From the Cheap Seats at the Alamo Dome

Just in case you are, for reasons difficult to fathom, interested in the decidedly biased and personal perspectives of a couple of zealous, if apparently cursed, Stanford fans, here they are. [We will leave the expert analysis to the experts.]

FROM DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (Tuesday morning)

The (Wyo)MizzouCard pair is on the road again. Having moved west, we are starting our trip from a slightly different place, but the goal is the same—to see Stanford win a national title.

We admit it. Our track record is not great. Actually, "not great" is an understatement. If my count is accurate, this is the fifteenth or sixteenth time we have started on a trip to see Stanford in the postseason (baseball, basketball—men and women, softball, volleyball, and football). We have never returned home happy. Not once, unless you count a one-mile trip to a softball regional in Columbia, Missouri, and that does not really count, does it?

This is our fourth trip into the state of Texas. We have seen the Stanford men lose at the basketball regional in Houston, the softball team lose (twice) at Texas A&M, and the football team lose the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Don't mess with Texas? We just wish Texas would quit messing with us!

And Connecticut is the team that has ended our teams' last two runs in NCAA basketball tournaments. Their men beat our other team, Mizzou, in the Elite Eight in Arizona last year. We were there, and we were also there (after some great negotiating by Mrs. MizzouCard) when the women handled ours in St. Louis. We hate UConn, mostly for what its teams have done to our teams over the years.

So the trends are against us. There are even those who suggest we should stay home, for the good of the team, given our streak of bringing Stanford bad luck in the post-season. But let's face it. If we lose this time, it won't be on us. Almost nobody thinks Stanford will win tonight. Stanford has the second best women's basketball team in the country. But the best one is awfully good.

If there is any theme to our futile trips to see Stanford in the post season, that would be it. We have seen some mighty good Stanford teams, in lots of sports. Year in and year out, in sport after sport, Stanford often has very good teams. [And we have seen Stanford win quite a few in the regular season.] Unfortunately, though, it seems like somebody is just a bit better at the end of the year.

Some are frustrated by so many near-misses. It is hard to come close, but not quite get there. From the perspective of fans, nobody knows that more than Mini and me. We have walked dejectedly out of as many stadiums as anyone over the past decade or so.

But the fact that we have had so many chances to see our Stanford teams in big games in the post-season means that our teams have had sustained excellence. As noted above, we root for other teams, too, but we don't end those seasons in national title games (or, usually, even in NCAA tournaments). We sometimes take it for granted as Stanford fans, but the fact that our teams are so often still in the hunt while others are already planning for next year is a substantial achievement in itself.

For Mini and me, it is becoming clear that our quest to see Stanford win a national championship may have to go unfulfilled. We started that journey when Mini was four or five years old. He is now sixteen. There are precious few of these trips left before he heads on to his own life, in whatever direction he chooses. Why put ourselves through what, according to all of the experts, will be another sad trip home?

Because that is what we do. Because that is who we are. And mostly because . . . .

You just never know. That is one heck of a Stanford basketball team we are going to see tonight in San Antonio. Even with a wounded warrior in the middle, we have a shot. After all, Stanford teams seem to play better as underdogs than they do as favorites. You just never know . . . . And wouldn't it be wonderful if it happened?

ON THE RIVER WALK

There is a lot of enthusiasm for our Cardinal. The party at Rio Rio was rocking. LSJUMB was great. The send off for the team from their hotel was even better. Again, the band, much maligned as we know, put on a great show.

In some ways, this is often the highlight. In the time leading up to the game, there is so much hope and excitement. Indeed, I am even starting to get a bit choked up at this pre-game party. As noted above, Mini and are getting close to the end of these trips together. Might this one be the last? It could be.

A sane person might welcome that. But what does sanity have to do with it?

IN THE DOME BEFORE THE GAME

Jayne cannot even participate in the pre-game drills. She went immediately to the bike, moved the seat up, and started warming up in what is apparently the best way she can. I don't think anybody is letting on about how hurt she is. And I have a sneaking suspicion that things have gotten worse as the tournament has progressed. But she is a warrior, and she is not going to let this opportunity pass without giving it whatever she has.

Before we got to the Dome, I thought this might finally be the time we got to see a crowd cheering for Stanford. [In all of our post-season trips, we have never seen it. Instead, we have always been badly outnumbered, in sport after sport.] With the exception of football, Stanford fans travel as well for women's basketball as for any sport, if not better. There are as many Stanford fans in San Antonio as we have seen anywhere in the post-season (football bowl games excepted). And surely the "uncommitted" will cheer for us, since we are the underdog. We might finally have more than half the crowd, right?

Wrong. UConn fans are here in force. Is anybody at work back in that state? The school songs settle it. Maybe ten to fifteen percent of fans stand for "All Right Now." Two thirds of them are up for the UConn fight song. I am now resigned to the fact that, outside of Palo Alto, there will never be a pro-Stanford crowd.

One more pre-game observation: That is one ugly mascot. Are they the Huskies or the "albino lab rats"? As I said last year, nobody who roots for a school that does not even have a mascot should criticize a school that does have one. But that is one ugly costume. I sure hope they give that kid who has to wear it some sort of scholarship.

FIRST HALF

Stanford started ice cold, scoring only two points in the segment leading up to the first media timeout. Then UConn went more than ice cold. As Mini notes, they keep launching up threes. And missing them.

It is exciting to see us up nine in the first half (and up eight at halftime). But when UConn scores only 12 points in a half, you have to be WAY ahead. We are not. We have this empty feeling that UConn is going to hit a hot streak at some point, and we are going to regret not taking advantage more of their cold first half.

Mini summarizes it well: "They are taking bad shots and missing them. We are taking good shots and missing them." And, his dad might add, not getting any fouls called when we miss them, either. How many free throws did we shoot in the first half? Two? With all of those missed layups? I guess UConn is just really good at inside defense.

SECOND HALF

Poor Jayne. She is just not herself. As noted above, it looks like the cumulative wear and tear of the tournament has just been too much for her. You really have to feel for her.

And there it is. The UConn run we expected. I cannot bear to recount the details. They are undoubtedly available elsewhere. But I will say that it was good to see our ladies go down swinging at the end, even when it was helpless.

Obviously, we need to make more of our layups. But let me make one (fan's) point: Four free throws? Four bleepin' free throws, when we are pounding the ball inside all game? Gimme a break.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I make no claims of even-handedness. I am just a fan, not a neutral observer. From a fan's perspective, allow me to say that any year when both "Coach K" and Gino end the year as national championships is just too much to bear. Wake me up when the next season starts.

Jayne and Ros , thanks for the memories. It was an honor to root for you. We sure wish it could have ended better. But three straight Final Fours, with two ending in the championship game, is one heck of a career. We are going to miss you. We wish you every success in the future and we know there are good things ahead.

Returning to a very personal note, worry not for Mini and me. By now, we know the drill. Indeed, Mini has grown up considerably in the dozen or so years that we have been chasing this dream. No longer do the tears swell up in his eyes and spill onto his lap as the last seconds (or outs) slip away. Instead, we just wait until the bitter end, then head for the exit. Sad and mad. But no longer inconsolable. Which is a little sad in itself.

If this is the last of these trips, let it be said that at least there were quite a few minutes when, despite our pessimism about not doing enough when UConn did little, we thought it might happen. For a while—quite a while—it seemed like it just might happen. That is more than anyone is guaranteed.

Thank you, ladies. We are glad that we made the trip.


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