The Best is Yet to Come

KANSAS CITY – Mission accomplished. Two solid victories in Kansas City. March Madness extended. Can it get any Sweeter than this? <BR><BR>             Absolutely. <BR><BR> For the old Trail Rider, the weekend's Family Reunion, Cowboy style, on the Banks of the Missouri River was just a primer. It was great fun, but I can't escape the feeling the best is yet to come. A San Antonio Fiesta, anyone?

Now, I'm not normally a superstitious fellow. I really did change my skivvies, socks and other attire between games this weekend, though orange remained my wardrobe's dominant color. But truth be told, I've resisted the temptation to mention Final Four until the last few days. No sense taking any chances. After all, a jinx can appear in strange and mysterious ways.

            What has made me less reticent to dust off my maps of the Alamo city? The way our Pokes disposed of Texas, Eastern Washington and Memphis the last three games. The Texas and Eastern Washington games felt like grinders to me. Not playing our best? No problem. Just get it done. The opening 20 minutes against Memphis, the intensity and focus were terrific, setting the stage for something of a second half coast.

My point? I believe this team can play better. Much better. Scary better. I know, I know: A weekend with 6,000 or so of your orange-clad soul mates can give even the best of us delusions of grandeur. But the d-word I'm thinking of isn't delusional. It's destiny.

And it's obvious that many are sharing in the onset of Final Four Fever. Our takeover of the Big 12 tournament in Dallas was impressive, but hardly surprising, given that our biggest alumni group outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa is in Dallas-Fort Worth. But the turnout in Kansas City, a five-hour-plus trip for most, was truly impressive, especially since the Jayhawkers owned the inside track to the lion's share of tickets to their backyard regional.

Friday's turnout was nice – orange sprinkled throughout the building. But I was amazed by how much our numbers swelled for Sunday's game. My conservative estimate: Somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the 18,000 fans in Kemper wore OSU regalia. There was orange in every section – even amidst the Memphis bloc. It's a sure sign that – like Eddie Sutton himself – we are beginning to realize just how special this team is.

It's getting harder for those who bleed orange and black not to be there in person. The Missus and I were enjoying a few last moments of shut-eye Saturday morning when my cell phone [black cover with the O-State logo on the front, Pistol Pete on the back] went to ringing. Some friends back home were making plans to head up before the roosters got to crowing Sunday morning. What, they wondered, was the ticket situation?

I've bought enough tickets on the fly [I never have figured out how many Posse points it takes to get tickets to these prized out-of-town basketball events] to know that each tournament or regional has a different personality. I figured this ticket might be tough, because of the Jayhawks presence. But then again, I heard tickets selling as low as $10 each for Friday night's session featuring Kansas' opening game. I told our friends I'd prowl around and get back with them.

Our first stop, though, was Bob Evans in Overland Park for a hearty breakfast. The Missus and I hardly made it in the front door when we ran into Terrence Crawford's parents, Larry and Carolyn Orton. We all were decked out in OSU attire – even though it wasn't a game day – chatting happily about the wonderful ride this season. You could tell the restaurant workers were getting a kick out of all us Okies, on a Hoops High, dropping bucks all over town.

Think I'm exaggerating? Consider this: At Coldwater Creek, where we did some shopping for The Missus, we saw numerous cars with OSU decals and flags. At the Isle of Capri, we parlayed two 20s into about 3 ½ hours of fun – including time on the balcony above the casino floor, pointing out all the patrons in orange. We then made a pilgrimage to the Golden Ox, next door to Kemper Arena, for steaks – Kansas City strips, of course – and crossed paths with even more folks in Cowboy regalia.

Which brings me back to my ticket hunt: Only one of the professional scalpers was working the near deserted streets around Kemper and the Golden Ox. I wasn't about to buy from him, but wanted to know his prices, so we could let our friends know what they were up against. The asking price on Saturday evening: $100 each for uppers, $200 each for lowers. Our friends decided to come anyway, hoping for a more reasonable deal – but, most importantly, to be part of history.

By Sunday morning, though, the prices had climbed. Some knuckleheads were asking $300 each for lowers. Our friends' devotion was rewarded: They bought uppers – all four together – for $350. I spoke to the wife after the game and she lamented the cost, even though she conceded they all had a blast. I didn't speak to the husband or sons, but I'll bet they didn't sweat the cost nearly as much after a 17-point victory and a Sweet 16 berth. It's a male thing, don't you know.

Like the Sunday before, when we celebrated the Big 12 tournament title in Dallas, The Missus and I were sans kids. Our two boys had made other plans, long before they realized the scheduling conflicts. Like all good parents, we picked up t-shirts for them – none of which read, "My parents went to [pick one: Dallas or Kansas City] and all I got was a lousy t-shirt." In Kansas City, we also bought them Scowls on a Stick, benefiting the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign. We knew our youngest son was back in our hometown, watching the game with diehard OSU friends. But our eldest was in the car, somewhere in rural Texas, returning from a Spring Break trip with a fraternity brother to his Houston area home. They couldn't get the broadcast, so just minutes into the game, they called, asking not only the score, but also that we call with periodic updates.

My favorite moment was when I provided this report: "At half-time, the score is Joey Graham 20, Memphis 19."

I'll admit: I was mildly concerned in the second half when Memphis closed to within 13. Thankfully, it didn't dawn on me until later that it was one year ago that a 17-point lead over Syracuse evaporated in a second-stanza meltdown. If that nugget had popped into my feeble cranium, The Missus might have had to summon a stretcher.

As it was, we were able to laugh off the insightful remarks from KU fans behind us. Things like: When Memphis went on its first little run in the second half, cutting the lead to 21, Mr. Kansas Basketball sagely informs his daughter, "I guess the OSU coach better call a time out. They're in danger of their lead falling below 20."

Of course, my personal favorite was his comment about Jayhawk football.

Father: "Did you hear they're going to make a Dukes of Hazard movie?"

Daughter: "No. Really?"

Father: "Yeah. They've cast Mark Mangino as Boss Hogg."

Maybe The Trail Rider just had a weekend of misfortune, bumping into more than his share of obnoxious KU fans. As we headed for the exits Sunday, one punk couldn't resist spouting off: "Better enjoy it now – Pittsburgh's gonna take you out." I had to restrain The Missus, who fired a sarcastic, "Yeah, right." I wanted to pluck this guy's tail feathers then and there, but quickly concluded he wasn't worth the effort. He's probably just a bandwagon-type who couldn't find the KU library with a telescope. The Missus, meanwhile, informed me she would never, ever root for Kansas again. Sorry, Bill. We still love you, but your fans leave us no choice.

 Alas, The Trail Rider and The Missus aren't able to make the trek to the Meadowlands this week. We're praying for safe passage for all who can. But we'll be in front of our TV set, wearing our orange, yelling and screaming. And plotting. Plotting how to snag Final Four tickets. We already have family and friends in low places [Austin and San Antonio] on the prowl. It's not that we're overconfident. We understand fully how this NCAA thing works: One off day, one crucial call against you, one missed shot – and your dancin' days are over. But we can dream, can't we? Somewhere, Bob Wills is surely rosining up the bow. Ah, Rose, Sweet Rose of San Antone.

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