Holiday no reason to celebrate for NC State

I’m in the Omaha Marriott composing this War and Peace post. I must be bored. It feels like winter in Nebraska outside. Praise Jesus.

Last night’s scheduled Holiday Bowl between North Carolina State and UCLA was postponed less than five hours before the scheduled kickoff of 1800 PST. The Bruins felt they could not compete due to a large number of COVID-19 cases within the program. The Wolfpack and coach Dave Doeren were not pleased; they felt UCLA coach Chip Kelly manipulated the situation by waiting until the last minute to say they had COVID problems. NC State tried find an opponent, but just before noon CST, the game was officially cancelled. Last year’s Holiday Bowl, which has been a staple of the bowl season since 1978, was cancelled by COVID.

I’m calling this John Wooden’s payback, with the I.O.U. dated 23 March 1974.
It was that Saturday evening when NC State did the unthinkable, defeating UCLA in the Final Four at Greensboro. The Wolfpack’s 80-77 double overtime win ended the Bruins’ dream of an eighth consecutive national championship, as well as Bill Walton’s quest to match Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) by winning three titles under Wooden’s tutelage.
It ended UCLA’s phenomenal 38-game NCAA tournament winning streak. Prior to that, the Bruins had not lost when it counted most since falling in the 1963 regional semifinals (Sweet 16) to Arizona State, which at the time was in the Western Athletic Conference (the Sun Devils joined the Pacifc-8 with Arizona to make it the Pac-10 in 1978).
Too many people under age 40 think NC State basketball’s only shining moment was when Jim Valvano led the Wolfpack to their stunning 1983 championship over Houston.
Not so.
A man named Norm Sloan built a team which churned out one of the most impressive two-year runs in college basketball annals.

The iconic Wizard of Westwood, who passed away in 2010 at 99, led UCLA to seven consecutive NCAA men’s basketball championships from 1967 through 1973, and had the Bruins poised to make it eight at the 1974 Final Four, despite THREE (3!) regular season losses: one to Notre Dame which ended UCLA’s record 88-game winning streak, then a pair of inexplicable stinkers in Corvallis (Oregon State, coached by Kansas native Ralph Miller) and Eugene (Oregon, where Bill Bowerman was still coaching the Ducks’ track and field team while helping Phil Knight with some two-year old startup company called Nike).
To make it eight in a row, which would have matched the Boston Celtics from 1959-66 for the most consecutive championships in a team sport at the collegiate or professional level, and 10th for Wooden since 1964, the Bruins would have to fly across the fruited plane to Greensboro.
As in Greensboro, North Carolina.
There, a hometown favorite and Atlantic Coast Conference power was lying in wait, along with Kansas and Marquette. The Jayhawks of Ted Owens and Warriors (don’t give me the p.c. crap; Marquette was the Warriors until the 1990s) of Al McGuire faced off in the “undercard” to the main event.
It was not North Carolina. Topeka native and former Kansas Jayhawk Dean Smith was already a Tar Heel legend, but that elusive championship was still a few years off. Meanwhile, 11-year old Michael Jeffrey Jordan of Wilmington had yet to hit puberty.
It was not Duke. Yes, UCLA defeated the Blue Devils in the 1964 championship game to give Wooden his first title, but the Blue Devils were relegated to the middle of the pack of the ACC, save for a 1978 championship game loss to Kentucky, for most of the years between then and the 1980 hiring of you know who.
Virginia? Ralph Sampson was in seventh grade.
Wake Forest? Tim Duncan wasn’t born.
Georgia Tech? In exile after leaving the SEC in 1965, with rescue by the ACC still five years away.
Clemson? Basketball was filler between football and spring football
South Carolina? Left the ACC three years prior. Its lifeline from the SEC was still 17 years away.
Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville? In 1974, suggesting any of these schools would someday be in the ACC was a one-way ticket to the looney bin.

The ACC is unusual in that the only champion is the team which wins the conference tournament. There is no official “regular season champion” in ACC men’s basketball. Every school which finishes first or tied for first after the regular season hangs a banner in their arena, but don’t expect the conference office in Greensboro to provide a trophy for it.
It’s win the tournament or no ACC trophy.
Since 1980, the first year the NCAA allowed an unlimited number of qualifiers per conference to the men’s tournament, the ACC tournament final has almost always matched two teams which would be going to the Big Dance, win or lose. Those epic Duke-North Carolina finals were fun to watch, but in the grand scheme, would mean zilch once CBS’ Selection Sunday show began at 1800 EST.
In 1974, this wasn’t the case.
Each conference was allowed ONE team into the tournament. One. Uno. Solitary.
When Wooden had his dynasty humming in Westwood, the other seven members of the Pacific-8 knew their odds of making the NCAA tournament were about as good as those given Leicester City before it won the Premier League championship in 2015-16.
In the SEC, Kentucky was, and still is, the undisputed king. Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt had some very good teams in that era, but all knew the Wildcats would be representing the conference barring a major slip. Pete Maravich scored 3,667 points in three seasons at LSU to set the NCAA record–which still stands–but the Bayou Bengals never sniffed the Big Dance because they needed binoculars to find the Wildcats in the standings.
The Big Eight boiled down to Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, with the Jayhawks prevailing more often than not, as they did in 1974.
The Big Ten centered on the Hoosier State, with Indiana and Purdue taking their turns at the top. Fred Taylor still had Ohio State rolling, and Michigan played for the 1965 championship.
The NCAA kept several spots reserved for worthy independents, mostly in the northeast. Providence and Pitt took this road into the 1974 tournament (see below), as did Notre Dame, which lost to Marquette (also independent) in the Mideast regional semifinals.
In the Pac-8, SEC, Big Eight, Big Ten and most every other conference, the regular season champion went to the NCAA tournament. The second place team could hope for an NIT berth. Everyone else? Better luck next season.

The ACC dared to be different.
In 1961, the conference declared the tournament champion would be recognized as the sole champion of the conference and its representative to the NCAA tournament.
In 1974, it meant March 9 was Armageddon.
No. 2 North Carolina State vs. No. 3 Maryland in the tournament final at Greensboro.
The winner would be dancing.
The loser would be weeping.
In 1973, the Wolfpack of coach Norm Sloan went 27-0 and deposed the Tar Heels atop the ACC, but the NCAA slapped NC State with probation and a tournament ban for recruiting violations.
(The NCAA had a much more serious infractions case on its hands at the time in my native state, one which landed Southwestern Louisiana, now Louisiana-Lafayette, a two-year death penalty and nearly got the school booted from the NCAA, period.)
The silver lining for Sloan? All of his studs would be back the next season.
Those studs included 7-foot-4 Tommy Burleson, who played on the 1972 Olympic team which was royally screwed in the gold medal game by the Soviets and corrupt officiating; Monte Towe, one of the slickest playmakers to grace an ACC court despite standing all of 5-foot-7; Tim Stoddard, who enjoyed a solid career as an MLB reliever, notably with the 1984 Cubs division championship club; and David Thompson, who was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan and would have to be on any all-time ACC team, even in 2022.
Maryland—which now likes to forget it spent 61 years in the ACC–took NC State’s place in the 1973 NCAA tournament. The Terrapins were led by the flamboyant and personable Charles “Lefty” Driesell, who built a strong program at James Madison before landing at College Park in 1969.
Driesell’s 1973-74 team featured John Lucas, Len Elmore and Tom McMillen. All would play in the NBA, and McMillen and Elmore went on to great success outside of basketball, McMillen as a U.S. Representative from Maryland and Elmore as an attorney. Elmore was also a respected television analyst for many years.
The Wolfpack had an early opportunity to prove themselves in December 1973 against UCLA in a showcase game at The Arena in St. Louis, home to the Blues and the same place where Bill Walton scored 44 points by going 21 of 22 from the field in the Bruins’ 87-66 victory over Memphis State (the “State” was dropped in 1994) in the 1973 championship game, the first to be televised in prime time.
Walton’s last appearance in St. Louis–the Gateway City hasn’t had an NBA team since the Hawks left for St. Louis in 1968, and it’s highly unlikely the NBA will return to Missouri anytime soon–was just as fruitful, with the Bruins winning 84-66.
It was UCLA’s second victory over an ACC power in less than two weeks. The Bruins scraped past the Terps 65-64 at Pauley Pavilion two weeks before taking out the Wolfpack.
NC State responded by reeling off 22 consecutive victories to end the regular season 24-1 overall, 12-0 in the ACC for the second straight year.
The Wolfpack edged the Terrapins 80-74 at Raleigh on Super Bowl Sunday (a better show than the Dolphins’ rout of the Vikings in Houston), then completed the season sweep 86-80 at venerable Cole Field House 17 days later.
Maryland also lost to North Carolina in Chapel Hill and ended the regular season 21-4 overall, 9-3 in the ACC.
With only seven teams in the ACC from 1972-79, the team with the best regular season record earned a bye to the tournament semifinals, a huge advantage in the era of one bid per league.
NC State didn’t waste its advantage, crushing the Cavaliers from Charlottesville 87-66. Maryland was no less impressive in Greensboro, blistering the Blue Devils 85-66 and the Tar Heels 105-85.

No. 2 NC State vs. No. 3 Maryland. Winner to the NCAA tournament. Loser doesn’t.
Forty minutes wasn’t enough to decide the issue. Forty-five were enough–barely.
Wolfpack 103, Terrapins 100.
It has been called by many who witnessed it, either in Greensboro or on television, as the greatest college basketball game they witnessed.
I wasn’t born for another 33 months. I’ve seen bits and pieces on ESPN Classic and YouTube.
I won’t name a greatest game, but in terms of what was at stake, it has to be among the top non-championship games in the history of the sport.
This was the game which prompted the NCAA to begin allowing more than one team per conference into the tournament, although it was capped at two from 1975-79.

Playing in their cozy home, Reynolds Coliseum, NC State steamrolled Providence and Pitt in the East regional to punch a return to Greensboro for the Final Four.
UCLA needed triple overtime to take out Dayton, led by one of the most underrated coaches in the history of the sport, Don Donoher. The Bruins then scorched San Francisco, which had just as much a death grip on the West Coast Conference from Bill Russell’s time until the early 1980s (the Dons in the 1980s is a story for another post) as Gonzaga has today.
Kansas, which lost to UCLA in the 1971 Final Four at the Astrodome, came up short again. The Warriors cruised 64-51, and the Jayhawks would not be heard from again on the national stage until 1986.

UCLA held an 11-point lead in the second half. The Bruins blew it.
The Bruins then led by seven in the second overtime. They blew that, too.
And this was long before the shot clock and 3-point shot in college basketball.
Combine this with Valvano’s magic act nine years later, and NC State has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt it knows how to pull a surprise on the biggest stage.

Just how big was UCLA-NC State? So big the Los Angeles Times‘ front page the next morning featured a photo of Bill Walton losing his balance while battling David Thompson for a rebound.
Jim Murray, the famed Times sports columnist, compared the UCLA loss to the end of the British Empire, the Titanic sinking, Napoleon’s surrender at Waterloo and Caesar’s stabbing by Brutus in the Roman Curia.

NC State’s conquest of UCLA featured a scenario which would be repeated six years later in Lake Placid following the Miracle on Ice.
The Wolfpack had Marquette.
The U.S. hockey team had Finland.
Herb Brooks’ skaters almost blew it, trailing 2-1 after two periods before three third-period goals rescued gold.
Sloan’s cagers were never threatened. Al McGuire didn’t stick around until the end. He was ejected in the second half.
Final: NC State 76, Marquette 64.

UCLA and Marquette both earned redemption.
Even without Walton, the Bruins returned to the Final Four in 1975, defeating Louisville in the semifinals before ousting Kentucky 92-85 in Wooden’s grand finale. Joe B. Hall and the Wildcats had to wait three years for their first title since 1958.
Wooden’s 10 championships in 12 years have rightfully earned him a permanent place on the Mount Rushmore of college basketball coaches. Adolph Rupp would be on my mountain, and so would
McGuire also went out on top. His Warriors returned to the Final Four in 1977, and Marquette toppled Dean Smith’s Tar Heels 67-59. Smith’s first title, and UNC’s first since 1957, was still five years away, as was that Michael Jordan fellow.

Sloan stayed at NC State until 1980, when he surprisingly returned to Florida, his alma mater, in an attempt to save the Gators from basketball irrelevance, as well as sell season tickets to the Gators’ new arena, now known as the O’Connell Center, which would open in the fall of 1981.
The Gators didn’t reach the Final Four until 1994, five years after Sloan’s departure, but all of his successors–Lon Krueger, Billy Donovan and Mike White–are quick to point out the groundwork Sloan laid in the 1980s for the Gators’ rise to powerhouse status.
The move to Gainesville opened the door for NC State–reeling from the shocking death of former football coach Bo Rein in a January 1980 plane crash–to hire a young, energetic coach from Iona in New Rochelle, New York.
I won’t expound on Jim Valvano’s story any longer, at least this time.
Meanwhile, just down the road in Durham, Duke president Terry Sanford, a former Governor of North Carolina and future United States Senator, rolled the dice on the 33-year old coach at West Point after Bill Foster left for South Carolina.
Needless to say, Sanford hit seven on the come out roll.
Valvano and Coach K are forever linked because of the timing of their hires, and sports is better for it.

Maryland beat the dog out of Virginia Tech in today’s Pinstripe Bowl. Yippee.
How the F**K Is Maryland in the Big Ten? Or Rutgers? I’d still like to know what was going through Jim Delaney’s brain. Somewhere, Bill Reed and Wayne Duke, Delaney’s predecessors as Big Ten Commissioner, must be spinning in their graves.

Thank you for reading if you’ve gotten this far.
–30–

Tricky technology and Cornhuskers

Technology made a fool out of me yesterday.
The story begins two weeks before Christmas (11 December), when I purchased a new case for my iPhone directly from Apple at its store in Leawood. I had been using an OtterBox case, since it was the only one which came with a belt clip, but the belt clip kept coming off. I counted at least 491 times between my old iPhone Xs and the 13 Pro Max I acquired on 29 September.
With the new case (Marigold silicon), I purchased a small leather wallet which would hold a few cards and attached to the back of the phone. I didn’t know until I put the wallet on the phone it could be traced by the phone whenever you took it on and off. I found out when I returned to my hotel; I took the wallet off and the phone notified me the wallet had been removed at 8320 North Stoddard, the location of the Springhill Suites in Platte County where I was staying.

Yesterday, I began an eight-day journey away from Russell, beginning in Omaha. At first, I was going to go the long way through Kansas City and St. Joseph, but when I woke up, I decided to go the proper way from Salina to York via US 81. Good call.
I made a stop at a Walgreens to pick up a bunch of Ghirardelli chocolate for someone I’m going to meet in Omaha later this week. Everything seemed normal until I pulled up to the Hallmark store across 132nd Street.
The wallet was not on the back of my phone, and the phone told me the wallet had been last located at Walgreens. I frantically went back to Walgreens, but neither cashier said they had seen a wallet.
Oh God. Here I go again with losing things. I was panicked. Not only was my ATM card and American Express in that wallet, but so was my driver’s license. I could easily replace the financial products. The license? Not so much, considering I was out of state and it was the last week of December, when offices are either closed or barely staffed.
I searched through a trash bag and turned over everything on my front seat. I searched the bag I got from Walgreens. Nothing.
Fortunately, I discovered it on the floor behind the armrest. Holy crap.

Apple’s wallet technology is great. I am going to keep using it. Sometimes, it is too smart for its own good, and way too smart for its users. I’m going to try to find a belt clip for this case. It would be nice to have my right front pocket freed again, but if I have to keep carrying it in my pocket, it’s leaps and bounds better than any third-party. And I will never patronize OtterBox again.

I woke up at 0400. I didn’t go to bed that late (2245) and I was up at 0500 Monday. Again, more energy on the road than at home.
I’m staying at the Marriott in west Omaha near Interstate 680. The rooms have been renovated since I last stayed here in June 2012, and I was upgraded to a two-room suite. The only problem is the faucet barely runs. I get trying to conserve water, but it’s going a bit too far. The shower does not have a door nor a special floor, but the wood dries quickly and the water doesn’t get far past the curtain.
I’m on the first floor, which suits me just fine this time, even though I’m partial to higher floors. I’m going to be in a rush to get to a 0900 appointment Thursday, then on to Des Moines after that. Kind of wish I could stay here longer, but there’s something about Iowa now, including Joe’s Crab Shack in West Des Moines.

The closest Joe’s Crab Shack is in the Denver area, but (a) I didn’t realize it when I was there in October; (b) there’s one thing I crave in Denver, and it comes from a bull, not the sea; and (c) driving to Colorado is dicey in winter, since I don’t own chains for my tires (Colorado requires chains in snow, whereas states in the Plains make it optional or forbid it). Des Moines does fine, considering it’s not in Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita. The only thing which would be better would be an oyster bar like Louisiana, but the occasional crab legs do nicely.
Last night it was calamari from Cheesecake Factory, which is the closest restaurant to the Marriott. I watched the Saints lay an egg against the Dolphins, to be expected staring a quarterback (Ian Book) who probably has no business starting an NFL game.

It’s overcast this morning, befitting the feeling of football fans from Scottsbluff to Omaha. The Cornhuskers went 3-9 in 2021, their worst record since 1961, the year before Bob Devaney arrived and built Nebraska into a perennial power.
Saturday happens to be the 50th anniversary of Nebraska’s 38-6 demolition of Alabama in the Orange Bowl which clinched the Cornhuskers’ second consecutive Associated Press national championship. Nebraska went 13-0 in 1971, with its other signature win coming on Thanksgiving when it beat Oklahoma 35-31 in Norman in what is considered by some to be the greatest college football game ever played. I don’t know if I’d rank it first, but I’d have to put it in the top three with Texas-Arkansas in 1969 and Notre Dame-Michigan State in 1966. (As for games I actually witnessed, either on TV or in person, I can only think of
The 1971 Huskers were generally considered Nebraska’s greatest team until those with very short-term memory began putting the 1995 Huskers ahead.
I have one word for those who think 1995 was better than 1971: BULLSHIT. (pardon my French)
Nebraska beat the teams which finished 2-3-4 in the final AP poll: Oklahoma, Colorado and Alabama. It dominated the Buffaloes in Lincoln and mauled the Crimson Tide as mentioned previously. The Huskers could not hold two 11-point leads vs. Oklahoma, but the Sooners were at home and weren’t half bad. Heck, even Iowa State went 7-4 and played LSU in the Sun Bowl.
The 1995 Huskers had no real competition. Yes, the Big Eight had four teams finish in the final AP top ten, but the three other than Nebraska–Colorado, Kansas and Kansas State–would not have stacked up to the Sooners, Buffaloes and Tide of 1971.
Nebraska mauled Michigan State 50-10 in East Lansing in the second game of 1995, but the Spartans were trying to find their way under their new coach. Nobody could have predicted Nick Saban would have seven national championships and Nebraska none between 1998 and 2020. 0
As for the rest of the Big Eight in 1995, Oklahoma was listing through its first and last season under Howard Schnellenberger. Oklahoma State was digging out of the devastation of severe probation under a new coach. Missouri hadn’t had a winning season since 1983 and was still bitching about the fifth down vs. Colorado from five years prior. Iowa State was a hot mess, which it had been since Earle Bruce left the Cyclones in early 1979 to replace Woody Hayes.

It’s 3 Celsius (37 F) outside. Balmy for late December in Nebraska. Global warming sucks.

A (short) look back to Iowa

So much for avoiding Outback Steakhouse. I got takeout last night, but no steak. Lobster tails and grilled shrimp. Unfortunately, the shrimp was not on a bed of garlic toast like I’m accustomed to, and the mixed veggies was only broccoli. Can’t be perfect.
Today, I made the 30 km (18 mile) trip northwest from my hotel to Boulder. There is a bar just off US 36, the highway connecting the western Denver suburbs to Boulder, whichwa also serves Rocky Mountain Oysters.
Great call. Oysters were excellent. I’m getting a second order to go. I am also going to hang around Boulder, going to Safeway just down the street and then to the University of Colorado campus to see Folsom Field and Coors Events Center.
I made another reservation at the Buckhorn Exchange tonight, but I’m guessing I will either cancel or only order takeout. I’m not in the mood for another $127 meal ($97 plus a hefty tip; I make sure the ladies are taken care of, and Andrea deserved extra for suggesting the elk/bison combination), as tempting as it sounds. Worse is the traffic from Westminster to downtown; I couldn’t go last night because (a) I had a prior engagement from 1700 to 1900, and (b) the Avalanche played the Blackhawks at Ball Arena (formerly Pepsi Center) in their NHL opener last night. No way I wanted to fight Interstate 25, which is a parking lot much of the time between rush hour and the four sports teams playing at facilities on the highway.
Back to Russell tomorrow. Will be so weird going east to get home, plus the time change will get me.
I’m convinced it’s easier to go from Central to Eastern or Mountain to Central, then come back home than the other way around. I went from Central to Eastern in April 2017 on my trip to Kentucky. I was grateful to get that hour back on the long drive from Lexington to Kansas City. If I leave the hotel at 1200, I figure I’m back at 1830 in Russell.

One week ago, I was in another state for the first time.
Okay, it was not my first time in Iowa, but it was the first time I stopped in Iowa. Prior to last Tuesday, when I drove north on I-35 from northeast Kansas City to West Des Moines, the only times I had been in the Hawkeye State was on I-29 between Kansas City and Omaha.
One time going from Omaha to KC, I bypassed Iowa completely, driving south on US 75, then taking US 136 over the Missouri River at the Nebraska-Missouri state line.
I got to experience a quirky Iowa law during my five days there.
In 1979, Iowa adopted a law which requires consumers to place a nickel deposit on bottled and canned beverages. The deposit can be recovered by returning the containers to a recycling center. They’re not hard to find in Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities (Davenport and Bettendorf), but in rural areas, many counties don’t have places to recycle.
I’m old enough to remember a small food store near my residence in New Orleans which placed deposits on glass bottles, but when plastic replaced glass, there was no need for it.
Iowa is one of a few states with a “bottle bill”, and the only one between the Continental Divide and Mississippi River. I wonder if many Council Bluffs residents buy drinks in Nebraska, or those in the Quad Cities go into Illinois, to avoid the deposit.
It would be akin to Wyandotte and Johnson County residents in Kansas going into Missouri (or Metro East in Illinois going to St. Louis) to buy cancer sticks, because Missouri refuses to tax cancer sticks at a reasonable rate (17 cents? That was unreasonably low in 1971, much less 2021).
I was lucky to receive a great rate for the lovely Sheraton in West Des Moines. I had a two-room suite at a lower price than it usually is for a standard room, and it was only seven steps from the elevator to the door.
It is one of the few hotels I’ve lodged where the rooms all overlook an atrium. There are two glass elevators on the east side of the hotel, and that creates a lot of problems when there is a large number of guests, as it was when I was trying to check out Sunday morning.
Check out was hell. Luggage carts were being hoarded by elderly guests, and elevators were jammed. I have always hated riding elevators with strangers, but I have hated it exponentially more since COVID. I had to be a jerk during one ride down, shutting the door on three different floors (from the seventh) to avoid others. Lucky for me, the final ride down was alone, and I was on my way back.
There was one jerk from Kossmuth County who parked his Equinox so far right his passenger side tires were one meter over the yellow line. JERK.
I didn’t see the Iowa State Capitol. I didn’t venture to Ames to see Iowa State. I didn’t drive to Clear Lake to see the location of the plane carsh that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson. I didn’t venture east on I-80 to see the world’s largest truck stop, somewhere between Iowa City and the Quad Citites.
No, my long outing was to Omaha of all places to buy ten cases of Pibb Zero (formerly Diet Mr. Pibb). The addition of Interstate 880 allows motorists to bypass Council Bluffs and downtown Omaha, something I was grateful for.
I was also grateful for Kum & Go and their rib patty sandwiches, which are superior to QuikTrip.
I may be back in Iowa sooner rather than later.

The patty melt at the Boulder bar was awesome. Now I have my Mountain Oysters for tonight. I still crave the kinds you find in the ocean. I need to get back to Louisiana. Soon.

Your lazy blogger returns

Call me lazy, disinterested, whatever you will. I deserve those epithets for going almost three months without writing something, anything.
The last time I posted was 20 July, the night the Bucks won their first NBA championship in 50 years.
Today, Milwaukee is in mourning. The Brewers were ousted from the National League Division Series in four games by the Braves, the team which occupied that city from 1953-65.
Milwaukee’s offense was putrid, which negated possibly the best pitching staff in the franchise’s 53 seasons (counting the first as the Seattle Pilots).
That was the reverse of 1982, when “Harvey’s Wallbangers” terrorized American League pitching, winning the pennant and blowing the last two games of the World Series to the Cardinals.

My first trip to Colorado was going great…then it wasn’t.
I returned to my room this afternoon and discovered the order of Rocky Mountain Oysters I got to go from the Buckhorn Exchange, the oldest and most famous restaurant in Denver and possible all of Colorado, were gone.
Housekeeping at the Marriott Westminster threw them away.
First, I had no idea housekeeping was coming into the room. I have stayed in at least 15 different Marriott properties in Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and other locales, and only once or twice did housekeeping come in, and that was only after I had been at the hotel for three days.
Second, housekeeping is not supposed to touch anything in the room except dirty towels on the bathroom floor.
I made sure the front desk realized it. I would settle for two orders of oysters (not the kind I inhaled in Louisiana). I thought about asking for having at least one night of my stay comped, but I am not that greedy.

The good news was I did get to eat oysters last night at the Buckhorn, as well as elk and bison. I love beef, but I told Andrea, the lovely waitress who took care of me, that I can eat beef anywhere, and it was time to try something different. Great move.
I do well grilling steaks on my George Foreman grill in Russell, just as long as I take them off the grill after three minutes. I can’t remember the last time I ate a restaurant steak. Outback used to be my go-to- in Kansas City and Wichita, and before that, Baton Rouge, but not now. Ruth’s Chris is in Denver, but I’m more than halfway to Boulder, and both locations are a good drive.

Gas is EXPENSIVE in Denver.
When I bought gas this morning, the price listed on the marquee in front of the station was $3.40.
Unfortunately, that was for 85 octane, which is okay in higher elevations, but in almost all of Kansas (except Goodland and a few places which border Colorado), it’s no go.
The 87 octane cost $3.75 a gallon, making it the most expensive fill-up since 2008, when gas was north of $4 a gallon.

Sorry for burying the lead, but I turned 45 at 08:16 MDT (09:16 CDT). I figured I’ve had too many birthdays in Kansas City and it was time for something different.
I was born in the same hospital in the same year as Reese Witherspoon and Peyton Manning. I feel like apologizing to them, not to mention Archie and Olivia Manning, for tarnishing the hospital’s good name.

Last week, I spent time in another state for the first time. More on that later. I promise it won’t be three months.

Countdown to a championship…or a choke

In approximately 10 hours, give or take, the Milwaukee Bucks will either be (a) National Basketball Association champions for the first time in 50 years, or (b) getting ready to fly to Phoenix for a seventh game vs. the Suns on their home court.

The Bucks haven’t been in this position since Mother’s Day 1974.
That was the date of the seventh game of the 1974 championship series, with the Bucks hosting the Celtics at the MECCA, the franchise’s first home.
The series didn’t lack for star power. Milwaukee had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Bob Dandridge, plus original Buck John McGlocklin. Boston featured Dave Cowens, JoJo White, future Bucks coach Don Nelson and the ageless John Havlicek.
At this time, the Bucks were in the Western Conference, where they remained until the Mavericks came into the NBA in the 1980-81 season.
Boston won 68 games during the 1972-73 season, one shy of the record set by the Lakers two years prior, but choked in the Eastern Conference finals, losing in five to the Knicks, who went on to defeat the Lakers for their second title in four seasons.
Milwaukee won 66 games in 1970-71, its third season. The Bucks had little trouble in the playoffs, ousting the Warriors and Lakers in five apiece, then sweeping the Baltimore Bullets to set the record for shortest time from first game to championship.
Through the first six games in 1974, Milwaukee and Boston alternated wins, with the Celtics claiming the odd-numbered games and the Bucks the evens.
In the sixth game, Milwaukee kept its season alive when Kareem arched a 12-foot sky hook from the right baseline over reserve Boston center Hank Finkel, forced into action in the second overtime when Hall of Famer Dave Cowens fouled out. The Bucks prevailed 102-101.
Little did anyone know the Bucks would not win another game in the NBA championship series for 47 years and two months.
In what myself and Bill Franques call the Mother’s Day Meltdown, the Celtics won the deciding game 102-87.
Boston won titles in 1976, ‘81, ‘84, ‘86 and 2008 to go along with the 11 it won in 13 seasons from 1957-69.
Milwaukee took a nosedive the two seasons following, thanks to Oscar’s retirement and the trade of Kareem to the Lakers. The Bucks moved to the Eastern Conference with Dallas’ entrance and were a consistent playoff team, but were thwarted by the 76ers and Celtics, eliminated by one or the other every year from 1981 through ‘87.
By the mid-1990s, the Bucks were as wretched as the Clippers, Nuggets and other perennial losers. There was one brief moment of glory, a run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001, but for 25 years, basketball in Milwaukee was a distant third to the Packers and Brewers, and sometimes behind the Wisconsin Badgers as well.
Things got so bad for Milwaukee that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave the Bucks an ultimatum: build a new arena or lose your team. The good people of Wisconsin got the message, the Fiserv Forum was built, and now the Bucks are one win away from the title.

Speaking of the Brewers, I’m reminded of them as the Bucks prepare for what could be their championship moment.
In the 1982 World Series, Milwaukee held a 3-2 advantage over St. Louis after taking two of three at County Stadium. The Brewers, powered by Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, had proven they could win at Busch Stadium, as evidenced by their 10-0 rout in the first game.
October 19, 1982 was supposed to be the night Harvey’s Wallbangers were coronated as Milwaukee’s first baseball champion since the 1957 Braves.
Instead, the Cardinals crushed the Brewers 13-1, then won the next night 6-3.
Milwaukee did not return to the postseason until 2008, ten years after it moved from the American League to the National. The Brewers reached the NLCS in 2011 and ‘18, but have yet to get back to the final round. If the Brewers can find some offense to go along with their pitching, 2021 might be the year.

The Bucks need to take care of business tonight. No goofing off. No taking the chance on a game seven on an enemy court. Get it done.
The good news is the Suns’ history in this situation is not promising.
In its two previous appearances in the final round, Phoenix lost game six and the series, to the Celtics in 1976 and the Bulls in ‘93. The 1976 series featured the famous triple-overtime game five, voted by many experts as the greatest in NBA history.
Both of those games were in Arizona, so you have to hope the chances are even better of it happening in Wisconsin.

I guess I’ll be tuning in to the NBA tonight. If the Bucks lose, I definitely will NOT watch game seven. It would be too gut-wrenching.

Live from Phoenix, it’s Saturday Night (Basketball)!

Game five of the NBA Finals was played last night in Phoenix. Milwaukee won 123-119. More on that in the next post.

Oddly, it was the first NBA championship series game contested on a Saturday since game three in 1981, when the finals were known as the world championship series. Hard to believe 40 years passed between Saturday games, considering MLB and the NHL consistently hold games in their championship series on Saturdays.
In 1979-80 and 1980-81, the NBA started its season three weeks earlier than usual and ended on the last Sunday of March. Since only 12 teams made the playoffs in those seasons, and the first round was a best-of-three, the playoffs were shorter.
In 1980, only one series in the conference semifinals and finals went longer than five games, Seattle’s seven-game triumph over Milwaukee in the western semifinals. Both conference finals lasted five, with the Lakers blowing away the reigning champion SuperSonics and the 76ers steamrolling the Celtics in the first of three consecutive eastern finals between the ancient rivals.
This allowed the NBA to schedule the first two games of the finals in Inglewood for Sunday, May 4 and Wednesday, May 7, very reasonable. The first game was televised live coast-to-coast, but the second, which started at 8:30 Pacific (11:30 Eastern) was tape-delayed in the Mountain and Pacific time zones in order to not pre-empt CBS’ primetime schedule.
Following two days off, the series moved to Philadelphia. CBS gave the NBA an ultimatum with two bad choices: (a) play the third and fourth games Saturday and Sunday of Mother’s Day weekend, and we’ll televise both live, or (b) play Saturday/Sunday and Monday/Tuesday, and the weekday game will be tape-delayed everywhere except Philly, LA and any western market (i.e. NBA cities in those time zones) that will televise it live.
CBS chose a, so for the first time in 12 years, a game in the NBA’s final round was played on a Saturday.
The decisive sixth game, the one where Magic Johnson went off for 42 points while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sat injured back in LA, was only televised live in Philly, LA, Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, and oddly enough, Atlanta, where an independent station picked it up after the CBS affiliate, WAGA, refused to show it, even on tape-delay.
The same situation happened in 1981, with a more compressed schedule.
Since Boston needed the full seven games to oust Philadelphia in what has been considered by many the greatest playoff series in NBA history, the Rockets had to cool their jets in Houston. This pushed the first game back to Tuesday, May 5, with the second game only 48 hours after that.
For the third and fourth games at Houston, the NBA was faced with the same ultimatum from CBS, and again picked the back-to-back on Mother’s Day weekend for two live games, the only live games outside of Boston and Houston The other four were on tape-delay. The series took a mere ten days to complete, with the Celtics prevailing in six.
It could have been worse. In 1967, the 76ers and Warriors played a Sunday afternoon game in Philly, then flew across the country for a game the next night in San Francisco.

NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien, legal counsel David Stern and NBA owners were fed up after the 1981 debacle. They sat down with CBS and figured out how to get all NBA championship games back on live television, moving the season back to its traditional late October start date, meaning the final series would begin after the primetime shows had wrapped their seasons.
By 1987, CBS was televising conference finals games in primetime, and they became a staple of late May/early June programming on CBS, NBC and ABC until all weeknight NBA playoff games except the finals moved to ESPN and TNT in the mid-2000s.

Return to the Gateway City

NOTE: I am now posting this Sunday, two days after most of the action below occurred.

Is there a new rule which says I will encounter trouble driving to St. Louis?

Today, it wasn’t my car—thank God. The air conditioner is still humming one month after the compressor replacement on the other side of Missouri.
The problem occurred in Callaway County near the tiny hamlet of Williamsburg, 58 kilometers (35 miles) east of Columbia and 140 km (90 miles) west of the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium.
Traffic began to slow down shortly past the US 54 exit. Ten miles later, Interstate 70 eastbound became a parking lot.
It got to the point where I turned off my car for three minutes. Nothing moved.
I called the Missouri Highway Patrol (each state has a quick dial to its highway patrol; Missouri is star 55 and Kansas is star 47. The nice lady on the other end of the line told me a semi was on fire. I just sighed “oh boy” and hung up. No need to vent my frustrations on anyone.
The cab was no more. It was black rubble. I wonder how the driver got out without suffering serious burns.

I was about to turn east on Interstate 64 at Wentzville, but traffic was backed up onto I-70. I decided I wasn’t going to sit in any more traffic jams if I could help it, even if it meant wasting a little gas.
The good news—traffic moved steadily east on I-70 through O’Fallon and St. Peters.
The bad news—I didn’t realize Missouri Highway 370, which is a six-laned, controlled access route, veered north and not south toward I-64.
I figured what the heck, I’m here until very early Wednesday morning, why not take a tour of some unseen land in the St. Louis metro.
It rained HARD on 370 from I-70 across the Missouri River to I-270, where I wanted to get to in the first place in order to find my hotel. At one point I was down to 60 km/h (37 MPH), but some figured it was still okay to go 60 MPH (97 km/h) even with water ponding.

The rain has abated, so it looks like the Cardinals and Giants will get to play at Busch tonight.
Herb Vincent, my mentor at LSU who now works in the Southeastern Conference office in Birmingham, attempts to see the Cardinals every summer. I’m going to inquire about us getting together in 2022.
Larry, my trivia pal, is a huge Cardinals fan stuck in Kansas City. So is Lisa.
I went to the old Busch Stadium in 1992 to see the Cardinals play the Braves. The first game found my dad, brother and I stuck in the bleachers in dead center field, more than 150 meters (440 feet) from the plate. It was like watching ants. We had tickets for the second game behind home plate, but almost at the top of the stadium. Back then, I could not handle heights as well as I can now, so I was too afraid to watch and just walked around the concourse while my brother braved those bad seats. We all agreed we wouldn’t miss Busch when it was torn down in late 2005.
Busch Stadium was one of the three worst MLB stadiums I’ve been to. The others were the Astrodome and the first Rangers stadium in Arlington. At least the Astrodome was air conditioned. I won’t go into just how awful the original Arlington Stadium was—at least now.
The best MLB stadium? Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, with Houston’s Minute Maid Park a close second. Kauffman in Kansas City is far better than the ones I went to in St. Louis, Arlington and Houston, but well behind the current one in Houston and Pittsburgh.

Speaking of awful, this hotel is AWFUL. Cannot stream through the television. I have been able to do that at EVERY OTHER HOTEL I have stayed at in the past year except one—the Courtyard which is connected to this Residence Inn. Not saying it is life or death, but it would be nice to have that option in 2021. Worse, Amazon Prime is not offered as a streaming option through the hotel; only Netflix, which I find terrible, and HBO, which I am not paying an arm and a leg for.

UPDATE 1: I have figured out the TV situation. I have to unplug the main HDMI cable from the back of the TV and plug in the cable for my device. Not as easy as I would like, but it gets the job done.

UPDATE 2: As usual, St. Louis is giving me self-inflicted indigestion. White Castle, Imo’s Pizza, sushi (I’m partial to tuna and salmon) and a few other things do that. But I love them too much not to eat it, considering I cannot get it in Kansas City, much less anywhere in western and central Kansas…although Whataburger will be in KC by November (thank you, Jesus, I mean Patrick Mahomes II).

UPDATE 3: The Bucks are one win away from their first NBA championship in 50 years. More on that in the next post.

UPDATE 4: The Giants and Cardinals have split so far this weekend: San Francisco 7-2 Friday and St. Louis 3-1 Saturday. The Brewers have won their first two in Cincinnati against the wretched Reds. I have hated the Reds ever since I started watching MLB over 35 years ago for (a) Marge Schott, the racist anti-Semitic C**T who owned them at the time and (b) glorifying degenerate gambler and child rapist Peter Edward Rose. Very sad, because I have grown to admire Johnny Bench from watching highlights.

Peggy no longer MIA…but too many are

I no longer have an appendage dangling from my right arm.
My PICC line was removed Tuesday at the Russell hospital following my final intravenous antibiotic dose. I am still on oral antibiotics, but my life is a little easier now.
One of the biggest things I can do now without the line is shower easier. I had to wear a plastic sleeve on my arm to keep the line from getting wet. I was also wearing one on my right leg, although I didn’t discover until three weeks ago there was a cover for the foot only. I had the full leg one from when I was in a cast before the COVID pandemic in early 2020, and I just didn’t think to look for one that covered only the foot.
I probably could get away without the foot protector, but I’m playing it safe. Same with still wearing the earplugs to shower, although I worried the few times I forgot them. A friend of my dad’s had tubes placed in his ears, and when he didn’t wear earplugs, he got an infection. Nothing like that so far.

Unfortunately, the last person to see the PICC line other than my parents or the hospital workers was Peggy.
It was very fortunate. Seriously.
We saw each other for the first time in over 16 months this past Monday. It’s the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other since I moved to Kansas in September 2005. We usually would go three or four months from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next, but COVID threw a monkey wrench into everything.
I couldn’t attend Caitlyn’s matches at Ottawa this past season because it was strictly limited to family and students. I have not seen her since the Saturday before Thanksgiving 2019.
Peggy is healing after surgery on her right foot a couple of weeks after my operation. She came into Old Chicago in Hays on the same kind of knee scooter I used to get around the hospitals in Russell and Hays until recently.
I forgot how good Old Chicago was. It was my first visit since before the pandemic. It was so good I went back the next night and played trivia, since it’s the only location remotely close to me which has Buzztime. (Peggy asked that I not play so we could converse. I agreed.)

I’m now current with Peggy, Robb, Larry, the ladies at Buffalo Wild Wings Shoal Creek (Tina, Nikki and Ashley), Molly at Minksy’s (Lindsay got fired, which I was very sad to hear), and Morgan at Buffalo Wild Wings Zona Rosa. Seeing Morgan, who has been through things I wouldn’t wish on anyone, did my heart a lot of good. I worry about her sometimes. I haven’t seen Dana since before the surgery, but at least more recently than a lot of others.
Yes, I went to BWW Zona for the first time in almost two years last Saturday to meet up with Robb. Approximately 97 percent turnover, but that’s to be expected in the restaurant business in good times, but with COVID, it’s been more rampant.

Caitlyn is a big hole in my heart. Sadly, there are more.
I was hoping to see Bill in 2020 at another baseball series, but most of the season was wiped out. I couldn’t travel this year due to the surgery. Hopefully, our Bucks will finally get back to the NBA championship series, if not tonight, then Monday.
It has now been more than three years since my trip to Baton Rouge, where I saw Brenda, Dorinda, Bryan Lazare (whose larger-than-life father, Buddy, passed away last month in New Orleans at 94), Glenn Guilbeau, Kent Lowe, Jacques Doucet, Michael Bonnette, John Burke, Lyn Rollins, Ronnie Rantz and many others.
Dan Borne has treated me like COVID the last two years. That hurts. A lot.
Some of the old Kansas City faces are fading. I’ve gotten back in touch with Lisa, but still have not seen her since her wedding in St. Louis four years ago. I keep wondering where Liz is. Dawn has shut me out (and Robb too).
I have not seen Herb Vincent since the 2005 SEC baseball tournament, which was three months before Katrina. I have not heard from Wendy Wall since late 2003, and it hurts. At least I’m in touch with him and a few others from Baton Rouge, like Laurie Cannon (Moll) and Rebecca McCann (Campbell).
I haven’t been back to New Orleans since Katrina. I’m glad to have kept in touch with some of the people I went to middle school with. Jason Malasovich and his family was the last from the Big Easy I had contact with, three years ago.

I departed before dawn this morning for Kansas City. I got my car nice and spiffed up; the interior needed it badly. I stocked up on the whipped soap from Whole Foods I like, I returned an ill-advised purchase of a Chromebook, then got a personal issue taken care of. I’m driving back tonight. For some reason, I don’t have trouble falling asleep at night as I do in the morning.
The (DIS)-United States of America turns 245 tomorrow. I’m not proud to call myself an American. Not by a longshot. I am proud to say, however, I voted for NOBODY for president last year. If you don’t like it, tough.
Remember, tomorrow is INDEPENDENCE DAY in the United States. It’s the Fourth of July everywhere, including Kiribati, Niger, Uzbekistan, Cyprus, Guyana, Liechtenstein, Bhutan, Comoros, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.

Foots is alive…somehow

If there were any rumors regarding the demise of the author of the Foots Prints blog, they were well-founded, but not true.
Yes, I had surgery on my right foot exactly three months ago. No, it isn’t an excuse for going this long without posting.

The surgery came quickly. I was at my usual Monday morning treatment on 15 March with Kelly Miller at the wound care center in Hays when she called Dr. Kirk Potter to set up surgery. Eight days later, I was under the knife.
I almost changed my mind. The Saturday before surgery, I had a terrible experience at the White Castle in Columbia, and I left a message for wound care stating I would not have the surgery three days later.
Fortunately, it got much better when I got to the White Castle in Wentzville, 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Columbia. I then decided to go through with the surgery.
I won’t be frequenting the White Castle in Columbia anymore. Not only did they lose my online order—which was confirmed by the company’s app—they told me to get lost and not come back. What the heck?
It was the first time I went under general anesthesia since I was in the hospital in late 2004 for pneumonia and a collapsed lung, a serious ailment which almost put me 2.3 meters (six feet) under less than two months after my 28th birthday.

Following the surgery, there was hyperbaric oxygen treatment in Hays and twice-daily IVs in Russell. The IVs were seven days a week; at least with the oxygen, I got the weekends off.
I had to interrupt oxygen treatment for two weeks when my left eardrum came close to rupturing. I had to have tubes placed in my ears to make sure they could handle the change in pressure in the chamber. They did, and my last treatment was 4 June.

Right now, things are looking up. I have an IV treatment this Tuesday (29 June) and another appointment with Dr. Potter 6 July. Then comes more routine medical appointments, Dr. Custer and Dr. Jones 14-15 July.

I was in hell—almost literally—last Wednesday.
I was planning to go to St. Louis for a few days to enjoy the things I can’t in Kansas City or points west: White Castle, Imo’s Pizza, shopping at Schnuck’s and Dierberg’s.
Everything was great until Columbia.
That’s when the air conditioner in my car dead.
I won’t repeat the obscenities I blurted.
I begged a Buick dealership in St. Louis to repair my car, but they said no, then accused me of screaming, which I wasn’t. I realize I have a loud voice and when I get accused of screaming, I feel worse than I already do.
By time this played out, I was at New Florence, 80 km (50 miles) west of St. Louis. I was sweating profusely by time I made it into town, and of course, I got lost trying to find the hotel.
The only good thing: White Castle.
As bad as Columbia to St. Louis was, St. Louis to Kansas City was worse.
Of course, there was a record heat wave over Missouri last week. The heat index above 40 C (104 F), and I sweated more than I have since my trip to Baton Rouge in June 2010.
I was LUCKY to get an appointment at Cable Dahmer, my regular service location in Kansas City, last Friday. Four hours and $1,500 later, life was back to normal, or at least as normal as it can be for me.

Stay away from me, please. For your health. And my sanity.

At this point, I wouldn’t mind going into lockdown again. It would save my blood pressure from shooting through the roof every time I’m in public.
Every fucking time I go to the medical clinic in Hays, I have to worry about some stranger stepping on the elevator with me. I despise riding an elevator with a stranger, especially a strange male, during normal times, but during a pandemic? HELL NO.
I had it happen Monday. Had to wait until two people got on the damn elevator before pushing to button to wait for the car to return.
Then in Kansas City, it has happened twice at the hotel. I have to get through tonight and tomorrow. I hate staying on the ground floor of a hotel, but it may be the only way to avoid the elevator.

Speaking of the hotel, Thursday morning was straight out of The Twilight Zone.
My laptop was off. I was worried it had randomly shut down like it sometimes does, but then I noticed the light on the power adapter which indicates it is plugged in was off. That really worried me, because I would be without the computer until I got back to Russell, where i have another adapter (I have two so I don’t have to keep unplugging one).
It got worse. Much worse.
There was no hot water. I took a freezing shower, then shaved with water barely above room temperature, which makes it much harder. I’m fortunate I didn’t cut myself.
The lights by the bed were so dim they were no brighter than a night light. The lights in the bathroom, kitchen and living area all worked. Just as I was ready to leave, I noticed the light in the refrigerator was severely dimmed.
Then the elevators were not working.
I was already a bit upset with the TownePlace at Briarcliff due to the TV turning off after a few hours even without setting up a sleep timer; the small luggage carts; and the lack of mobile key, requiring me to stop by the desk, which I find a great hassle, especially when you’re dealing with an unfamiliar clerk.
There’s so much to like about that hotel. However, it may be time for a break for a few months.

Back to my social distancing woes.
I went back to Buffalo Wild Wings Wednesday against my better judgement. I have done all I can to not make eye contact with Rita Roberts, the general manager. Seeing her makes me sadder and lonelier than usual.
No social distancing problems there.
Today at Minksy’s was a different matter.
Everything was fine until just before four when some strange asshole wanted to sit on the stool next to me.
I was pissed beyond belief. I hate sitting next to strangers to begin with. During a pandemic? I’m petrified.
I lost my mind. I dropped an f-bomb. I was that angry.
I moved to a table, which is what I should have done when Larry left at 13:30.

In January, I got to Buffalo Wild Wings late on the first Saturday of the NFL playoffs. The bar was full, so Tina told me I could sit at a table designed for six people.
Tina asked me if I would share my table with a group, and I did. Three times.
There’s just too much wrong with my life now to put up with the shit. I feel like the biggest loser.

At least I got my White Castle fix. Drove to the St. Louis area Thursday to go to Schnucks and Dierberg’s. Also got my car washed and bought Polo at their outlet store in Chesterfield. Ate a few sliders on the drive back. This morning, I had the crab cake sliders White Castle only sells during Lent. I am kicking myself for not ordering clams.
The Polo shirts are needed now because Lacoste shirts are too short in the torso. I have a lot of Lacoste shirts that don’t cover my gut. I am afraid to wear them now.