Hail to the chief, the Cowboy chief that is.
Oklahoma State basketball coach Eddie Sutton has once again proved he is the epitome of class. The old, gruff man that the orange masses love to love, shuffled himself across the historic hardwood at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday and embraced Kansas seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich.
In the hug that enveloped two young men, Sutton also wrapped up the entire NCAA nation.
He showed, just as he has done many times over the past 33 years, how basketball coaches are humans, too. Sutton was caught up in the same moment as the misty-eyed fans in Lawrence, the same moment as Jayhawk father-figure Roy Williams and the same moment that moved Collison and Hinrich themselves to tears.
As the two KU seniors were stepping off their home-court for the last time in their careers, Sutton scooted across midcourt -- ala Ozzy Osbourne -- and shook the hands of the most prolific Big 12 duo since its inception. He shook the hands of the opponent. And his actions weren't premeditated, the Cowboys' head man simply acted on impulse.
Over and over again, Sutton teaches spectators a lesson. Competitiveness and fierceness on the court, compassion and humanitarianism off.
When legendary Mr. Henry Iba passed away in 1993, Sutton shed tears like any man would.
When seniors Bryant Reeves, Desmond Mason and even Sean Sutton departed OSU for greener pastures -- Sutton shed more.
When Gallagher-Iba Arena was expanded in 2000, Sutton again tried to hold back the emotion he felt for the grand old basketball palace.
When the worn and weary coach bowed his head in sadness on Jan. 27, 2001, America cried with him.
When players like Doug Gottlieb or Andre Williams stepped up to the free throw line over the years, Sutton could do nothing but laugh. Because as he said, "If I don't laugh, I may cry."
When Big 12 Conference referee Ed Hightower goes on a rant, Sutton merely smiles and shakes his head.
When his grandchildren gather around him during his weekly trip to the Country Club, Sutton beams.
Fans may think that the man in the orange necktie looks surly and tough -- and they are right, but only halfway. Sutton has demonstrated to the world, that what once dictated his every thought, basketball, is now a distant second to the emotions which are now at the forefront.
In his heart, athletes have replaced games; strength of character has replaced statistics.
On a cold, cloudy, snowy day in eastern Kansas -- Mr. Iba's spirit lived on. Sutton once again set an example for all to follow. Fans have reason to put their beloved Sutton on a pedestal, because with his actions over the past three decades, he has helped define and construct the pedestal himself.
College basketball isn't rooted from money, from fame, from individualism. College basketball began because of athletes. And Sutton, with his love for the game that has been a part of his entire life, makes sure the world doesn't forget that. He knows what is more important.
Winning? Sure -- the competitive nature he possesses comes out in a good ole game of basketball. Sutton is never happy with second best. Losing? Sure -- he gets a little angry when his capable team blows a lead and falls behind.
But the living legend, the hometown hero, takes the game not to a new level -- but to the level it was meant to be at when it was invented.
People, athletes above all.
A simple hug, a simple shrug, a simple smile gives the Big 12 family and even the nation, an example to follow. An endearing goodbye to two opposing players by a coaching icon puts everything in perspective.
Everyone seems to always be looking for a leader, a commander, an example.
Seems that the pursuit should have been over years ago -- because a leader is right under the noses of those who search.
Lead on, coach. Lead on.