Archive for Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Column: Wonderful year begins, ends with Jayhawks

Off the Rim column

December 31, 2008

There’s a first time for everything, right?

At least that’s how the old adage goes, anyway. There have been plenty of firsts in 2008. A few were firsts that some people want to forget, but most were firsts that brought smiles to our faces.

This wonderful year began with a first — well, at least a first for me. It was only the third day of 2008, but it was memorable for this University of Kansas fan. Yep, that’s right, the Orange Bowl, baby.

I gathered with friends at a sports bar in Lawrence to watch the game. The Jayhawks took their 11-1 record into Miami to face perennial powerhouse Virginia Tech. I cheered early, became frustrated in the middle and cheered in the end — much louder than the beginning.

My “Chesty Lion” pose came out during the fourth quarter for the Jayhawks’ Brandon McAnderson. For those who don’t know, he was a former Lawrence High Chesty Lion. My superstition worked perfectly. The only bad part of the game was dodging a Lawrence Journal-World photographer. I knew my mug couldn't show up in the paper, but my friend was lucky enough to make the online photo gallery.

I remember living on the Orange Bowl high for a few weeks after the game. It was the first major bowl game I ever saw KU win. It was the first truly successful season of KU football I witnessed. It was just a prelude to future success by the Jayhawks.

During the next month or two, there were plenty of basketball and wrestling victories by the Baldwin High School Bulldogs. It all culminated in late February in Salina.

My second trip to the state wrestling tournament was worth the overnight trip. After a day and a half of action and slight disappointment, I was ready to head home and avoid the approaching snowstorm. Only one problem, there was one final match for the Bulldogs.

There’s not much that’s needed to be said about which match I’m talking about. Kevin Callahan’s third championship match would prove to be his best. I can still picture the final 10 seconds counting down on the clock. The double goose egg brought cheers and applause from the Bulldogs section of the Bicentennial Center.

Callahan was picked up by BHS coach Kit Harris and lifted into the air. That’s one photograph I won’t forget. It’s as memorable as Richard Nixon’s farewell salute or the “Black Power” gesture at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

It was a great ending to a wonderful career. Callahan deserved that title and he worked his tail off for that gold medal. I’m still not sure there’s a wrestler out there who has a more intimidating look before a match than Callahan. His glare while listening to loud, hard rock sent shivers down my spine — and I wasn’t his next opponent.

It’s hard to believe it, but 2008 was about to get much sweeter. Time warp a month into the future. It’s the end of March on a basketball court. A desperation three-pointer misses to the left of the rim by just inches. Cinderella’s slipper didn’t fit the Jayhawks’ foot.

Less than a week later, it was payback time. For all of us KU fans, all I have to say is, Roy who? KU stomped his Tarheels right out of the Alamodome. Time to celebrate for the second time on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence.

On April 7, history was made. Mario Chalmers inked himself into NCAA Tournament lore with a fade away three-pointer that floated over two Memphis defenders … swish! Five minutes later, the Jayhawks were back on top after 20 years of heartbreak.

The rest of the spring is a blur. I didn’t come down from the championship high for months. Actually, I’m not sure I’ll be down until the Jayhawks’ season ends this year.

I do remember cheering about the Oakland Raiders drafting Arkansas star Darren McFadden. His rookie campaign was filled with a few highlights, but I’m excited for his second season.

Then came the other long weekend of high school sports coverage in Kansas. A trip to Wichita for the state track meet is one I enjoy and fear. It’s the best of the best around the state in a sport I love. However, it’s also two long days in either super hot or rainy weather.

As usual, there were many highlights, some by BHS students, but many more from phenomenal athletes from every class of the state. The boys’ gold in the 1,600-meter relay was the perfect way to end the meet. It’s probably a good guess that Dustin Schiller was glad he went out for track his senior year — his first season in track.

It wouldn’t have been a state track meet without a bit of Heather Garcia. Well, maybe not a bit, but a lot. I’m convinced that she was a forearm in the side away from winning all four golds. Just one little push knocked her far enough off her momentum and out of the race that she had to settle for second again. She was running too well that day to lose if the race had been clean. Her true class came after the race, when she accepted the silver and put the “push” behind her.

The year of the Jayhawk continued in June. Former Kansas player Paul Pierce won his first NBA championship when his Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers. It took him a decade of playing in Beantown to capture the elusive title. Oh yeah, he also took home the Finals MVP trophy, too.

Not much happened until the fall, when football started back up. The highly-anticipated season soon became just another average season as my Jayhawks and Oakland Raiders struggled a bit.

The Jayhawks won early in the year, but were blown out in several contests against top 10 teams. The Raiders lost many games …as expected. They did manage to win one more game than the 2007 season, including the final two games. Call me crazy, but I think they are a big-time wide receiver and a good coach away from being a playoff contender.

The fall of 2008 saw the end of an era in New York City. Historic Yankee Stadium closed after 85 years of serving as the home of the New York Yankees. So many memories and legends will soon be gone when the new stadium opens.

The last month of 2008 has been nice. It’s ended the way it began — with KU football. The Jayhawks won an exciting Border War game against Missouri. It was a contest I could watch over and over and over.

Tonight, the wonderful year of 2008 will come to a close. It will be sad, but, hopefully, another Jayhawk football victory will be coming. It would be the first time KU football began and ended my sports year.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk.

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