Archive for Thursday, April 10, 2008

Column: 20 years of losses pays off with title

April 10, 2008

Call it a miracle, destiny or lucky if you want.

I'm calling it awesome.

Monday night capped off an amazing weekend of basketball. How it all happened I'm still not sure, but one thing is for certain, it really happened. I wasn't counting sheep when I woke up Tuesday and saw 'Champions' as the headline of the Lawrence Journal-World.

It's been 20 years since the last time Lawrence has had a reason to celebrate like it did Monday night. I was 5 years old and barely remember "Danny and the Miracles."

Before I proceed with this, I must say I am writing this as a fan, not as an unbiased member of the media. This is my time to celebrate and talk about my beloved Jayhawks.

It sure can't be much fun being a Kansas State or Missouri fan right now. I hate to imagine what it would feel like to have your archrival win the national title. Yuck!

The Jayhawks are king of college basketball world. What a great feeling it is. So many of us have waited for two decades for this moment. Our time is finally here.

We waited patiently through the Roy Williams era, where many years we had a No. 1 seed in the tournament, but could never win the title. Kansas had the talent to win a few championships under Williams, but bad luck would hit the teams or they would fall to that year's Cinderella team.

Not this year.

The 2008 Jayhawks suffered three regular season losses. One was on the road to a very talented Texas team. Another was on the road at K-State, a rival that wanted more than anything to end its home losing streak to the Jayhawks. The final was a bit of a hiccup, but it became a learning tool.

Then the postseason arrived and the Jayhawks stepped up their game. They ran through the Big 12 Tournament and locked up a No. 1 seed for the Big Dance.

As Kansas advanced each round in the NCAA tournament, I became slightly more nervous each game. It wasn't until the Elite Eight match up with Davidson that I was too worried about a victory.

The first three games were pretty easy, but Davidson was America's Cinderella story, KU coach Bill Self had never won an Elite Eight game and sadly, I had become accustomed to KU choking in some big games. Then of course, the contest came down to a final shot that, thankfully, missed to the left.

I swear my heart stopped for a minute or so once that shot was released. It sailed through the air and bricked off the backboard. Even a minute after the game, I had to make sure KU won the game and I wasn't dreaming.

Time to celebrate the Jayhawks heading to the Final Four. It would be the first of three celebrations for me in downtown Lawrence. I also headed to Allen Fieldhouse to welcome the team back that March 30 night.

After five restless days of work, it was finally time to pay that "dad-gum" Williams back. The hours before Saturday's game seemed to go slower and slower as we waited for the first contest to begin.

Once the KU-North Carolina game began, it was almost over in the first 15 minutes.

The Tarheels rallied, as expected, and came within four points, but the Jayhawks kept their poise and rallied themselves. They blew away UNC in the end, finally giving Kansas fans the moment we've waited five years for a KU victory over our former coach.

Then came Monday night, which in my opinion was icing on the cake. I was so enthusiastic about beating UNC that a national title might have been too much to handle.

I was wrong.

It was a perfect ending.

The only greater way it could have ended Monday was if KU routed Memphis, but that wasn't going to happen. Coming back from a late nine-point deficit, hitting a three-pointer to send the game to overtime and dominating the extra minutes was perfect.

As the final minute of overtime passed, it became all too surreal for me. I stood tall, well, as tall as I could, waved the wheat, sang the Rock Chalk Chant and watched the final seconds count down.

National Champs 2008!

The only thing greater would be a repeat in 2009. If only the seniors leave and no one darts for the NBA, it's very possible.

But first we have another BCS bowl to reach with the KU football team. See ya'll in September.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Go KU!

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