Game Day Experience At The Cowan Spectrum

EDITOR'S NOTE: On Saturday, February 7, <b>Larry Johnson</b> made a long trek from Seattle to make good on his promise to visit the Idaho campus and take-in a Vandal Men's Basketball game. This is his story, along with several photographs of his journey and game-day experience.

The day after the 2002 Tom Cable Golf Tournament I was enjoying breakfast in the University Inn when Leonard Perry and an assistant basketball coach walked in and took a nearby table. After breakfast, he remembered me, from a golf game in Seattle the prior summer, and so naturally he asked if I was planning on attending any upcoming basketball games (for 2002-2003 season).

Larry Johnson /
I sheepishly replied that, unfortunately, I was not planning on making the drive to Moscow for basketball, but that I followed the Vandals via the Internet. Coach Perry was quick to point out the new features of the Cowan Spectrum and that, if I flew to the game, he would drive to the Moscow-Pullman Regional Airport to pick me up.

I would never ask any coach to make good on such a generous offer, especially when he and his assistants are so busy and have much higher priorities than one alumni's airport shuttle needs. The coach was a little persistent though and pointed out that I should see a game on the Vandals court.

As I departed the restaurant, one of my golf tournament teammates asked if I would make the trip and I thought it would be interesting and somewhat reminiscent, as I have not watched a live Vandal game for years. Since graduating in 1979 I have attended only one game about 10 years ago. I tried to schedule a trip to see a men's and a women's game during the following season, but the trip evaded my schedule.

This winter Bob Yuditsky, the golf teammate, reminded me that I never made good on my promise to Leonard Perry. So with a little Palm Pilot magic I found myself heading out of Seattle on Friday morning to battle a little snow, ice, and fog, that was child's play for my rig. The trip through Eastern Washington was co-mingled with a sales call on a client and then on to Coeur d' Alene for dinner with friends.

Larry Johnson /
Over Saturday breakfast I once again tried to convince my father (BSEE 1951) to support the Vandal Scholarship Fund without success. After a few errands and some of the world's best burgers at Hudson's, the challenging highway 95 winter experience through the Benewah was lessened by the replacement of several miles of a new 4-lane stretch of road.

I knew Moscow was close when the weather and road conditions worsened as we crossed Potlatch ridge to enter a surreal world of fog and thin blanket of snow. It was so thick that I could not see the Stookey Feed elevator as we entered town. A right turn onto 6th and we proceeded past the a new commercial building that held a Taco Del Mar, Quiznos, etc while the Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company was across the street. As we drove to Rayburn I noticed the new village-style dormitories and their proximity to the new Student Recreation Center.

The first stop was the new Strength and Speed Center, which I saw for the first time, and then it was off to the Coeur d' Alene Brewing Company for some wondrous Lakeside British Ale (formerly T.W. Fishers Nut Brown Ale recipe). I spoke to the manager and thanked him for supporting the Vandals, for naming a brew "Vandal Gold," and for linking their promotions with the Vandals. Cabernet and a filet mignon at the always-reliable Red Door was as good as ever, and then it was off to the game.

Larry Johnson /
As I entered the Dome I immediately thought the basketball court would be the same as my student days of the late 1970's, when there were bleachers and a plastic basketball court. I was quite surprised to see a completely different arrangement in that it looked and felt like a form of a basketball arena. It was far from perfect, nor a permanent solution to the basketball facility needs of a Division I program, but the entire look and feel was realistically arena-like in nature. In my opinion I would really like to see a basketball pavilion attached to the west end of the dome that would handle both men's and women's basketball, and serve as a performing arts center with seating of approximately 10,000.

I met Rob Spear for the first time just prior to the National Anthem. Another reminder of our unique Vandal experience was the accessibility of the Athletic Director. It really seems that we are fortunate to have Rob Spear and, after about 5 minutes, I realized the Vandals have a good leader followed by my hope of a long tenure.

Larry Johnson /
The game began with the first bucket by Cal Poly, which is the team that eliminated the Vandals team from the 2003 Big West Tournament in Anaheim. It was great to see a conference game, as a victory would assist in advancement to this year's conference tournament. Later in the first half Idaho took a permanent, but narrow, lead and a first half dunk installed some additional energy into the crowd of 2,234. Although the pep band wore the misguided bumblebee colors, they did a great job of adding that extra spark to the atmosphere. Halftime brought a special show form the dance team, the cheerleaders, and a score of local grade school children on the court leading a few Vandal cheers.

Larry Johnson /
The game highlight came with 14:18 to go in the second half when Tyrone Hayes (10 points, 4 rebounds) completed an alley-oop dunk in front of Cal Poly's flat-footed center. The crowd loved it and the Vandals never looked back. Momentum was further solidified when the clock read 4:49 and a defensive play by Rashaad Powell (11 points, 4 rebounds) created a turnover, which resulted in more transition points. The stifling Idaho defense and some apparent quit by the Mustangs put the game in the victory column.

I was surprised when the game ended with silver and gold streamers, shot from small canons behind each backboard, showered an onslaught of future, local Vandals. Coach Perry, his staff, and the team then sung the fight song as the band played on. Mr. Perry's post-game enthusiasm was apparent when he helped lead the Vandal fight song and engaged with the students.

After the victory I asked Tom McGann how long it took to set up and prepare the entire arrangement for a game and I found it surprising that it took his crew 3 days to prepare the spectrum. If it were not for the generosity of the Cowans, our facility deficiencies would be much worse and perhaps as inferior as my days as a student. The surrounding black curtains and professional lighting, created the arena atmosphere we all crave and eventually require in a new pavilion.

The experience was a positive one, no doubt about it. As an outsider I was amazed at the low number of students and locals in attendance. I estimated that about 500 students attended, maybe fewer than 500. It was a Saturday night conference game with relatively good February weather and there was entertainment, with no other competing events, and chance to gather as students. The University of Idaho Athletic Department does a phenomenal job of creating an entertaining experience with such limited resources.

I was glad I made the trip. From my student days, where the Vandals played on plastic, to the Cowan Spectrum, with a real wooden court, the entire trip and amenities were enjoyable. I am sure I will do it again. Final score: Vandals 60, Cal Poly 44. The return trip on the oft-neglected highway 95 was worth it. The Sunday drive home from Coeur d'Alene was just fine.

ALL Vandals Top Stories