Finally, I have some time to finish this. And just an FYI to my dedicated readers out there…just because the season is over, don’t think I’ll stop blogging. I’m moving to New York City next week (AHHHH) to start my career as an actor, and I will be keeping you updated on the ins and outs of my family, the move, and my Dad’s insanity when I can. Expect a flurry of updates later on this week, as there promises to be some great developments coming soon! But on to the real meat of the story.
I have so much to say about yesterday and last night, I don’t know if I can push it all into one entry. But I will try. I’m going to skip over the happenings of Monday night because really, it was quite boring. Tuesday morning I woke up around 9 and went down to breakfast with the team, and I found them excited, relaxed, and calm. I had a little time to kill before shootaround so I went back to the room to put on my sneakers, and I remembered that because it was National Championship Day, they were showing memorable women’s matchups on ESPN Classic.
Shootaround itself was pretty good, and Tahirah again won the 2-lap drill, as Dad shouted “Still undisputed champion after four years, undefeated!” Maya came in second after attempting to catch up with her, and doing a very funny impersonation of someone trying to run faster but really not coming close. At the end of shootaround with about one minute left, Dad called everyone into the huddle, but then decided they needed to run the zone offense one more time. With about thirty seconds left on the clock, he asked if everyone got the idea of what they wanted to do, and when the team nodded, he said, “Well, go! Go get a ball! Hurry!” And they did their buzzerbeater practice, as usual. After shootaround, the team wanted to stay in the locker room to watch the end of the 2006 Maryland/Duke game on ESPN Classic, but CD shooed us out because they needed to squeeze in reading time before pregame.
As we were walking out of the gym, I went to ask Dad a question and I saw him wiping his face with his head down. I immediately figured it was his allergies, since he’s been congested for the last few weeks with seasonal problems, so I didn’t really make a big deal of it. I come to find out through Doris Burke’s analysis during the game that it wasn’t allergies. Dad had cried at shootaround after hearing the sweet things Renee had said about him in the paper yesterday morning. It was then that it hit me how badly he wanted this for Renee. For her to go out without a championship would have been heartbreaking.
Because I had two hours to spare, I decided to work out, and I was greeted in the fitness room by Shea, Rosemary (our amazing trainer), JJ, Doc Trojian, and a few other people who work for us. The great part about this was that at the end of the Maryland/Duke repeat, they showed the 1995 championship game with us and Tennesee. JJ, as all of you know, played in that game, and whenever she made a great play, Shea screamed from her treadmill. And we made fun of her mercilessly for her ridiculous hair. At one point, they showed Dad sitting on the bench before tipoff, and Rosie poked me from her elliptical and said “So handsome!” Not going to lie, I agree. I’m just glad he got rid of the Afro.
That game was really interesting for me to revisit before we went to the Scottrade Center. That entire night was a big blur. I don’t really remember a lot of it. I was nine years old, with glasses, and wearing a Reebok shirt so humongous that I’m pretty sure you could’ve belted it and turned it into a dress. My sister and brother were next to me as well as my mom and extended family, and at some points during the ESPN Classic broadcast you can see all of us sitting there. At the very end of the game you can see my sister getting hugged by our Husky mascot. I do remember being kind of a rockstar the next few weeks at school, and getting suckered into throwing a pep rally in our gym with my dad, Rebecca, and Jennifer. But it still didn’t really hit me how big this entire thing is. It still hasn’t. I don’t think of my father as anything more than Dad. Dad, with a pretty cool job. But still just Dad.
Last night was the first Final Four Championship game that my sister, brother, mom, and I have all been to together since San Antonio in 2002 (Jenna couldn’t come in 2003 because of school, and then she went in my place in New Orleans when I had to stay at UCONN). Nonna said to me that her palm leaves from Sunday night (that Todd had fashioned into a makeshift cross for her) had fallen apart, and that, to her, was tantamount to a death sentence. “I have this little piece left, and I’m gonna hold it for the whole game,” she confided, and kissed the cracking, faded leaves in her hands.
For the first few minutes of the game, I was okay. And then Angel started lighting us up and I went crazy with worry. I ran to use the bathroom and get some water, and while there I ran into one of my best friends from college, Stacey. She was a manager for the girls for four years along with Justine, Stacey (another Stacey), Sara, and Abby, and we all played intramural basketball together on the Droppen Deuces (because we are very, very mature). She told me she was nervous too, so we hung out on the concourse until halftime, noting how many times Tina got a rebound. I said to Stacey at one point “I think Tina has all of the rebounds in this game.”
By the time the second half started, I managed to move back into my seat and even put my Witness shirt on. I had felt left out because my sister, Todd, Mike, and Mike’s friend Liam all wore theirs to the game. Noticing I was wearing it after halftime, my sister said to me, “What the hell are you doing?! You’re going to jinx everything!” Another thing she did that made me laugh was when Tina came out with about 12 minutes to go, and for the whole four minutes she was out of the game, Jenna kept going “Put Tina back in! Put her back in! I want her to get 50 points and 40 rebounds!”
It didn’t hit us until around the 4 minute mark that we had the game in the bag, and that was when there was a TV timeout and we could see my dad doing a seated happy dance. In the TV timeout! I don’t think he’s ever done that before in my entire life. My mom had the best realization moment ever, though. She suddenly grabbed Jenna’s hand and shouted, “Oh my God. We’re going to meet Obama! AHHHHH!”
When the buzzer went off and the streamers came down, our whole section just could not stop hugging and a sense of warm, wonderful relief swept through me, like a nervous weight had been lifted off my shoulders (just to be placed on again next year). Our fantastic NCAA/Big East liaisons were great and got us extra passes so we could go down to the court and see Dad, which was different than in previous years when I’d have to sneak past security with Mom. After I hugged the assistants, I found Dad, who lifted me off the ground in a bear hug which is kind of hard to do for him…not that I’m a big girl or anything but the guy’s 55, I didn’t want to give him a hernia.
One by one, I found all of the girls and grabbed them aside for an embrace, and I completely lost all composure when Kaili gave me a hug and I saw my sister crying as she let go of Renee with a “I’m so happy for you guys.” That’s when I think I really started to cry. I asked Mike if he cried, and his response made my day: “I don’t cry. I work out.” My brother, ladies and gentlemen. I think this is the first Final Four where he hasn’t cried like a baby.
My favorite moment of the aftermath is a collection of small things-watching the confetti fly down onto the court, Tina getting MOP, Dad walking across the court and doing a shimmy dance that was not unlike what he did when he danced with my sister at her wedding (and it remains as adorably stupid as it did then), Dad sticking his head into the hoop to wave to the crowd with the specialized NCAA net-cutting scissors created just for the tournament that just happened to be bright Tennessee orange, Tina doing the Kid N’ Play dance again, Dad getting carried off the court (for the third time!) Renee naming the championship trophy “Nattie” and calling it her baby, and of course, Dad telling the yelling and adoring crowd of fans at the Sears Trophy reception “You guys really are out of your frickin minds.” To which I heard someone in the crowd yell, “But you love it!”
I wish I could tell you that I partied all night, that I was a trouper and hung out with Husky alumnae young and old. But in truth, I crawled into bed at 2:30. My allergies finally got the better of me.
Today was just a blur of plane ride, airport rally, Gampel rally, and busride home. I did get a lovely surprise at the gym in the form of Mel Thomas! We saw each other from far away in one of the pavilion hallways and just started screaming and we ran towards each other. I absolutely love that girl, she’s just great and I’m so happy she’s home to stay from Ireland! Also, I must say one of the better parts of the day was when I told Dad that I had taped the championship game while we were away. His response? A gleeful laugh and “OOOH! Let’s watch it when we get home!” So we did…and he proceeded to complain the entire game. Some things never change…
PS. Someone on the boards at the Boneyard called my father classless for not hugging Tina Charles at the end of the game yesterday. First of all, how dumb are you if you expect all of your life’s approvals to be complete with a hug. And second of all, Dad did something better than a hug for Tina. As we touched down at Bradley, my father received a call from President Obama, something that is standard protocol when you win the national championship. We had been waiting for this call since the game ended, especially Tina because she’s in love with the guy. Dad made his way to the back of the plane as he chatted with the President and got to where the team was sitting so they could hear him, and the girls crowded around him practically buzzing with excitement. As the conversation wore on, Dad said, with a smile, “I think the person who you should talk to is our Final Four MOP.” And with that, he passed the phone-and the President of the United States-to the person he did not hug at the Final Four-Tina Charles. You can call my dad a lot of things (I’ve called him an idiot about three times today and that’s a light day) but he will never not be classy and you can’t ever argue that with me. Of course, I’m his spawn, so I don’t know if it’s a fair fight…
PPS. To all of the people in St. Louis who said they loved my blog, thank you so, so much. And to all the people in St. Louis who told my sister they loved my blog because they thought Jenna was me…you made me laugh quite a lot on a day when I was feeling really, really ill. My sister came into my hotel room and said to me “Um, people keep coming up to me and thinking I’m you and saying how much they love me.” I was extremely amused.