The University of Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Mecca. The second I saw this game on our schedule, I knew I had to be there.
We flew out of San Diego Friday morning, and arrived in Kansas City, MO that night, and was immediately cold. It was 70 degrees back home, and about 30 degrees here. This however was about the warmest it got all trip.
The drive into Lawrence wasn’t too bad, only about a 45 minute trip. There wasn’t much around where we were staying, but we found a great Kansas BBQ place and grabbed some dinner there. Everything in town was Kansas Jayhawks Basketball. Almost every place I walked into had a panoramic photograph on Allen Fieldhouse, a banner listing out all of their National Titles, framed jerseys and other miscellaneous KU memorabilia.
- Saturday morning I headed back towards Kansas City to check out the city. Everyone in their downtown was amped up about the Chiefs playoff game later that day. We checked out Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium. We ran into a Jayhawks fan and talked to him for a bit. He was really high on Joel Embiid, who I also happened to be the most worried about. I got even more excited for the game after some of the game day stories he told us. After touring Kansas City, we headed back into Lawrence to check out the campus. We stopped for lunch in downtown Lawrence at Free State Brewery, whose motto was “Because without beer, things do not seem to go as well.” True statement. The streets of downtown were lined with banners that said “Pay Heed All Who Enter Beware Of The Phog.” Downtown reminded me a bit of my trip a few years ago to Ann Arbor. A true college town. I came across a surf shop, because the surf out in Lawrence, Kansas is so good.
After lunch, we headed down to the campus to check out the Booth Family Hall of Athletics. I was a bit disappointed that the original rulebook was not out on display, but nonetheless, the place reeked of history. The first court in Kansas Basketball history was on display, a huge display of Dr. James Naismith and Forrest “Phog” Allen, an incredibly impressive wall of KU Hall Of Famers…the list goes on and on. Next we decided to walk around the campus, but quickly changed our minds due to the freezing 10-degree weather, so we opted to do a driving tour. I spotted a Jayhawk statue, and braved the cold to go mount it and assert our Aztec dominance.
Later we went to a local bar, Saints, to watch the Chiefs playoff game. I walk into the bar while the chiefs had a 28-point lead, and that place was loud. We weren’t worried about people thinking we were from San Diego, or that we weren’t rooting for the Chiefs, because all of our red Aztec gear helped us blend in to the crowd. There was a lone Colts fan there, and she left as they had started to cut away the lead. Not sure why, maybe she got kicked out. Anyways that bar just grew quieter and quieter, until…silence. I was hoping that their fans would feel even worse around 6pm the following day.
Gameday. We arrived at Allen Fieldhouse about 2 hours before they opened the gates, and it was cold. 8 degrees, windy, snowstorms the night before meant that my shoe choice was not the best. Word of advice, do not wear vans in freezing weather. I have never been that cold in my life. We saw Doug Gottlieb, as he entered the arena. He wished us luck and told us we’d have fun. Was a bit disappointed he wasn’t wearing his Show hat, but he told us that he had Little Gottlieb wear it at home. <3. The line to get into the arena was long, and the hour and a half wait in the cold made it feel like an 8 hour wait. Four of us took our picture with the Road Show Banner in front of the Phog Allen statue.
The doors finally opened and we rushed to our seats; first come first serve. Students were already inside, we found out they are allowed in 30 minute before everyone else. We walked into the main part of the arena, and I was awestruck. As Winston Shepard put it, “it was like playing in basketball heaven.” An entire row of Final Four Banners. An entire row of Conference Championship Banners. Five National Championship Banners ran along the North end of the arena. Overlooking it all, once again the phrase, “Pay Heed All Who Enter. Beware Of ‘The Phog.” The Jayhawks had won 68 straight non-conference games on their home court, so we knew we were in for a challenge. I was a bit surprised we entered the game as 9 point underdogs, but you have to respect Bill Self’s (then) 8 losses on their Naismith Court in his tenure. By an hour before tip, the place was full to capacity. We walked down to the court and stood across from the team as they did their warm-ups. We belted out the fight song, to which I could tell the team loved it.
Back in our seats, tip grew nearer and nearer, and the intensity of the crowd grew as well. The pregame chants were incredible. They sang their Alma Mater, and it felt like a church ceremony, with Kansas Basketball as their religion. Words can’t describe just how cool the Rock Chalk chant was. Recordings of it alone are cool, but in person, just gave me chills. Next came the player introductions. I thought it was a bit weird that they don’t introduce the head coach, but oh well. Kansas showed about a minute long video detailing the history and tradition of Kansas basketball. From the early days of James Naismith, to Mario Chalmers miracle, just an outstanding video. All of the hype and tradition of playing in this arena is enough to make any visiting team rattled, but Coach Fisher had our guys well prepared.
Tip off and I couldn’t have asked for a better first half. Up 6 at half, had we limited turnovers it could have been 14, but I wasn’t mad at it. I was very impressed with their fans. They stood the entire game, and were consistently loud. I thought their student section was a bit lacking. They, along with the rest of the arena were loud, but there weren’t any chants during live action. I think if we had a solid group of about 20 people, we could have been heard for a majority of the game. Unfortunately, the Aztec faithful were scattered throughout the arena. I was in a row of 5 of us. Early in the second half, we went up to an 11 point lead and forced the Jayhawks to call a time out, prompting us to yell out uprising. Doing so in their arena, it just felt right. Instead of getting booed for our chants, the Jayhawk fans were all really nice. Like really nice. Too nice. They certainly aren’t soulless mutants like the Lobos of New Mexico. We would chant something, and instead of yelling at us or booing us, people would ask us what our chants were and complimented us on our passion. Many others asked us about Steve Fisher and his days at Michigan, and the growth of our program here, very friendly people.
As the Jayhawks closed it to 4 points with 3 minutes left, I made a comment that Xavier hadn’t scored in the second half. Sure enough, he answers with a huge three. The stressful final minutes wore on and I think they were the loudest final minutes of a basketball game I have ever been to. Our guys showed their composure though, never giving up the lead as Xavier’s clutch free throws sealed up the game and handed Kansas a rare loss in Allen Fieldhouse. We all screamed out the fight song, and I could hear other Aztec fans around us joining in. We walked down to the court in celebration where I encountered the lone Kansas fan that showed displeasure with us. He said, “Well how many of those do you have?” in reference to their final four banners, to which I replied, “Well hey we got that!” and pointed to the scoreboard.
We waited for the team and congratulated them on such a great team victory. Arguably the biggest regular season win in program history. Phenomenal basketball game. I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
After we saw the team off, we headed into downtown Lawrence and stopped at Jefferson’s for a celebratory drink. It was probably about 90% Aztecs in there, and 10% Jayhawk tears. A few beers and shots of Fireball later, and we were back off to the hotel to head back to San Diego in the morning.
After the game, Skylar Spencer
tweeted “Y’ALL STILL SLEEP OR WHAT?”And that Monday morning the team awoke to a #13 ranking in the country, jumping up 6 spots. The team left that night after the game, and as for us still in Lawrence, we awoke at 3:30 am Monday morning in -9 degree weather (yes that’s minus nine) to catch a 6am flight in Kansas City. Well it was supposed to be 6am, but it turned into about 4:15 pm…but that’s a story for another blog. The win made the long travel day well worth it. Nothing could have brought me down.
We Paid Heed. We Entered. We Were Victorious.
That about does it for this edition of Show On The Road, the next installment will be February 22 against The University of New Mexico.