I apologize for the abbreviated blog post today, but there’s been a lot going on. I’ll return tomorrow with a lot of takes, including my thoughts on the AFC and NFC championship games.
On Saturday, I’ll be at the Indiana State-Wichita State game at Koch Arena, but I’ll be blogging here on Kansas’ big game against Texas at Allen Fieldhouse, so watch for that.
Earlier today, I interviewed New York Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff for a column that will appear in Saturday’s paper. I’ve made a couple of runs at getting ahold of Westhoff this season, to no avail. Then I hear back from him three days before the Jets meet the Pittsburgh Steelers with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Funny how things work sometimes.
I’ll leave you with a Thursday regular feature here on the blog, one of my memories about my career at The Wichita Eagle, which is going on 37 years now. I know, I don’t look that old. Yeah, I get that all the time. As always, thanks for reading:
A sports writer’s memories
Somebody asked me today whether I’ve ever been to a Super Bowl. I haven’t.
Then it hit me that I had never been to a World Series. Or an NBA Finals game. Or the World Cup, not that I would ever go to a World Cup.
And I’m Mr. Sports Guy?
Why in the world haven’t I been to a World Series? It doesn’t make any sense because I love baseball as much as anyone on the planet.
And why not a Super Bowl?
Well, I’ve never been assigned to cover one. And now, at my somewhat-advanced age, it just seems like a big hassle. I enjoy watching the Super Bowl with my friends and family, in the comfort of my home or somebody else’s home. Somewhere I can dip my chip into some salsa and open a fresh bottle of beer.
So, what cool events have I covered?
I’ve worked six Final Fours. Watching Kansas win in 2008 has to rank right up there, especially the way it ended with the Mario
Chalmers shot that sent the game into overtime.
In case you weren’t aware, we have deadlines in the newspaper business. That’s so we can get the paper delivered to your doorstep (or thereabouts) at a very early hour.
The kind folks at The Eagle pushed back the deadline that night, to something like midnight. Or maybe it was 11:45. But it was significantly later than normal.
Then the game, already long because of television breaks, went into overtime. Thrilling as it was, I started to worry a little bit. When was this thing going to end?
You know, the creative process takes some time to evolve. It doesn’t just roll out of me.
Anyway, I don’t know exactly when the game ended, but it was late. And there wasn’t much time to throw together a column, especially after dropping by the interview room to hear what Chalmers and KU coach Bill Self were saying.
But as a writer, you just get into that zone. You know how much time you have, and you just write. You don’t look up and the words just seem to appear. I’ve always enjoyed writing on deadline because there isn’t too much time to think. You’d think thinking would be a good thing, and it usually is. But when writing on a tight schedule, thinking can be overrated.
I wasn’t as high on adrenalin as KU’s players and coaches, I’m sure. But I had the same kind of buzz going that night, knowing that I was writing a column about the biggest event I’d covered in all my years in the newspaper business.
Here’s the finished product:
SAN ANTONIO – Twenty years ago, it was Danny and the Miracles. In
2008, it’s Mario’s Miracle. Everybody knows two miracles are better than
Kansas won an improbable national championship at the Alamodome on
Monday night, beating Memphis 75-68 in overtime. And although it wasn’t
like 1988, when Danny Manning put a 6 seed with 11 losses on his back
and carried it through the NCAA Tournament, it was just as amazing.
KU trailed by nine points with 2:12 to play in the second half.
Memphis could have – should have – locked up the game at the free-throw
line. But we all know what happens to the Tigers at the free-throw line.
And then, with time running down and nothing coming together
offensively with a three-point deficit, Chalmers pulled off the shot Max
Falkenstein’s great, great, great grandchildren will be talking about.
He had the ball on the right side of the basket, more than 20 feet
away. Memphis defenders surrounded him as he dribbled to his left. Two
Tigers jumped at him as the basketball left his hands. And it was pure.
From the moment the shot started to fly, everybody in the building – all
43,257 of them – could tell where it was going to land. Even the people
in the cheap seats – far, far away.
It landed in the net. And it forced an overtime that Kansas, still
riding the emotion of Chalmers’ shot, dominated.
What a scene as the final seconds wound down. I saw Falkenstien, the
KU broadcasting legend who gave way to new blood three years ago,
looking down with a smile on his face. I saw a trombone player in the
Memphis band leaning against a wall because he couldn’t support his
worn-out body any other way. I saw Manning, 20 more years showing in his
face, hugging the players he now coaches as a KU assistant. I saw
streamers and confetti coming down from the ceiling as KU players ran
around the court hugging one another and trying to decide, after such a
physical, fast-paced game, if they really had the energy to celebrate.
I saw Bill Self, the KU coach, nearly break down when he was handed
the championship trophy. He gritted his teeth and held off the tears,
but you could tell that this was the emotional high point of his
Let’s see, he got past the Elite Eight for the first time in five
tries. He beat the polarizing and hugely successful coach who preceded
him, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, in the national semifinals. And then
he hoisted the biggest trophy in college basketball, bringing it to
Kansas for the third time.
Take Tuesday off, Coach.
And while you’re at it, tell those Oklahoma State people to kiss
your behind for the distraction they’ve created the past couple of
weeks. I know it’s your alma mater and all, but unless Boone Pickens is
ready to name the state after you, which he apparently has the power to
do, stay where you are to coach basketball. I have a feeling the powers
that be at Kansas are going to stuff your wallet nicely in the next few
You’re at Kansas. You don’t want to be at Oklahoma State. No
disrespect intended, but if you were to even grant OSU an interview, the
ghosts of James Naismith and Phog Allen would play a perpetual game of
late night one-on-one in your driveway, never allowing your family to
So stay put. And create a few more miracles like the one that rose
from the ashes Monday night.
Kansas looked whipped after a 10-0 Memphis run put the Tigers up
54-47 with only 5:10 to play. Suddenly, Tigers point guard Derrick Rose,
held in check up to the 12-minute mark of the second half, went on a
tear. He scored 14 points in eight minutes and the Tigers were rolling.
But they missed free throws. Chris Douglas-Roberts clanked the front
end of a one-and-one with 1:11 to play. Then he missed two with 16.8
seconds remaining. Rose hit only 1 of 2 with 10.8 seconds left, setting
up Mario’s Miracle.
“I got a good look,” Chalmers said.
A good look? What I think Chalmers saw was an ocean tide coming his
way as Memphis defenders scurried to get to him. Obviously, there was a
small opening, but just to be able to find it in such a crucial spot
defies logic. To actually get the shot to go down makes no sense. And
for it to be so soft and pure – well, that’s what miracles are made of.
The shot, though, barely raised Chalmers’ blood pressure. He reacted
after the game as if the shot were made in the third practice of the
season against walk-ons. Self, however, gave it historical perspective.
“That’s probably the biggest shot ever made in KU history,” Self
said. “It’s a remarkable play, remarkable. Mario has no memory. The next
thing that happens is the only thing he’s ever thinking about.”
You could see what Chalmers’ shot did for his teammates. It was an
instant jolt of energy and they came out in overtime sizzling.
Memphis was a three-day leftover in the extra period. Chalmers’ shot
shocked them as it shocked everybody. The Tigers had nothing in their
tanks, although a deep three-point shot by Douglas-Roberts with 57
seconds left in OT did make it a 71-68 game.
Chalmers, though, didn’t throw away his Superman’s cape after the
miracle shot. He made a couple of free throws with 45 seconds to play to
give KU a cushion. Memphis wasn’t to score again.
I assume the KU fans who were here will get back to Lawrence in a
week or two, once the celebration of this one finishes.
Kansas beat a great team in Memphis, a team that had lost only once
all season. It wasn’t like Memphis wasn’t good Monday, although once
again KU’s defense was outstanding. If there has been a theme to this
postseason for the Jayhawks, it has been that their defense has locked
down very good offensive players and made them look just OK.
It’s hard to fathom that so many Kansas fans for so long held Self
at arm’s length. At first, they didn’t like the hard-nosed, tough style
the Jayhawks were playing. Then they gulped when Self’s teams lost
first-round NCAA Tournament games to Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and
Self, though, weathered the storm. Now he’s in the winner’s circle
with his team, carrying the grand prize back to Lawrence thanks to
Mario’s Miracle and a whole bunch of smaller miracles that make up any