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2010-11 Article: Chapter I

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  • 2010-11 Article: Chapter I

    CHAPTER 1: Karma

    UNI 69, Kansas 67.

    It didn't seem possible, but there it was. My roommate Andy and I stood outside our house and watched with pure unadulterated joy as cars drove by and honked at us.

    "GO PANTHERS!" They screamed, hanging out the window. We raised our bottles of beer and could only yell out our approval in return. For once it seemed like those words had transcended a mere rally cry and had now become a mantra of ecstasy and affirmation.

    It was everywhere, too. The Hill. Main Street. Campus. University Avenue. The town had come alive with the kind of celebration seen only once every blue moon. There was a joyous kind of denial to it all. Again, it didn't seem possible. I couldn't stop myself from repeating the same thing over and over:

    "I can't BELIEVE that just happened!"

    Believe it, though. The University of Northern Iowa Panthers, Pride of the Cedar Valley, were now in the Sweet Sixteen and headed back to St. Louis. It just all seemed too perfect to be true.

    It wasn't until very recently I started believing in karma and putting that belief into practice. I'd always believed on some level that good things came to good people. Most of my life, however, I couldn't help but think I could spend a lifetime waiting for mine to come. I'm not even sure why I had this revelation, but I did: What does it matter if you never get your affirmation? Isn't living a good life enough?

    It seemed especially poignant now as we prepared to hit The Hill in celebration.

    I still remember being a 17-year-old high school senior and coming to the UNI-Dome for my first Northern Iowa basketball game. I had decided that fall I was headed to UNI for school and, being somewhat of a basketball fan at the time, wanted to see what kind of team we had.

    I don't remember who UNI played, or how badly they got beat. All I remember is that they played poorly and got beat rather handily. I turned to my uncle and said, "Well, at least we've got football." I knew that UNI had never been particularly good at hoops. The only bright spot I was aware of was the year the Panthers stunned 3-seed Missouri back in- well, I couldn't remember.

    The next year I had watched UNI Football make it to the semi-finals of the playoffs. Getting excited for next year's team was a given. Getting excited for Greg McDermott's first year at the helm of the basketball program, on the other hand...

    One of my greatest regrets came in early December when my friend and I opted out of seeing UNI play Iowa in the UNI-Dome. Iowa came in ranked No. 8 in the nation and UNI was expected to be playing in the Humbliest of Humblies, the play-in games in St. Louis for the MVC Tournament.

    They would, but I would never be prepared for what happened as we watched fans spill out of the Dome. My friend rolled down the window of his car upon seeing an Iowa fan walking out.

    "Who won?" he asked.

    "---- you," was the reply. My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief. That could only mean one thing...

    We saw a group of UNI fans spilling out, considerably more upbeat. "Hey, who won the game?" my friend asked again.

    "We did!" Said one ecstatic woman.

    From there it was the lead story of SportsCenter. This plucky little school from Cedar Falls, and blah blah blah. It would be the first time I would remember getting stuck with such a demeaning adjective. We didn't care at the time, it was something to hold on to.

    UNI finished that year 14-15, and the next one 11-17. I don't seem to recall anyone losing patience with Coach Greg McDermott. It was almost as if everyone has resigned themselves to being a football school. Those who followed UNI at all, that is. There are now students at UNI who can't believe that there wasn't always this passion for the Purple and Gold. If only they knew...

    I had become a full-fledged member of the Pep Band my junior year, and became familiar with a lot of the names many Panther fans will remember for years to come. Ben Jacobson (the player), Erik Crawford, John Little, David Gruber, Eric Coleman, Pete Schmidt, Chris Foster, Brooks McKowen, you name it.

    That year in St. Louis UNI finally defeated Missouri State in double overtime in what many Valley fans still remember as being one of the best games they've ever seen in the ScottTrade Center. UNI had slaughtered its demons and was going to the tournament for the first time since 1990. It was almost too much for me, but I knew one thing: Greg McDermott had turned me into a loyal Panther Basketball fan.

    It was over the course of the next few years that I would realize something I will know as fact for the rest of my life: basketball is the kind of game that gives you all the reason to pay it respect and love. Love it I did, as I suddenly found myself enraptured not just with UNI Basketball, but Valley Basketball, and the colorful history of the game in general. I loved the idea of setting screens, playing great post defense, and wide open threes as a result of a well-executed play.

    My love was always returned, for better or for worse. When Greg McDermott left UNI for Iowa State, some said "It was a good ride while it lasted." I never believed that. I'd been observant enough over the past few seasons to know that Ben Jacobson (the coach) would take the torch. When he did, I thought the program was being left in good hands.

    Speaking of which, if I could talk to Ben Jacobson now, I would tell him this:

    "Coach, I am indescribably sorry for ever having doubted you. There were times in your first two years that I thought maybe you weren't cut out for this job. I just want to tell you that I've never been more wrong; you are PERFECT for this job."

    Those first two years were frustrating as I watched UNI miss the postseason. It was almost too much as I watched Drake in the 07-08 season run roughshod throughout the MVC and seem to offend almost everyone as they did it. Crowds that used to be 3,500 in Des Moines swelled to 7,000 and everyone was a fan of Adam Emmenecker and Company.

    Everyone but me, as it seemed.

    I watched a fanbase claim it was destiny as they beat everyone with nothing more than pure moxie. It was impressive to watch, but the "nanner nanner nanner" attitude they took towards Panther fans in the process was a bit off-putting. Then I saw them eliminate Illinois State in unceremonious fashion in the MVC Championship, destroying any chance the Redbirds had of an at-large bid.

    Drake didn't care. They had a date with destiny. The MVC was of no consequence.

    Ron Smith once said "The Valley always rewards those who love it in return." The Valley had been shunned, and the retribution was IMMEDIATE. Drake, a 5-seed and the only team from the MVC to go to the Dance, was picked off in overtime by 12-seed Western Kentucky. The Bulldogs forgot that defense is at least 50% of the game, if not more. It seemed like a karmic backlash I hadn't seen in a long time.

    Keno Davis seemed like he had his bags packed and ready to go to Providence once the season was over. Drake would fade back into obscurity as quickly as their star had risen.

    Karma, anyone?

    I swore that if fortune like that ever smiled on UNI, I would ride along with grace and respect. I would have never dreamed it would happen just the next season. I watched with hope as a scared and wide-eyed team still gave it their all against Purdue as a 12-seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. There was a lot of hope for, after all: it was no secret that UNI was returning all but senior Travis Brown the next year.

    I don't have to tell you what happened next. I DO want to tell you about something I thought was very interesting: while UNI had taken off to unprecedented heights in what would no doubt be a memorable season, there was another. Yes, the Wichita State Shockers and Coach Gregg Marshall were quietly biding their time this entire season, looking strong and being one of the few to beat UNI in 09-10.

    I'll admit: I've never been much of a fan of WSU. This year was different though. They were clearly winning with respect and humility. This was never more prevalent than when my father and I were in St. Louis for the MVC Tournament. Two Wichita State fans (I really wish I would have gotten their names) were nothing but pleasant the whole weekend as we talked basketball. My dad and I couldn't help but root for them to make it to the finals. It wasn't just them, though. Every WSU fan we talked to was humble and wanted nothing more than to learn about our Team With Many Syllables In Their Names. Lo and behold, they did make it to the finals, and all I can say is watch out for Wichita State in seasons to come.

    I couldn't help but swell with pride at the way UNI fans kept deflecting praise, saying "Oh, we haven't won anything yet." I've always felt that anytime I wear UNI gear I am an ambassador of the University, and I was ecstatic to see others believe the same thing. We as fans earned a fair reputation nationally last season for being absolutely insane during games, but at the end of the day? Let's have a drink with these Bradley fans whose team we just beat.

    That's when I couldn't help but think of those words again: "The Valley rewards those who love it in return." That basketball team did a marvelous job of representing its school and its proud community well, and they were rewarded in return. The intrinsic benefits I took from last season are immeasurable. I have new-found pride in my school, my community, and my fellow human beings. It's a strange feeling to describe to those who weren't along for the ride last season.

    Oh, but what a ride it was. And what a ride I hope it will continue to be. Despite it all, I sincerely believe the best is yet to come...

    "Once it starts, it never ends."
    -Eldon Miller

  • #2
    Re: 2010-11 Article: Chapter I

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