Chapter 6 - Championship Run
When they write my story
They're gonna say that I did it for the glory
But don't think that I did it for the fame
I did it for the love of the game ~ James / Stefano / Bridges / Underwood
We didn't manage to get to Dallas for the first round in the 1994 NCAA Tournament, I know I had a very limited budget. I'm sure some of the trough made it, but the next week-end, I knew I needed to go. Fortunately, I had a fraternity brother who would lend as a floor, Freshman had a car, and Jerry and I had very little money. Not sure who wrote it, maybe Little Wally who got us in trouble, but it could have been anyone. It’s basically that Arkies take a $100 bill and an extra sweatshirt on a road trip, and never change either. I’m not sure we had a hundred dollars between us, and most of what we had went for gas. We were thankful the U of A sold student tickets to all the games at a decent price. It was worth the extra camping out.
If you’re wondering about Little Wally, and most of you probably know, that would Wally Hall the reporter. We always gave him grief about his columns, and leaving games early, and whatever we could. Once, on a handout we gave students for a game, we copied something he wrote for the paper.
“Hey Wally!” I held up the paper. “Reprinted without permission!”
“Who read it to you?” He retorted.
“Are you kidding?” I countered. “No one reads your shit!”
The crowd had laughed that night, but in Dallas he’d get his payback. We might have had a place to sleep, but damn the cupboard was bare! I think we each had a handful of dry Cheerios. We were pretty darned hungry after the long drive with nothing but snacks and no breakfast. Thus, we went hunting for food when we got to the team hotel and ground zero for events. It wasn’t exactly a target rich environment, but we’d had some practice. Since we knew the media, Jerry, Freshman, and I went on in to their little brunch. We were always available for a good quote, and we nodded to some people.
“Think we got this?” One asked.
“”Yeah.” We all sadi. I added, “No problem with Tulsa, need to get to Michigan’s bench.”
“Got anything special for them?”
“We have some signs, but I hear they’re not letting ‘em in.” I replied. “But they’ll know we’re there!”
So we nonchalantly grabbed a paper plate and made ourselves a little brunch. It was a nice little spread for the press. We’d had probably eaten shoe leather like Charlie Chaplin. What went unnoticed was a little bald man scribbling his gibberish in a notepad. You see, the next day in his paper, he vomits out to the world that some of the students had invaded the newsroom to obviously make off with all the provisions. We wandered into two days later, was what we’d later describe as a gauntlet. We made it to the buffet table, I grabbed some orange juice and Jerry snared a doughnut. Freshman was accosted.
“Drop the food!” One of the guards said loudly.
“This is juice. So I’m good?” I asked. I could only see this ending as an amusing anecdote Why not make it funnier?.
“Put it down…” The other one said. Behind him was hotel staff. Scary stuff, I must say.
“Okay. You got me. I’m putting it down.” I overacted it with slow motion. “No one has to get hurt!”
“Mrmphhh.” Meanwhile, while they watched me, Jerry stuffed the whole doughnut in his mouth.
“Get that out of your mouth!” One guard yelled. Jerry replied with more mouthful mumbling.
“What’d he say?” Asked the other guard.
“I think, ‘what are you gonna do, put it back?’ but who knows for sure. Give him milk and you’ll know sooner.”
We were then very rudely removed from the room by the hotel security. While it looked like Jerry wouldn’t be charged with grand theft pastry if we promised to never return to the scene. We had no choice. We were busted.
If you’ve never been to the hotel at Reunion Arena, it has several floors with interior balconies. Just after we were so gracelessly removed from the media room, I could have sworn someone was calling my name.
“Do you guys hear that?” We all looked up.
“Hey! Up here!” There was some guy leaning over an upper floor rail yelling to us. He knew my name.
“Anyone know who that is? Someone asked, but none of us knew.
“Fifth floor. Come up to the fifth floor!” It might have been the sixth or seventh, but we looked at each other.
“What have we got to lose?” So we boarded the elevator and went up to see what was going on.
“I knew it!” he said and shook my hand. “I knew it was you!”
“Knew it was me?” He was a guy maybe late forties. He was decked out in Razorback gear.”
“Yeah, the guy in the student section who heckles.” He nodded. “They wrote an article about you.”
“Well, I suppose they did.” A local magazine called Hog Illustrated did a fan feature that year.
“C’mon.” He steered us don the hallway. “You’ll autograph it for me, right?”
“Uh, sure.” I answered.
Aside from bank tellers, I’ve never been asked for an autograph, and they have to call it a signature. They should let us have our fun, but no. We are getting to this guys room, and it turns out to be a two room suite, and he tells me this. He told me that for some reason, I can’t remember why, except it may have been weather related, he had shown up early for a game early in the season. He hadn’t ever done it before, but he could hear us from his seat, which was just a couple aisles over and a bit up. Very nice seats, for certain. Apparently he’d heard us having our fun with the opponent at the shoot around, had laughed so much, he came early from then on. When he walked us into the room I saw the most magnificent spread of food you could imagine. In the adjacent room, there was a full bar complete with a server. It was like heaven opened up and choirs of angels were singing. Or that could have been low blood sugar from lack of eating.
They told us they’d be honored to have us as guests. After pigging out on the food, pun intended, and selecting beverages, we sat and chatted. It was funny, just like the reported, they asked us what we had planned. I wished we’d have had something! The problem was no one knew who was coming, where everyone was sitting, or had time to organize. We told them the same thing about the signs. It turned out to be true, and even though I snuck two of them in under a sweatshirt and coat, we got to use them twice before they were confiscated. So we went to the pep rally and game just a little tipsy, and had a great time. We won the game and even got our picture in the Dallas Morning News. It was a fine week-end. Now just to get home.
Well, the parking lot was crammed with Hog fans drinking beer, and soon we became one of them, Or, Jerry and I did. We needed a designated driver. The problem then became that our driver didn’t know the way home, and we had trouble relaying the information. Where we were exactly will always be a mystery, but it was part of the Dallas Fort Worth airport complex, but the terminal is always busy, and this place was empty. It might have been a road to long term parking or something, but all I know was that Jerry and I had to pee in the worst way. Finally we talked Freshman into pulling over, and in the middle of this empty three lane roadway, we take care of business. Just as I finished, but Jerry hasn’t on come the flashing red and blue lights. Then the spotlight. Poor Jerry.
“Well, what have we got here?” The cop says.
“We’re lost, officer!” I tried to draw his attention while someone zipped up.
“I can see that, but what are you doing stopped here?” He shone his flashlight on the puddle by me. “Never mind.”
“Sorry, sir. It was urgent.” I told him.
“Right.’ He spotlighted me, then Jerry. “Would either of you be driving tonight?”
“Oh no!” I pointed to the car. “Designated driver.”
He walked around to the driver’s window and saw the smiling young face holding his driver’s license. He asked him if he’d been drinking, and he had not. He asked him if he was lost, and he said that he was, indeed. He gave him directions, got him turned around, and we were on our way. It was a little embarrassing, but I’ve gotten tickets for less. I guess we all left Dallas winners!
So it’s on to Charlotte, right? Well, maybe. First there was the matter of money. The good news was it was already April, and soon I’d be back at work full time for the summer. The bad news was there were bills and tuition to pay. But this was a once in a lifetime thing, and damn if I didn’t want to go. Friends were asking, and I was figuring, and I found a way to free up a little bit of cash. Don’t ask. By the time I found it, managed to get tickets and call Jerry, we needed to get on the road. We couldn’t find Freshman anywhere. He swears we didn’t look, but we did. There was plenty of room.
We found another guy who was going that we knew from the student section, and he sure didn’t mind splitting the gas. For the life of me, I can’t remember the guy’s name. I swear, if he gets in touch with me and just mentions who he is I’ll know it. I’m just old and can’t put a finger on it. Perhaps if this ever goes to a second printing we can rectify the error. He was a good kid, too.
We found cheap digs across the border in South Carolina that people had somehow missed. We just put up a tent. It certainly wasn’t like we weren’t used to it. We even had a car the kid packed, and we had cots and lanterns and camping gear. We bought meager rations and cooked, and we invited ourselves to every tailgate we could find. Our money had to last! We had plans.
But first, we had to get ready for our first opponent. Somehow Lute and his Wildcats from Arizona made it to the Final Four. The game itself, off course, was our focus, it was tied in the half, and we had our concerns, but then the Hogs prevailed by nine. However, I think I remember more of us going at it with the Duke students, who had oddly been placed right next to ours in one end of the stadium. Aside from making fun of Billy Packer on national television, that was the only serious task we wanted to accomplish aside from winning. We’d heard so much about the “Cameron Crazies” it made us want to puke. Sine they decided to seat them next to us, we’d have to show them the Trough.
When they played Florida, we started a chant.
“S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C”
“S-A-T! S-A-T!” They responded. Then, as it started to die, someone on the Arkansas side started.
“UGLY WOMEN! UGLY WOMEN!” Now, that’d get you killed today, but then? Anyway, I’m just telling the story.
They looked over at all those pretty southern belles looking lovely, and they knew they were beaten. Yes, we’ll see you tomorrow, we have “one more ass to kick.” We wrote that on the back window of the car. We had a day to kill.
So, with that still written on the car, we wandered about Charlotte until we found a strip club featuring Busty Dusty. We had a grand old time. See? I told you we had to save that money for something important! I still have a feather from that boa. Not a bad way to spend a night off.
So then it happens, it was an awesome game. If you’re a Hog fan you know all about it. Being in the stands was something almost surreal. Some of our foes congratulated us, and we’s repay them later by writing HOGS #1 on their cars with shoe polish. No, we wanted to get to our team. We got as close as the band and the reporters, who quoted me, and then the ceremony took over. We’d have to see them later. So the three of us headed out to the parking lot.
We really weren’t sure where we parked, and it seemed hopeless. But then, we found new friends! They were a very nice couple with a trunk that was filled with champagne and beer. They were so hospitable they gave us shirts. I wish in all my moves I still had it, but some things get away from you. They decided to go with us to the hotel. At first they tried to stop us from going up, but everyone looked at them like they were morons. When we got up there, though, everyone was winding down, so we dropped back. The biggest thing happening was the Governor’s party. Why not go? Turns out you needed an invitation.
Well, I had two things they didn’t account for… a young innocent looking woman, and an idiot. If you didn’t guess, I was the idiot. The plan was that I make a diversion, while the innocent girl is in the perfect spot in line, she grabs the wristbands then give to the people going in… and sure.
It worked. I stood right next to a Charlotte police officer and shouted as loud as I could, “Have you seen Coach Richardson?!”
Everyone turned, and he said, “I’m right here!” I saw the innocent lose it and take the bounty.
I cut it back a few decibels. “Sorry, I was in front of the band.”
The crowd continued to look at us. “Well, stop yelling!” He yelled. The innocent girl grabbed a few armbands.
They we what the people with invites wore. I said, still loudly, “Well, thanks!” Then I walked.
A good bit later, we all walked in with wristbands. The Four Tops were playing, I drank a tequila something or seven, and it was boring as hell. I left after several big drinks, the real party was elsewhere. I know I wanted to go find the people who were as much a part, or more, as we were. First we found the cheerleading squad, and they were just bouncing all over the place. That isn’t a bad thing. But, what they did was took us upstairs to the real party floors.
It wasn’t like everyone up there didn’t know us, it was just the rental guards who were checking passes. After that, we headed on up. The first room we went in had some big time alums, most were toasty or off somewhere. They offered me a drink, but had no tequila. So I had whiskey. This will become relevant. The next stop would be so very significant to me. I’d lost Jerry for the moment, and wandered into a room. It was a friendly face, that of Roger Crawford, and he was still wearing the net they’d cut down. He shook hands and patted backs.
“How did that feel?!” I asked.
“It was awesome, man. Crazy.”
“I like the necklace!” I pointed at the net around his neck.
“Here! Try it!” He took it off and put it on my neck.
“Wow. That is awesome.” I said. “Can I have a piece?”
“Sure. No one will miss it.”
I looked to the two young ladies who were obviously local and asked if they had a knife. They laughed and said they only had guns. Sweet. I finally found one in a drawer and cut off a hunk off about an inch long. I still have that, too. I told you he was a great guy. I gave the net back and thanked him. It was a good moment.
The next place we headed was over to see the players. We figured that had time to wind down, and we were still a bit wound up. The first thing I noticed was a little kid waiting by their door. I asked him what he wanted, and it was an autograph from Corliss. I thought the poor kid would stand there all night, and I was a bit inebriated, so I knocked on the door. One of the big men, might have been Lee, opened the door and let me in. I didn’t realize there were young ladies present, and while nothing wild was happening, it still wasn’t for a child.
Just about the time I saw that, someone saw him.
“The kid, man! The kid!” So I spun him around and told him to close his eyes.
“Corliss.” I said. “Sign this thing for the kid and he can go home.”
“Sure.” He said and signed it.
He patted him on the shoulder, said it was nice to meet him, and I hustled him out of the room. I only stayed a few minutes. Some of the players were amped up, others were almost dead silent in contemplation. I think they felt the way all of us did. None of the pundits of the sports world gave us a chance. Not when we started out, and not even when we went to the final four. There was something to prove, and those guys had done just that. I told them it had been a hell of a night, congratulated them, then left them alone.
About the last thing I remember of that night was meeting Ken Biley out on one hallway or another, and we shared some wine. It was fun talking to him about the season. He’d had some issues, but he was enjoying the big win. My friends found me, and we headed off. Apparently, I wanted to do several different things, could articulate some of them, but we weren’t about to do any of them. I do not recall any of this, so it goes into the “unproven” category of the trip.
I do remember the next day. I wish there was no recollection, but it still reminds me how painful things can get if you’re stupid. If you followed the story, there was drinking in the form of beer, champagne, tequila, whiskey, and wine. Jerry slept in the car because he thought I was going to do the technicolor yawn in the tent. I held my own. But it would have been nice if my face had gotten a wash before bed. The red and white face paint was now making me look like a giant pink wad of gum. It took awhile to get off.
The first stop when we left was something like a Waffle House, but it wasn’t. I really didn’t care at the time, and looking back, don’t care about it now, either. I hadn’t been that hungover since I was a teen, and I didn’t even want to go in. Some perky morning waitress was the worst thing that could have entered the day. She took the other two orders and looked at me, smiling.
“I’ll have one egg, scrambled, and a pitcher of water.” I said.
“Oh honey.” She perkied. “You got to get some food in yew.”
“I’ll have one egg, scrambled, and a pitcher of water.” I repeated. “That is all.”
I held it together, and for some reason, my companions decided to take some back roads through the Smoky Mountains. That was a joy. For lunch they stopped for burgers, and I had a small fry. I ate maybe half a dozen of them and gave the rest away. It wasn’t until we crossed into Arkansas that I felt up to driving. We had agreed to split the time, and I was way behind. We gassed up, and I took the wheel to make the final leg of the trip.
Aside from that morning of pain, I had no regrets. Driving home, it crossed my mind that the weekend would be high on my list of greatest ever. You never know when something cool like that is going to happen to you, and I am so glad it did. It’s a memory that will last forever.