitious bone in their body, and I’m no exception. Earlier this year, I wore the same orange Bucknell t-shirt to Bucknell’s losses against Wake Forest, Penn State and Saint Joe’s. Enough was enough. For our game at Yale, I switched to a grey shirt with “Bucknell” across the front and an orange and blue “B” on the back. Sure enough, the Bison nabbed their first win of the season.

Today I wore a shirt that I consider an historic artifact. When Bucknell went to the NCAA tournament at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City in 2005, they did so without their own pep band. Quick-thinking Bucknell leaders arranged to pay the University of Northern Iowa’s pep band some pizza money to serve as our band.

Before Bucknell’s historic victory over Kansas, UNI played and lost to Wisconsin. Feeling very much outnumbered by the thousands of Jayhawks in Oklahoma City, I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I saw the UNI band hurriedly donning orange Bucknell t-shirts for our game. The t-shirt I wore today was from that same batch.

Historical significance aside, this shirt is now 1-2. It came through as I cheered on the Bison to an upset of Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last year, but not when I wore it at UNI in February or at Sojka today. When I mentioned its two-game skid to Forrest Chilton after the game, he said, “You know, I have a fireplace at my house…”

Spontaneous Invitation Yields Spontaneous Gift
Today’s highlight came late in the second half. As he had done frequently during the game, Forrest stood and screamed his encouragement to the Bucknell huddle. The south end students cheered him on, appreciating his passion and energy. Feeding on their encouragement, we held up our orange BISON banner and displayed it to both end zones and the fans behind us.
Seeing this, the soccer team started waving, beckoning us to join them in the end zone. They didn’t need to ask twice. We promptly relocated, drawing a huge cheer from the students. We stood on the bottom bleacher for the last three minutes of the game, bouncing, yelling and giving it our all with the students. As we thanked one of the students after the game, he said, “You’re welcome any time. You cheer better than half the students.”

When we encountered two of these students later in the afternoon, we asked if they would be attending tomorrow’s George Mason game. Todd Dowling said that, in the interest of fiscal responsibility, he didn’t feel comfortable with the BB&T Classic triple-header’s triple-size price.

Through over-planning on my part, Forrest and I ended up with two extra tickets for the Mason game. We were hoping to sell them and recover the cost or maybe more, but as Todd walked away, another idea struck me. “Forrest, we have those two extra tickets…”

He instantly understood, and nodded his approval. I ran after Todd and his friend, and offered them our tickets. “Your’s for free, just for the love of Bucknell and the game.” He gratefully accepted them.

Todd and his fellow students had made our day with their spontaneous invitation to join them in the student section. It just felt right to do something nice in return.

Life on the Road
Forrest took care of the driving today, giving me a much-needed break. I entertained him for the first hour by using the Bucknell basketball media guide to quiz him. “Who had the most personal fouls in a season?” (John Watson, 103) “What is Bucknell’s all-time winning percentage in in-season tournaments ? (.442)

Then I draped my orange sweatshirt over my head and dozed until we were a little south of Selinsgrove, Pa. I woke in time to once again enjoy a view of the gorgeous Susquehanna River, flowing slow and steady around heavily wooded islands.

My halftime interview with Bucknell radio sportscaster Doug Birdsong was a lot of fun. Since I live in San Antonio and watch or listen to most Bucknell games via, Birdsong—along with broadcast partners Doug Byerly and Mike Turpack—is an integral part of my Bucknell basketball life. Birdsong has a fun, often frantic approach to his broadcasts which echoes the pace and spirit of the sport itself.

Forrest’s driving gave me the luxury of writing this on the drive to Alexandria, Virginia. All week, I’ve been writing until 1 or 2 am after arriving at each night’s lodging. Tonight’s extra time yielded many extra words.

Total Miles To Date: 2,070

Next Game: In a sequence that says a lot about the scheduling challenges of mid-major teams like Bucknell, I’ll be with the Bison again as they play George Mason in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center in D.C. (Yes, I realize the District of Columbia is not a state, but “10 Games, 10 States, 10 Days” rolls off the tongue much better than “10 Games, 10 Sub-national Government Entities, 10 Days.”)

Friday, December 1, 2006

Day 5: Cornell Big Red vs Virginia Military Institute Keydets

Kaplan Arena (capacity 8,600)
Williamsburg, Virginia

The Result: Cornell 99, VMI 94
This was the early game in William and Mary’s “Tip-Off Classic.” (The late game pitted the host Tribe against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.)

Perhaps out of embarrassment, the attendance for this game may never be known. Like missing passages on the Watergate tapes, the box score omits this particular stat. Looking around Kaplan Arena at the tip, I estimated there were roughly 125 spectators--about what you would guess for a 6pm tip on a neutral court.

Even with the lack of an audience, it was an entertaining game, largely because of VMI’s style of play. The Keydets entered tonight’s game averaging over 100 points per contest. Their recipe has two ingredients: full-court pressure and a heap of three-pointers. Their games against Virginia Intermont and Southern Virginia must have been an incredible thing to behold--they won the first 156-95 and the second 144-127.

Early on, VMI was on pace to end in the 120’s, but Cornell was able to "slow" the pace of the game all the way down to the high 90’s. The Keydets attempted 54 three-pointers, but connected on one too few.

Venue Rating
Because this was a game played on a neutral court, I’ll only evaluate the facility itself, foregoing the “Attendance” and “Basketball Environment” aspects.

Facility: C. Built in 1971, Kaplan Arena is a large facility with seats featuring the team’s yellow and green colors. I gave it average marks because of its lack of bleachers and utilitarian, early 1970’s feel…something akin to the old Veteran Stadium in Philly. Also, the low angle at which the seating rises from the floor rapidly pushes spectators away from the action.

William & Mary’s logo adorns the floor, featuring a large “W” and “M” and two feathers. Ahhh, those controversial feathers: The NCAA has deemed them “hostile and offensive” to native Americans, and ordered William & Mary to remove them from Kaplan’s floor and anywhere else they appear.

Good intentions aside, the NCAA’s campaign against native American mascots and imagery has featured astonishing inconsistencies. Chief among them—oops! I meant to say—the best illustration of this is the NCAA’s disparate treatment of William & Mary and Florida State. The NCAA found William & Mary’s two feathers “hostile and offensive,” while Florida State is free to have someone dress up in native American costume, gallop into a stadium on a horse and throw a flaming spear. (Read William & Mary’s reply to the NCAA.)

Fan Face-Off: Cornell Big Red
No chants tonight from either team, and there was little to distinguish the small groups of fans supporting the teams. Cornell edges VMI on the strength of a sharp-looking banner hung by some boosters on the mezzanine level.

Best Mascot: Big Red
While I don’t find “Big Red” especially interesting, VMI’s mascot situation is a little perplexing. “Keydet,” according to VMI, is “derived from a southern drawl pronunciation of…cadet.” Shouldn't an institution of higher learning be bent on eradicating southern drawls rather than embracing them? Stranger, however, is VMI’s use of a kangaroo mascot to go with its mispronounced military moniker.

Graduation Success Rate: VMI by forfeit
Like the rest of the Ivy League, Cornell keeps its graduation success rates to itself. VMI may well have beaten Cornell outright even if the Big Red showed up. The Keydets have a sparkling 92% NCAA graduation success rate, the highest of any 10-10-10 team so far.

Life on the Road
Today I left suburban Philly, picked up fellow Bucknell grad Forrest Chilton at the Alexandria elementary school where he teaches, and continued to all the way to Williamsburg.

The highlight of today was an opportunity to chat with former Bucknell coach Charlie Woollum. Woollum coached Bucknell during our time on campus, leading the Bison to their first two NCAA tournament appearances, in 1987 and 1989. He left to coach William & Mary, his alma mater, and now does color commentary for William & Mary and other games, too. He made my week when he said he had enjoyed a piece I wrote for Bucknell’s alumni magazine about my experience attending Bison NCAA tournament games (last page on this PDF.)

On the way back to Alexandria, we stopped for a post-game meal at Waffle House. I first discovered these wonderful, breakfast-at-any-time diners while I was completing officer training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. There are no Waffle Houses in San Antonio, nor in Chilton's northern Virginia. I ordered my usual: three eggs over light with grits, toast and orange juice. (The last time we ate at a Waffle House was during last season’s trip to Durham, North Carolina to see Bucknell take on Duke.)

My brother, Sean, has been a hidden hero during my adventure, sprucing up the blog format and features, adding the audio clip of my Iona halftime interview, and being an all-around good guy. Today I called him from the road to confirm I was on course.

Total Miles To Date: 1,700

Next Game: The Bucknell Bison host Northern Iowa, looking to avenge a painful double-OT loss at UNI in February.