View Full Version : The heart of the champion

01-30-2008, 02:44 PM
I was at UC Santa Barbara when they played the Number one Ranked UNLV, Tarkanian-coached running Rebels several years ago.

The 3-4k (estimated) seating arena, was packed to the rafters. The students and fans were raucus and having a great time before the game. The Gauchos were warming up and the gym was as warm and comfortable as grandma's kitchen on a holiday.

I didn't know what to make of the crowd, but it was great fun.

"Wait a few seconds, you're gonna like this," my partner and host said. And after a set of funny, acrobatic skits were played out by some students, someone let off a signal only I didn't recognize, and suddenly there were hundreds and hundreds of tortillas sailing all over the gym while people picked up the saucers that landed and threw them again.

They were everywhere. A sea of flour frisbees.

I was half expecting avocados and perhaps cheese, meat and sour cream to follow. But it ended with the raining tortillas.

As quickly, almost, as they were let loose, the gymn floor was cleared but the laughter, the band and the comeraderie continued. Great fun.

After the last soft shell was picked off the playing surface, UNLV half trotted, half sauntered onto the floor.

The boos, hisses, screaming and yelling picked up and and reached a fever pitch. UNLV went through the pre game warmups without even looking at anything but each other and the basket and the basketballs.

Coach Jerry Tarkanian "The shark" walked out and got his own chorus of catcalls. He managed a tiny smile, more like that a bulldog might give up when burping out of one side of his face. Or perhaps it was gas.

He, like his team might as well have been alone in that gym, warming up for a scrimmage, while the crowd couldn't seem to do anything to rattle, or even draw a smile, or hint of recognition, from the best basketball team in the nation.

It was unsettling.

But the crowd, myself included, really came unsettled when slowly, about two minutes before the start, the Runnin Rebels assembled in the middle of the gym and put their arms around each other. The gym grew quiet while we tried to listen as the players talked to each other, revved each other up and then went into a sort of silent mode.

As we watch the human pyramid in the middle, it drew even quieter. Suddenly from the middle of this volcano, a single hand rose up. I believe it was was the fist of Larry Johnson from where I sat.

As it rose ever so slowly, Johnson also opened just one finger of that hand and held it there for about a minute while his teammates held onto each other in total silence.

It was the index finger, reminding everyone in the huddle and out that UNLV was number one.

It's the first time I'd ever seen such a show of solidarity, strength & confidence, and I'd been to two final fours before that.

Even the UCSB Gaucho players stood in silence and watched, as if it were the National Anthem being played.

I don't remember the score but it wasn't even close. UNLV probably could have beaten UCSB with blindfolds on.

The crowd cheered the Rebels at the end, very much appreciating the lesson they had just witnessed in focus, athleticism and the first-rate basketball clinic that had just been administered.

Champions will bring that sort of swagger, imo, wherever they play. In front of the Devil himself, if necessary.

I tell this story for one reason.

It reminds me of the Zags upcoming road trip and, for that matter, the road trips they have already taken and will take on through the NCAA's, god willing.

So as the Zags enter the buildings and the equivalent crowds of tortilla throwing throngs soon, I'm hoping they will bring their foes and their fans to their knees by putting on their own special clinic, taking care of business, outhustling and outperforming SC and Saint Mary's, treating those two imposters just the same, and plough right through the WCC like the champions they are for the rest of the season.

There is no reason on earth it can't be done. The talent is there.

It's just a matter of making the decision to do it and then going out there and executing, come hell or high water. Or even tortilla shells.

Go zags !