Chapter 5 - Bud Walton
If that's what you have in mind
If that's what you're all about
Good luck movin' up
'Cause I'm moving out ~ Billy Joel
Bud was a funny animal to me. We knew Barnhill pretty darned well, but this. I had the plans to this! Being in the architecture school had some perks. Not only did I have a set of plans, I got to go on tours of the construction. We figured out ways in they never thought of as an entrance. But really, it was easy to be inside. At first, we just went inside. By now Roy had retired and Jerry took his place. We had lots of help, and tents were up before every game now. We would sit in the hall, play cards, or go over the other team’s media guide. Yes, as soon as the schedule came out, we wrote all the schools to get them. Nothing remotely like that was on the newfangled internet yet.
One night Jerry called his work, he managed a pizza joint which was handy, and had them send a pie over. When it got there everyone dove in but me. Good thing, too! It was loaded with jalapeno juice! He was so mad. We had several more pizzas delivered that night, and I heard some of his employees ate some hot ass slices!
It’s safe to say we loved that place, and watching it being built was amazing, and only outdone by the magnificence when it was completed. At first we called it the “Bud Bowl” because it had been built down in a hole. Seeing the excavation was very cool, but experiencing how loud it made the place when the fans went off gave me chills. They had luxury boxes and a little museum. Since the baseball team wouldn’t move to Baum Stadium for another couple years, they also had batting cages. Since I was on the site often when it was being built, I think some of the workers thought I was an inspector, I might have had access to some keys. So we also knew the press area and locker room were better than nice.
By the way, about those batting cages. Here’s a tip for you, gentle reader. Never imbibe copious amounts of alcohol and turn the pitching machine up to 100 m.p.h., and think it will end well. It probably won’t. I might still have some of the bruises I got that night.
Late November in ‘93 we played Murray State to open the new facility, I still have my special ticket stub. I know we won, but I barely remember the game itself. I was still playing hockey back then, but I wasn’t going to run down a damn flight of stairs. We devised a plan. First, we knew exactly where we were going. Second, we had a great core group who almost always had the first tent in line. So. my job was to let the three “runners” go first, then I just clogged the traffic behind them. My body checking ability was excellent, and they saved me a seat front and center. Then we heckled. Since the doors opened early, we were there for the shoot around. That’s when we had our most fun. The games were great, don’t misunderstand, but you can read about all the great games anywhere. I may discuss one in particular, but it was just a fun season. After that opening game we stomped a mudhole in Norm Stewart’s Mizzou Tigers. Ever since their fan base group, “The Antlers” threw burgers at Oliver Miller, we were relentless on them and ol’ Norm. Once he walked past us and threw gum in the student section and said, “Here, chew on this instead of me.”
We won our first ten games, then went to Alabama and lost. They had a pretty good squad that year, but we thought we were better. When they came to visit later in the year, we made excellent use of the announcement signs. The short history of the signs is this. When it started, they we kind of small and only for the student section. Plenty of times it came out of their own media guide. So if the guy in front held up a sign that said DADDY’S BOY, it would go like so:
“And now, starting at guard, number twenty, Allen Houston.”
“Daddy’s boy!” The students would shout in the momentary pause. Then on to the next one.
Then one day an alumni who made signs that were much larger, and said things like “Who’s She?” and “What’s That Smell?” We used them for awhile, but as a cartoon so aptly said, they were inane. If the whole damn crowd wanted in, fine, we’d just make bigger signs. The best use ever was when that ‘Bama team came to our place. Everyone knew the motto of the team was “40 Minutes of Hell.” So our six signs, one for each starter and the coach, read:
PAYBACKS… ARE… 40… MINUTES… OF… HELL…
I doubt by prompt number three anyone in the place wasn’t aware of the next word. We took them down by twenty something. So that’s what I aim to tell you. The interesting parts behind the scenes. Since we had media guides and such, we had inside information. On time a player had noted his huge affinity for the movie Psycho. So that night, his sign just said “Master Bates.” Now, that’s funny if you know the inside scoop, not so much if you don’t. We got in a little hot water over that one.
It think one of my favorite stories from our time at Bud Walton was when Mississippi State came to town. They had a freshman on their team, a center, who we got in the worst way. For him, anyway. It all started out in a fairly mundane way. The big thing with basketball players at that time was wearing those bicycle pants under their shorts. It was always something, long shorts, little tiny shorts, Tall socks or short socks, headbands and goggles, the list goes one. However, their new big man seemed to have an issue with his shorts under his shorts giving him, shall we say, a wedgie! He obviously tried to fix the issue without rummaging around in his bum in front of the whole student section. He walked so silly trying to gets those things to release, he looked, well, like a rooster strutting around the dooryard.
"Hey man! Did how learn how to walk like that watching the chickens out in the front yard?" I yelled.
Now, I said that because they were from Mississippi, and like much of the rural south, people had chickens. I found out some time later that it's also a punchline to a very racist joke. Not only was I not aware of it, but no one said anything either. We were very self-policing when it came to that kind of thing. If you want to have a crappy cheering section, let people make racist comments and use profanity. We re better than that. And if we did have a question, like when Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment in 1995, we had some material for Ol' Miss. But we asked the team, and they thought it was a little too close to the edge, so we decided against it.
So, we get back to their freshman, who by then I had dubbed "Chickenman." Half the student section had no idea where the name had originated, but they were on board. Let me tell you, if there's one place that knows chicken jokes, it's northwest Arkansas, home of Tyson Chicken. It wasn't like we didn't go after some other players, but the main focus was on this poor guy, and everyone was just letting him have it. The best part was while he was trying his best to ignore us, his teammates were laughing and also giving him grief. And that... is how you get a team to lose focus. We didn't care if they were laughing or mad, just that they were paying attention to us!
He was a young player, so he stayed on the bench for quite awhile. We hounded a few other players and cheered our own, but there are few moments in the actual game when someone can hear you. If you had something to yell from three plays ago, you’re too late. It has to be spot on and in the moment. Not as easy to do as you might think. But we were prepared when Chickenman finally got his moment. The kid might not be able to hear me, but he sure can here us. Since the rest of the crowd used to complain they couldn’t hear the student’s chants, we made big signs for them. In this case, they were K… F… C… We may have gotten in a couple comments, but when the game resumed, the student section started it, and soon the whole place was shouting the name of the chain chicken restaurant. That guy had two turnovers, a missed lay-up, and got out rebounded. It was horrible, and he got pulled. The Hogs were pulling ahead if I recall.
To say his second trip off the bench was much worse would be an understatement. Their coach called him over, said a few words to him, and sent him to the scorer’s table. After checking in he sat on the floor with his back resting on the table. He also, and I’m not sure anyone else in the arena saw it, had his feet over the inbound line in the field of play. I mentioned there are those few moments during a game when it suddenly goes quiet, and it happened right then.
“Hey Chickenman! “ I yelled, and I am a loud man. “Get your damn drumsticks off the court!”
The crowd howled with laughter, and he looked me square in the eye, and gave me the middle digit. Focused on me, he was unaware his coach was witness to the whole thing. He promptly returned to the bench without ever getting in the game, and stayed there until the buzzer. As he exited, right past me as all of them did, I reminded him he had three more years to visit us. I know he remembered me on their next trip!
Once, my dad even got in on the action. It was just a “pre-season” game, but for some odd reason the powers that be had scheduled the Latvian National Team. As it so happens, my father was born in Latvia and is both fluent in Latvian and Russian. He told us most of them would probably speak Russian, and a few Latvian, since they had been under Russian rule for so long.
The students, of course, thought it would be fun for my ol' man to hang with us in the Trough for the game. So we found him a pass and snuck him down there, as if it was difficult. Once, for a real big game, we hid a former student in a mechanical closet for an hour, then stashed him down in the middle of the Trough surrounded by students. Nolan may have built it, but it was our house, too. We knew how to get things done.
So not only did my Dad want to see the Latvian Team play, but he was a Hog fan! He even wore his shit that supposedly said "Go Hog Go!" in Russian. He told me one time it actually said, "Run away, Pigs! Run away!" That amused me, and still does to this day, I'm not sure why.
But what we did to prepare for THIS game was a bit unusual, because the student section was learning a new language! He taught them how to say "air ball", "forty minutes of hell", "good luck, you'll need it!" Among other tidbits... It seemed to me like they were impressed we knew any of their language at all. We slaughtered them, but they had a great time talking to my ‘ol man after the game. I think he really loved it as well. Regardless of that score, we all went home happy.
One day, a referee stole my sign. I swear. I was holding it up over the opponents as they ran out, and one of the officials grabbed it and ran in the tunnel with it. Normally, that would be nothing, but there were two things that made a difference. First, it was my FEAR sign, that had been autographed by the whole team and coaches, and that gave it worth. Second, the cameraman ran back the tape for us and we had a good shot of him grabbing it. That was a fun day. He had to bring it back and apologize. The last I heard, the sign was framed and in some mini-mart on North Street that had some little Hog museum.
One game was special in 1993. It was incredibly special. So much that there was a meeting with the cheer squad, the band, the athletic department… kind of, and the fans. A couple of us anyway. So we all gathered around and discussed how we were going to get the attention of the other team. It was mundane, and the biggest thing to come out of the meeting was the band would play THE GODFATHER when Rick Petino walked it.
I have to tell you this before I get to the next, because it might have had an effect, I don’t know. I had fast hands from playing hockey, and a fly had been buzzing around everyone’s head for awhile. I was talking, and it tried to take a couple spins around me. I caught it, slapped it dead on the table, and never broke my cadence. It isn’t like I’m some monk who could do it every time, but I got that one… and their attention. It was a fun day.
Later, and this will never be confirmed, Frank Broyles took us aside. He said short of breaking the law, or whatever, we should make them feel “unwelcome.” I recall that word. We got the idea. They wanted this one. Plans were made and people mad ready. We met them at the airport and wrote backward on the bus with shoe polish. We taunted. We even had a great plan go awry. We followed their buss, and when it turned, we all stayed in the right lane. We wanted them to miss the exit. Someone chickened out and let them in, and later Petino would say we tried to run them off the road. Right.
It was a cold night, even with heaters, and we awoke to snow on the ground! Word around the campfire was that people knew where the Kentucky players were in the hotel and called the Hogs all night. The crowd was ready, making some coffee, people braved the roads for pastries. Then came the man. We were told by the campus mounties that we must refrain from using the, literally, heaven sent bounty to wreak havoc on our foes! I doubt they were that eloquent, but we got the point. There was only one problem.
When the got of the bus, right under our overpass, they started making snowballs. When one of their guys threw one, it was on. We were dumping loads on snow on their heads, pelting them with packed snowballs, and pushing the snow off the rails on ‘em. One hit Petino right in the dome, and it never moved a hair. I like to say I threw it, but I probably didn’t.
Once we got to the game, it was great, and we took them in the end by seven. There was more to that win, though. We were watching some freshman and sophomore players coming into their own. It was almost like you could hear the train coming.
It seemed like that was about the time they started to try and lock up Bud Walton. It wasn’t like we did anything. We’d never hurt the place, ever! It provided heat, shelter, and games! It was a temple! Granted, the facilities were nice, so why all the hostility? First, they tried to lock us out. In a week or so, they figured out most of our ways in. Then, when checking fire code, I realized something. If you tripped the inside door handle from the outside with, say, a coat hanger… the doors open three seconds later.
Then they put up cameras, but we mapped those out. Not so much as we had to do it, just that it was kind of fun. Someone would draw up a map… “duck left here, then up the left side. Hit the right cross path then drop behind the wheelchair access.” Soon someone would show up with what we called “rafter pizza” for dinner, followed by security scanning flashlights up near us. Unless someone farted too loud or laughed at a fart too loud, both happened, you’d never get caught. Once in awhile you moved around to keep them guessing..
The whole thing might have been started when we met Notes. That would be Nolan Richardson III. We had been camping out for a week or so, and probably smelled funny, but we’d found a nice spot at 3:00 a.m. in the media room. We had six pizzas or so, and that where the soda machine was… and the television. So when the door came open, we were surprised. So was Notes.
“What. What the hell are you doing here?” He asked.
“Well…” We hemmed and hawed. “Late dinner and a show?”
“You people are weird.” He said. Then he grabbed a pizza box with half a pie and left. He didn’t turn us in.
It didn’t matter. We were the kings of the castle. Or the jesters, perhaps!