Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Home Town Ends 20 Year Title Drought

I have a very weird relationship with televised sports.

Mostly, I hate watching sports. This is because I am insanely competitive, yet I can do nothing to influence the outcome of a sporting event.

So watching a favored team play is much like laying on a bed of nails, or at least that is what I imagine. It hurts.

During most high-pressure sporting events, I just keep thinking "I want this to be over. I just want to know who wins." I also yell, scream and occasionally throw things. And I don't drink much, so I cannot even blame the beer.

Really I hate the anguish.

But I watch anyway.

The search function on this blog does not work as well as I like, but I am sure that I have told this story before (one part here). Growing up, I attended Pembroke Country Day School in Kansas City, which later became The Pembroke Hill School. The school is located, literally on State Line Road in Kansas City, Mo. However, I used to park my car in a school parking lot located across the street in Mission Woods, Kan.

Since it's a private school, students come from both sides of the state line. This created an intense rivalry between fans of the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks. If there were any fans of the K-State Wildcats (where I would subsequently earn a master's degree), I was not aware of it at the time.

Parsing my allegiance is no easy task. I was born in Missouri, but I came home from the hospital to Kansas. My first driver's license was in Kansas, as was my first job. I earned my first college credit in Kansas, and if not for a complete lack of talent, I once intended to walk on to the KU football team.

So, mostly I am a Kansan. And I grew up a Jayhawk hoops fan.

The blossomed, not surprisingly, in 1988 when KU won the national title at home at Kansas City's Kemper Arena.

This national title came fewer than three years after the Royals won the world series.

It was a good time to be a teen-age sports fan in Kansas City.

Little did I know that it would begin a drought of two decades.

By my account, the Chiefs have suffered early playoff defeats after three 13-3 seasons. The Royals have won about 12 games since 1985, and Kansas State found a way to will themselves out of the national title game in 1998.

Derrick Thomas died following a stupid no-seatbelt automobile accident.

The NCAA left town.

Buck O'Neill got shafted by the baseball hall of fame.

And Roy. Oh, Roy.

Roy's a whole separate chapter of therapy.

Roy found new ways to break hearts in Kansas. He cried every March. And despite conference titles, Final Four appearances, and an embarrassment of McDonald's All-Americans, the NCAA title evaded Roy.

I was living in Manhattan, Kan., in 2000. That was the first time the University of North Carolina came calling. For what seemed like an eternity, I was glued to the Internet. Would Roy stay or would Roy go?

He stayed. And he said he'd retire a Jayhawk. Retire. His word. Not mine.

Three years later, he bolted after another of his Kansas teams choked to Syracuse in the 2003 title game.

If you're not from Kansas City, you'll never understand. Or maybe you will. Maybe you're from someplace you love that other people make fun of. Maybe you've explained 100 times that, yes, the streets are paved.

Kansas City is not No. 1 in a lot of things. Barbecue, yes. But we have Kansas Basketball. The first coach was the guy who invented the game. Invented! James Naismith if you're scoring at home. He was followed by Phog Allen. Dean Smith played there. Many others.

So when Roy jilted Kansas, I cannot quite explain the emotion. I felt the ultimate betrayal.

Follow the logic.

Dean Smith was a Kansas boy. He played at Kansas. He got a job coaching at North Carolina. He built his own program. When Kansas called, he said "no."

Roy Williams was a North Carolina boy. He played at North Carolina. He got a job coaching Kansas. He built his own program. When North Carolina called, he should have said "no."

But he didn't.

And it would have hurt if he had left in 2000, but he said he was going to "retire" at Kansas. No one forced him to say that. And one thing about how I was raised in Kansas City: I was taught that my word meant something.

Even worse was watching Williams win the title at UNC in 2005. I even watched in person when Roy came to town and beat my Indiana Hoosiers.

Some of that pain was exorcised when Kansas punished North Carolina in the 2008 national semifinals. For a long time against Memphis, I thought that revenge against Williams was going to have to be good enough. The Jayhawks seemed content to have exorcised a few demons.

Every call seemed to go against Kansas until Joey Dorsey fouled out. Then Mario Chalmers hit the 3 that no Jayhawk will ever forget to send the game into overtime after being down 9 with just more than 2 minutes remaining.

Overtime had its drama after KU built a small lead. There was failure to block out after a free throw (Lou Henson was surely thinking of 1989 if he was in attendance). Then a slip out-of-bounds. Really? An elite collegiate athlete, and all you have to do is remain vertical, but no?!?!?!?

In the end, the 20 year drought ends. Kansas wins its 3rd national title, and my home town's drought is over.

This might even be worse, however. I went into Monday's game assured that there was no way a Kansas City area team could win. They never did.

Now my hopes are up.

The Royals are off to a fast start. How soon until they end my sure-to-be-short-lived optimism?

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