A few short weeks ago a team searching for an identity came to Baton Rouge in hopes of capturing an elusive road win. I mean we have owned LSU as of late and they were on a pretty tough losing skid. We were on the road to recovery after going 1-2 against the conference's elite in prior games. But a funny thing happened on the way to the victory column. LSU overcame two fifteen point deficits and somehow pulled the upset over a more talented Bulldog team.
I was shocked! This wasn't part of the plan. How could we lose to LSU? We were more talented, we had the better record and we had more to play for!
I wandered out in disbelief as the Tiger fans laughed us out of the Maravich Assembly Center. We had become their signature victory. We were their recruiting story now.
A wonderful friend, Rob Carpenter, president of Baton Rouge MSU Alumni Association, had arranged for us to meet the team after the game. I just knew the team wouldn't be in a very good humor and probably didn't feel like doing anything but getting back home. But there we stood out in the cold, me, Rob and my 6 year old son Oni. He was so excited and it didn't matter to him that we had lost, he just wanted to meet the team. The only name he could remember was "Z". I considered packing it in, but it hit me that had we won, everybody would have come out and congratulated them. We aren't fair weather fans!
As the winds began to crank up and the temperature dropped, a young man approached with a smile as he made out some Maroon and White standing by the bus. It was redshirt freshman Wesley Morgan. I have never seen this young man play, but I can assure you he is of high quality. I was very impressed with his attitude toward our program and toward us as fans. A few other players began to file out and they all took out time to talk even if it was just for a minute or two. Marcus Campbell leaned down to shake my son's hand and I had visions of David and Goliath for a moment.
Suddenly a hooded player walked out and reveled himself and it was none other than "Z" himself. I don't know who was more excited, me or my son. Many of you know, I am sure, that Zimmerman was the best player from the state of Louisiana when he signed with us out of high school. Well, the folks at LSU haven't forgotten and they hollered and screamed at him unmercifully all night. He had to have heard some of the idiots, but he never responded or acted like he cared. He signed an autograph for us and thanked us for coming out. As he walked away, Michael Gholar, Mario Austin and Marckell Patterson were out and they all made a big deal about us coming out. I believe it mattered to them. We didn't ask them for anything, we just let them all know how proud we were of them and thanked them for playing at MSU.
Sometimes I forget they're just young men. When you see Mario on TV, he doesn't look like a 19, year old kid, but he is. He is just as approachable as any 19 year old kid. When we spoke he wasn't cocky or arrogant. He was a player whose team had just lost a game they shouldn't have. Believe me they felt it as a team but there was no finger pointing, no pouting, no crying or whining. Over and over they all said, "We just have to go get Auburn now!" or "We can't let this happen again!" There was just something about how they got on that bus. They weren't laughing or joking, but you could see that they believed that they lost the game and that LSU didn't win it.
Finally, Coach Rick Stansbury came out to get on the bus. You could see the stress in his face. I figured he would walk on by and nod his head, but instead he walked over and apologized for letting us down. He said, "We sure are sorry we let that one get away for you guys." I was floored! I have never been anti-Stans, but I never expected that. He was hoarse and aggravated, but he seemed determined to fix the problem. Believe me nobody cared more than Stans did. The guys all thanked us again and they got on the bus. As we walked away, I thought to myself, well that loss may end our NCAA hopes. Man, am I ever so glad to be wrong!
My son was only a few months old when we went to the Final four in 1996. I held him as the final seconds ticked away in our win over Cincinnati. I wanted us to share that memory even though he wouldn't remember it. I am thankful today that the 2002 Bulldogs gave us another memory to share as father and son. I can't say that my son will let me hold him in the final moments of games anymore. He is a big boy now, but there is a part of him and me and you on that court too. More than anything I wanted those players to know that. They are our kids win or lose. If you can, go support our Dogs and take your son with you, old or young. It's times like these that bring us together as Bulldog fans.
I write this experience to you not to brag on anything that I've done or experienced, but to brag on our coach and those kids. It would have been easy for everyone of those guys to walk by my son, not saying a word, and getting on that bus. After a loss like that, I would not have been surprised one bit. To be honest, I kind of expected some of that. I was wrong about our kids, they exceeded my expectations again, but, hey, they seem to make a habit of doing just that.
Go get 'em Dawgs
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.