Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Best Belated Birthday Gift Ever

Three things to know about me:

1.  I'm a voracious reader. I was the kid staying up late, flashlight under the covers, finishing a book because I just HAD to finish the book. I still am. Always will be. Only now, I can just leave the light on.
2.  I'm a sports enthusiast. Not a stat-head. Not a sports history buff. Just a  fan. Specifically, I'm a huge college basketball fan. From Midnight Madness to March Madness, there's an undeniable excitement and energy that surrounds college basketball that I see nowhere else. 
3.  I'm a rabid, hard-core Duke fan. Seriously. In my parents' house, I'm sure there are still boxes upon boxes of VHS tapes full of every televised Duke game from the 89-94 stretch (when I finally had to leave home and the free ESPN). I would study those tapes. Watching twice in a row in the wins and sometimes 3 or 4 viewings to see "what went wrong" in the losses. I don't remember exactly when I first started to notice the Blue Devils as it's a weird team for me to choose being from the Panhandle of Texas and all, but I am. Always will be.

So, it's little surprise that as soon as I saw this book pop up on my Twitter feed, I HAD to have it.

I ordered it on Friday. It showed up on Saturday (overnight shipping charges, be damned). And I was done by Sunday morning at around 3 AM. I couldn't put it down. 

So here's my testimonial:  It's incredibly well-written and chock full of behind-the-scenes kind of stories that fans love but hardly ever hear. And while the high point of the book is most certainly the Regional final in Philadelphia, the journey of both teams -- through the narrow misses and consistent "nearly there" years of Duke as well as the NCAA troubles of the Kentucky Wildcats and the living room recruiting stories that built the teams-- is so well-crafted that by the end, I found myself, for the only time in 20 years, hurting for the Wildcats almost as much as I was cheering for my beloved Blue Devils. I realized only years later, and was reminded again with this book, that sometimes it is a real shame that either team has to lose. As I read, I found my heart racing and my breath caught just as it had 20 years ago, and, let me tell you, it was wonderful.

Now I have always loved Duke and their style. I loved their academic sensibilities. I loved the Crazies and Cameron Indoor Stadium. I loved Coach K and his staff. But more than anything, I loved their swagger. Wherever they went, they knew they were going to stick it to the opponent. And they were cute. I admit it. In the height of my Duke fever, I was a high school girl who happened to love basketball, but a high school girl nevertheless. So the fact that they looked like movie stars, carried themselves like rock stars, and played lights out on a day-to-day basis?  Forget it. As I've grown older (and the Dukies stay the same age), I've cultured my basketball attitudes a bit. I'm a little more realistic about our chances year to year. I'm a great deal more aware of our weaknesses and strengths. I'm much less willing to jump into a fight just because. Unless you're a Carolina fan because then you're just askin' for it. But this book took me right back to those Clarendon Crazie days, and I am thankful for it.

There are certain moments that people claim they will never forget, no matter how old they become. When JFK was assassinated. When Armstrong walked on the moon. When the Challenger exploded. Okay, so maybe those are huge examples, but if you're a college basketball fan, you certainly remember when "the shot" went in.

March 28, 1992. I was 16 years and 1 day old. One of my best friends (and fellow Duke fan), Carrie Simpson, had arranged for us to watch the Duke/Kentucky game at the Clarendon Junior College student center with some of the CJC Bulldog basketball guys. As we've established, a high school girl who loves basketball.... this was perhaps the best set-up of all time. Not only would I surely witness Duke head to the Final Four for the 4th time in a row, I'd watch it surrounded by exceptionally tall and handsome college boys.

I know. Sometimes I still laugh at my 16 year-old self too. It's okay. Go ahead.

Little did I know that I'd witness history. Before the game even started, sides were chosen and bets were placed. Only Carrie and I and one of the guys lined up for Duke. Whether they really wanted Duke to lose or if they just wanted to see us suffer and squirm, I'll never know for sure. But suffer I did as the battle went back and forth, back and forth, leading up to the showdown in overtime. When Woods hit that mother-effing bank shot to go ahead one, Covington "Cupp" Cormier -- the Bulldogs' star and future UConn Huskie -- jumped up to do his "you owe me $20 dance". 

"No way," I announced defiantly. "Not with time still on the clock. That 20 is mine still for the next 2.1 seconds."

I will never, to this day, understand how I was so confident. It wasn't normal. I liked teams with swagger because I had next to none for myself. I wish I had that spot of 16 year old confidence more often these days. But somehow I knew. I just knew. This was not going to end without a chance to win another national championship. They were going to win and give me the best belated birthday gift of all time. So I did all my time-out hand-wringing, whispered my lucky chant, crossed my fingers, and prayed like Hell.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, so was my "I told you so" dance right back at Cupp. And wouldn't you know? Bastard still owes me 20 bucks.

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