EPISODE TWO: The Empress Chicken Strikes Back

<b>KANSAS CITY, MO --</b> I have a confession to make. I really enjoy the way the Big 12 handles the combination of the Men's & Women's basketball tournaments. It's great to have both teams playing in the same city on the same weekend, even if our women did stumble & lose to Texas Tech this afternoon.

I couldn't get off work in time to see the game, but my wife and her sister made it down to see the second half of the game, and they tell me that Municipal was resplendent in it's Cardinal and Gold majesty.

I don't know – maybe the "Big" 10 thinks they're empowering the women by giving them their own tournament the weekend before the men's tournament. I guess maybe I could see the reason for that decision, but the crowds at Municipal wouldn't be as large if the men's teams weren't in town. That's not a slam on women's basketball. I'll leave the job of comparing the products on the court to sports talk hosts, but the undeniable fact is that IN GENERAL, men's basketball has a larger fan base. I love watching the Iowa State women's team play because they're a good group of young women who have a God-given talent for the game. The athletic department does a great job of marketing the women's games towards families, and the fact that a family of four can go to an ISU women's game for about the same price as Mom or Dad would pay for their own ticket to a men's game helps to introduce youngsters to the Hilton atmosphere at a reasonable cost.

The TWISTER SISTER'S comeback win over Colorado was a classic, right up there with Justus Thigpen's last second prayer in Boulder. I saw highlights of the game back home on the news, and the way they came back from being down 7 with 1:05 on the clock made me SO happy for those young women. During this afternoon's pregame show, I heard Coach Fennelly mention that their game against Texas Tech was going to be the ONLY conference quarterfinal in the nation where two Top 20 teams were playing each other. The resulting game certainly lived up to the hype. Iowa State was one turn-around jumper away from sending it to overtime, but I guess you can't hit EVERY game winning shot in a clutch situation. I'm glad the women's team is back and kicking tail in THE toughest conference in the nation, but I really wish they could have squeaked this one out so that I could watch them play #1 seed Baylor today.

I've only been in KC for 7 hours, and I'm already on "Onawa Time". I was supposed to be at the airport to pick up Bill & Max at 7, but nagging projects at work delayed my jump off by 90 minutes. Since speeding is a violation of the law, I'm going to assure you that I drove the whole way down at a reasonable speed, and leave it at that. I've been picking Bill up from the airport for the last 6 or 7 years, and our usual itinerary is for me to pick him up at Terminal C and stop for pancakes on the way back to the hotel. Since we're a little off on timing this year, I've got all weekend to whine about not getting my pancakes. Maybe I can use this to offset the whining about being late.

We checked into the Embassy Suites and started the tournament with some tasty adult beverages in the comfort of our room. Chili's is within two blocks of the Embassy, so we stopped there to get something to eat on the way to Kelley's. Our server is a Kansas fan, and he strikes up a conversation about how he was SO sure they were going to sweep ISU this year after winning at Hilton. We smile and nod in a friendly way. This guy is going to be alone with our food, so diplomacy is the keyword here. We decided to order a nice selection of appetizers, and an old joke about how "the appetizers are cheaper than the dinners" gets repeated. Bill made this offhand comment in '97, and it's been part of our vocabulary ever since. This restaurant has a lot of memories. In '98, we rather unenthusiastically consumed a meal here after a night/morning of wild celebration (this was the year that our "power drinking" peaked and began to taper off). That was the year the Big Blizzard hit Iowa and Northern Missouri on Sunday afternoon, stranding ISU fans all along Interstate 35. Hotel rooms were precious commodities that weekend, and I would have spent the night on a cot at the fire station in Bethany if not for the charity of former ISU football player Jeff St. Clair. He and his wife allowed a strange ISU fan to sleep on the floor of their motel room, and I'm forever in their debt.

The natives are getting restless. While we're finishing up at Chili's, I get phone calls from my wife and an old high school/college friend who both wonder WHY THE HECK HAVEN'T YOU GOTTEN TO KELLEY'S YET? Finally, at 11, we arrive at the Cyclone Promised Land. Kelley's in Westport. It's a cliché, and unless you've made the trip, you can't understand how much Iowa State fans love this place. If Kelley's were up for sale, a realtor might describe the place as "a charming fixer-upper", but the memories in this place are more valuable than all the drywall and fresh paint in the world. Personally, this place has some great memories.

I remember Jim Walden getting up on a table to lead the crowd in singing the Iowa State fight song at the top of his lungs.

I remember my buddy Ron bringing a funnel & 3 feet of tubing into the bar, and enlisting Tony Rampton to hold up the contraption so that it could do it's evil work.

I remember the year that Ron spilled an ENTIRE pitcher of warm beer on Martin Jischke. Tradition says that when the crowd starts to make the YOOOOOOO sound, you're supposed to hold your beverage in the air, and when the crowd reaches critical mass, the ISU fight song is sung. Unfortunately, Ron forgot that substances in liquid form take the shape of their container, and when your pitcher shoots up into the air the liquid inside it sloshes out and takes the shape of a malevolent cloud of vapor that actively seeks out any university president in close proximity to your group. Wasn't there a creature like that on an episode of the Old Star Trek?

I remember the game against Mizzou in the old Big 8 tournament where Tim Floyd got ejected and left Coach Reed to get the win. Coach Reed was sitting at a barstool in Kelley's late that night and laughing while ISU fans of all shapes & sizes messed up his hair and told him "Good Job, Shooter".

I remember running into Jacy Holloway in Kelley's back in 2002 and acting like a total dork. I'm sure he's used to having an inebriated fool barge into his conversation and loudly tell him "Dude, you were DEFINITELY the greatest point guard in ISU history." I just hope it wasn't as embarrassing at the time as it is in retrospect.

I remember several coats and sweatshirts that were thrown away after falling into the "special sauce" brewing on the floor of Kelley's on a Friday or Saturday night. No matter how hard you try, you just can't get that glop off your clothing, so it's better to just "dress down" when you go there – and for God's sake, LEAVE YOUR COAT BACK AT THE HOTEL!

Now it's 3am, and we're back at the hotel. Max is thumbing through the phone book looking for a Chinese restaurant that will deliver 24 hours a day (one of the highlights of the last 2 years in Dallas), while Bill is folding out the sleeper couch and complaining about his back. As cagy veterans, we're all drinking water and taking doses of Tylenol or Advil to give us a leg up on tomorrow. We've got to get down to the Royal and Kemper to start looking for tickets. It's good to be back in Kansas City.

NEXT EPISODE – The Baylor game, the ISU pep rally and our first interactions with opposing fans.


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