A New York Cat fan gets to see his team

This day had been in the making for quite sometime. It started the day that I learned the Wildcats were going to be playing at Madison Square Garden this season. I can't remember when that was, perhaps back to October, but it was a day that I had blocked-off on the calendar like a soccer hooligan blocks-off a certain day for a certain match. Springfield was different, I had my family with me. MSG is more like a boys night out. Boys, with a youthful zeal.

CathodeRay is a Wildcat fan in the New York area. He is a frequent contributor to the Cat Tracks' message boards.

It's a great time of year to be out and around New York City. The sights, the smells and aromas, the nip in the air, the Christmas trim everywhere one turns. Everyone should come here at least once during this time of year sometime in their lives.

When I bought my tickets I purchased two. I figured I could find someone to go with in due time. My wife was not enthusiastic about going especially on a weekday. It compromises her shepherding duties. GOOD. This is an evening reserved for some level of Wildcats debauchery and she's not rough around the edges. That's a very good thing though.

I kept striking out with a taker. I even e-mailed the fellow that went with me into the eye of the tiger: Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut. He's the kind of guy you want with you at an opponent's venue: burley and untouchably tough looking. Also, a UofA alumnus. I also asked the other fellow that went with me into the tiger's other eye: Penn State's Beaver Stadium. A Maryland alumnus who had gone with me to see the Maryland/Arizona game. No takers. The rest of the alumni I knew, were away on the road. It is a Tuesday you know. So I agreed two weeks ago to barter/exchange my ticket for a ticket to the Vitaly Klichko fight last Saturday at The Garden also. Seems like a good exchange. Lots of under-cards that were not seen on HBO last Saturday. My friend Harry (Ohio State grad), a professional heckler with a Ph.D. (a player hating degree), gets to see his first Wildcats game live.

Driving into Manhattan today is different. It snowed heavily last Friday and Saturday and one still has to be careful. I have to be, since I experienced two weather related accidents just last season. My first two ever. I figure that with the law of averages, I'm golden for a long time to come. Parking on the street is "slim". The snow is encroaching on the available number of spots on the Upper West Side. More than when there's a movie shoot. Today, I have to park about 9 blocks away, roughly the distance from Campbell to Old Main. It's a good leisurely walk. The sidewalks are fairly clear. Ten or so minutes later, as I close in on the building where I work, I can see that there are some people languishing outside. It's not unusual, we produce a nationally syndicated program there and audience members tend to ease out at a slow pace sometimes. Ironically, Arizona alumnus Greg Kinear, is one of the guests today. It's about 11:15 am now.

As I attempt go around some of these people and into the revolving door, whoa! Father figure, mother figure and pretty daughter figure......pretty daughter figure is wearing a pink Arizona "block A" cap. I immediately asked her, "Are you going to the game?" She looked at me a bit strangely, she may have even been startled by this stranger's question on a New York street. I unzipped my jacket to reveal my navy UofA sweatshirt. Yes! She said. She gave me the thumbs up and father figure and mother figure were both pleasantly surprised. A lively conversation ensued.

I told them about myself and they did the same. How cool is this? I'm talking to some Tucsonans about Tucson and I'm not skipping a beat. I find out that "father figure" is not the father, but rather a friend and he's the vice president and general manager of a well known Tucson hotel. I have been there. "Mother figure" is the wife of a well known doctor in Tucson and "daughter figure", very regrettably, I did not absorb her name or if she was one of older adult's daughter. I really dislike this about myself: not remembering names in brief conversations. I believe it is because some part of my subconscious knows that I'm not going to see these people again and it neglects to assign it any level of importance. I could never be a politician like my father-in-law was.

Our conversation taps on mutual friends and acquaintances. I'm intrigued. I could've talked and rambled for the entire day (a politician's virtue?). They needed to know where there's a good restaurant and I made a suggestion of one a block away. I told them that it is trimmed for the season and we're having our company's Christmas party there tomorrow. "It should provide you, even at 11:20am, with a good dining experience". We hailed our good-byes, pleasantries exchanged, and the obligatory "hope to see you at the game comment". Yeah right.

I spend the day at work. I'm hoping that nothing blows up and I'll be able to make the "meet-and-greet" with Lute Olson. For me, today is a self-declared holiday. Eleven-thirty to 5:45 WITH a lunch break. Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of my days are longer than the average Joe's out there. Hey, The University of Arizona Wildcats Basketball Team is in town and damn the torpedoes it's full speed ahead to tip-off! BEAR DOWN!

As soon as I can, 5:45pm, I briskly leave the building, walk the six blocks to the subway and it's off to The Garden. In the past month or so, the president of the New York area alumni club has been e-mailing furiously. More in the last month than what seems the entire past year. President Debbie Meyer has secured "Play-By-Play", a restaurant inside The Garden, specifically for this alumni gathering. Even though I get the e-mailings, I rarely go to any of these gatherings. Recently, the club tend to meet at these extremely noisy sports bars. It is difficult to talk to anyone over the din. Unless one is much younger, no salt in the head young, young enough to find one of these venues interesting and fun, I tend to find places like these boorish and vulgar. I got my Ya-Ya's out years ago.

Debbie Meyer and Lisa Higgins in Boston both did an excellent job of securing both their venues for Lute to come to.

Maybe some of you have seen this around, some venues don't have their ticket-takers physically rip the tickets. All they do is do a UPC type laser scan and the ticket is nullified. That's how to get to this restaurant inside The Garden. One actually submits for admission and stays at the restaurant until the gates open before the event. This is great, I get to keep a non-ripped ticket. Cool for a souvenir I think. As I ride the escalator, and approach the entrance, I see that this place is big, slightly cavernous for a restaurant within The Garden. No table for me, I don't need one, I go to the bar and order a "sud" and one.

Just a few minutes later at 6:25pm, Lute enters the restaurant with Christine Torretti in arm. Lute is sporting his de' rigueur look. Christine is in a cardinal red winter coat. There is scattered applause. Some people begin to hover over Lute and Christine. Debbie makes the introduction. Debbie states over the microphone that she's had the pleasure of meeting Lute in the past. Lute is then handed the mic.

Lute states that he feels good about the team after they get some more game experience. He mentions that Stanford is a contender in the Pac-10. He does give Stanford their props. He brings up Mustafa Shakur being a recruit from out these parts, Philly. That Mustafa will become a crowd favorite.

Lute then takes questions. The only one audible question was the first one from some guy who congratulated him on 500 at Arizona. On 700 coming up soon. This guy knew that Lute is approaching 1,000 total wins and is about 25 away from that mark. His question is does Lute think he'll hit 1K before the end of this season? Lute downplays its numerical significance in few words.

A gentleman asks about what do you do about height problems? Lute answers that he then gets the players to jump higher. Another gentleman's question is over early exits from his players. Lute's philosophical answer is that he's convinced that younger and younger NBA players hurt the NBA game much more than the college game. That there'll always be kids around and coming up to be good college players.

Lute states that he'd like to take a question from a lady, otherwise he'll hear about it in a not so good light. A question about leadership arises from one. Isaiah Fox will be providing that from the bench this season. Andre is able to do that on the floor as can Channing and Salim. Channing is up to 248 right now with a great touch. He talks briefly about Tangara, McClellan and how a recruit from Melbourne, Australia (Daniel Dillon) had a big game back in Kentucky the previous night at 29 points and 13 rebounds. He also teases the crowd with an announcement of another commitment coming up in a week or so.

Unbelievably, Lute breaches the subject of basketball to Arizona Football. That Arizona has gotten a "really good coach". That it is exactly what "we" need.......enthusiastic. Big round of applause from the crowd for that one. That it's a thrill to have Mike Stoops at Arizona.

Back to a question about team focus. Lute answers that focus is not a problem. That football is different than basketball with tension issues. In football players get a few hits in and it takes some of the tension off. That in basketball it is more of a finesse issue.

Questions are now over, and it is time to draw for the Lute autographed basketball. Ms. Torrretti is the honorable drawer. The winner is announced. It's not me again! Damn. No consolation hats or T's at this drawing. Lute indicates that he has got to leave and a crowd then gathers around him. Some of the people there want to take a picture with Lute. A young lady does come up to Christine, and Christine genuinely lights up. She embraces this young lady and then Christine says to Lute....."look who's here"? I don't know who she was.

I'm now thinking that I didn't get an autograph with my opportunity up in Springfield, so I queue up in line as others have jockeyed so. Some guy hands Lute a "sharpie" and Lute very kindly turns for a picture and signs an autograph and turns for a picture and signs another item and so forth until I get to him. I hand him my un-defaced pristine game ticket and ask him if he could do me the honor. He goes right at it but he's about to sign its back! I interject and ask him..."Coach! Please the front if you would? He didn't skip a beat, and autographed its front instead! Hot Diggity Dog! I'm having that thing professionally framed!

Moments later Lute does leave with Christine and the atmosphere then deflates. Elvis has left the building. I do the same and head into the arena. I keep holding the ticket from its edges to ensure that the ink completely dries even as I'm walking to my assigned seat. Harry's already at his'. I hail from the aisle, Hey Harry! I show him my ticket. He looks. I say, "I'm going to Sizzler, I'm going to Sizzler, I'm going to Sizzler!". He laughs it off. "Hey, in Tucson that's a "get-out-of-jail-free-card."

Harry and I go and get some beer. We both head out to the concourse to get one.

As we start to walk back to our seats, this tall bald guy, who I recognized as someone I've seen by work on the Upper West Side on a couple of occasions, walks just past me en-route to his seat inside The Garden. His height is his distinguishing feature as is his shaved bald head. This elderly gentlemen turns to me and says, "you almost got run over by Danny Ferry". "That's Danny Ferry?", I asked. "I've seen him around work a couple of times", I said. Yep that's him. Harry agrees. Harry (the player hater in him) calls him an "an angry out of work basketball has-been" I was afraid Danny wasn't far enough away from earshot, but I guess he was. The next time I see him around work I'll talk to him.

We're back at our seats at 7:09pm for the start of the Illinois game. I recall the dynamics of having two teams play separate games in one venue in one night. As it was for the AZ/Maryland and the Temple/Florida a couple of years ago at this very same place, some of the fans of the respective teams tend to show up for their team's game and that game only. So on television, it may have looked deceivingly sparse. Many of the Texas and Arizona fans were not there for the IL/Providence tip-off. It also works the same for the latter game.

Our seats are practically at mid-court one section up with a great vantage point. They are good seats. It pays off to buy early. Our seats have Texas fans in front of us and behind us. Not a good thing. Some Wildcats are some rows behind me. Harry tells me that our mutual friend, and my colleague, Randy is here with his father. We agree to see if we can get them over by where we're at, as soon as the first game is over. It's a sure thing that some if many will leave.

This first game crowd is very pro-Providence. The Illinois support is not nearly as rowdy or loud. When Providence took over the lead it was evident that Providence was really in the house and Illinois was somewhere nearby. It was all in stark contrast to the ugly way this game had started. Illinois was up 10 or 12 points to Providence's none until 12:18 remained in the first half. Accounts of this game are better left to your videotape replay. One thing, however, which I didn't get to see, was Lute Olson being interviewed during this game's halftime. The entire time that Lute was on at one end of the arena, Jim Valvano was on the big screen with his impassioned speech of support for the Jim Valvano Cancer Research Foundation. Afterward, during the Arizona halftime, Dick Vitale did some of the same and had some cancer survivors for the arena to meet.

Lute and Christine sat behind the Illinois bench, but Lute left at about halftime. The Providence game eventually ends and Bruce Weber gets unmasked for his first true test.

Back to Randy and his father. Harry went to look for them and they all arrive close to the end of intermission in beautiful fashion: they are all carrying two beers a piece. Woo Hoo!

I greet Randy's father and tell him that I haven't seen him since we all went to the Nets game against Portland a couple of years ago. That game was really a showcase for Arizona players let me tell you. That game was really a lot of fun to see. Kerr was with Portland at the time. Jefferson was rookie. Stoudamire and Chris Mills with Portland. Other Pac-10 schools were represented in both rosters.

We're all taking more notice to our Texas neighbors around us, and Randy and Harry know about my cheerleading propensities. They can get a little nervous quickly, and I don't know about Randy's very able 80 year old father.

In front of us, and to the side a cache of young professionals, perhaps late in their twenties/early thirties. Affable types. Directly behind us are a young male with two females who look like they're freshly hatched on many levels. One of the girls continuously throughout the game keeps screaming GO TEXAS! WOOOOOOO! That got old and grindy very quick.

Just before the Wildcat game begins, I notice the group that I saw earlier by work is settling into their seats one section below. I catch their attention. They waive with wide smiles. How strange, I actually did run into them at the game! The hotel manager settles in but briefly comes up to say hello again. He gives me his business card and tells me to touch base at his hotel sometime. I tell him that I will do and that I hoped you all had an enjoyable day.

The Arizona game eventually tips-off and the first half turns out to get a hell of a dandy one. Arizona zoom, zoom, zoom and a "swisharoo" for two or three. Texas zoom, zoom zoom and not as many "swisharoos" for them. GO TEXAS! WOOOOOOOOO!! More zooming for both teams. GO TEXAS!!! WOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Hey honey, I said! "Tex what"? She realized what I asked her with a chorus of chuckles from some few. I'm prefacing most of the Arizona shots with a very loud "Swisharooo" before they do go in. Fortunately, many of them kept falling. "Honey number two" behind me then picks up on this "swisharoo" cheer and she calls a "swisharoo" in the air for Texas that does not fall........"No swisharoooo for you!" More chuckles. Nothing more than good-natured ribbing, really. "Hey Texas, this ain't Wofford you're playing tonight!" "Remember The Alamo!".

Just before halftime, the folks in front of us, astute Texas football fans that they are, spot Mack Brown sitting directly behind Coach Rick Barnes. We are all intrigued. The conversation with the young-pros goes football at halftime. One of the guys hates Coach Brown. They feel they should be beating Oklahoma consistently. Harry says to him that you Texas football fans live in a different football world like the yahoos at Nebraska. You guys go 10-2 and it's not good enough some years. "What' up with that?" "And anyway, who could you possibly consider as a replacement?" "Jesus Christ?", I ask. After he thinks for a couple of beats and I hear his gears grind a little "Steve Spurrier", he says. "Spurrier?" "He was tired of hearing it from the fans like Ron Zook is getting tired of it right now.", I said. "Spurrier is a good example of going 10-2 perennially and the fans don't find that good enough."

I added that as far as Texas football is concerned, the biggest load of Texas-sized crap ever to drop in Arizona was John Mackovic. They unanimously all agreed. "Don't bring him up", one said. A lone Illini within earshot gave me the thumbs up on that one. If there had been a Kansas City Chiefs fan around, I'm convinced that I'd have his blessing also. I believe that the dopey hatchlings behind me may have heard some part of that editorialization/commentary.

Well, for the most part, the second half to the game was all Arizona. I really didn't keep up with the razzing or the loud cheering except for the super-human displays of athleticism from Hassan, Andre and Shakur. Randy my buddy was very impressed with a second half lay-up Shakur made. He must have gone up about 95 inches over his defender in a blaze.

With 2 or so minutes remaining and with Texas making a run at a comeback, one of the "chickpeas" behind me, the "GO TEXAS. WOOOO!" one, says something to the effect of (it was loud all about) "Hey, I know "your" coach John Mackovic." "What?", I said. "Your" coach John Mackovic used to coach Texas you know?" Her male friend then whispered in her ear.

"You know John Mackovic?", I say. "Why are you telling me this? John Mackovic is a mean spirited individual and is in need of a psychologist and a psychiatrist. He is very likely a sociopath."

At this point we get into a heated "discussion". She claims that John Mackovic is like a second father to her and I continue to lobby for the old coach to undergo a psychological evalulutation. Soon our encounter disintegrates in to shouting and many "F-bombs" are lobbied back and forth, mostly from her boyfriend to me.

Randy and Harry finally notice that this may degrade further and grapple my shirt and pull me away. The Texas dopes start to leave. Arizona is shooting fouls by now. Thirty or so seconds are left. It's a done deal.

"What brought that on?", Harry asks, he knows the story. "She said John Mackovic is like a second father to her." The other Texas fans in front heard me say that. One said, "Why would she mention that?" "Don't ask me, ask her."

As they're going down the stairs, I'm compelled to say "Good-bye and have a good night Miss Mackovic!"

Her male friend flips me off.

"Hey, that's two fingers for a ‘hook ‘em Horns' don't you know?!?"

Game over, Arizona wins and everything is good in the universe. The Buzzer sounds and the tally is 91 to 83.....Zona baby!

This is CathodeRay's second contribution to Cat Tracks. We are always interested in contributions from our readers. If interested, e-mail us at cattracks_1@yahoo.com.

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