In Which a Four-Day Trip to Spokane Gets Serialized…(cont.)
Chapter Three (Verse Three): Green Lights, Black Shirts, Nameless Jerseys, and One Hell of a Blowout.
There’s always so much optimism in a Zag crowd. Everyone’s all happy and cheery and “Weewee Zags!” It’s touching really. Now, as for me, it was sometime in December when I realized this Zag team was not, how you say?, all that awesome. Watching them has generally become a chore of boredom, frustration, and general whistfulness for the days of yore when Casey Calvary dunked on some fool’s brain and then stared him down, knowing full well that Casey would just as soon eat the guy’s babies as not. Now, it’s all Josh Heytvelt flying in to jam a miss after the whistle or scream like a banshee after blocking someone’s shot or pulling down a rebound. In short, there’s something very, very, different about this GU team. They aren’t tough, they only play such on TV. But, I suppose I’ve had enough time with my thoughts to come to terms with them. I’m over it. They’ll lose early in the tournament, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. Wake me up in November.
The rest of Zag World, though? They’re all kinds of ready for this Memphis game. I predicted GU would win, but I wasn’t expecting any kind of Final Four-calibre performance. They’re just better at basketball than Memphis. Other people, though, are touting GU’s number one overall field goal percentage defense and looking at the Portland game (really?) two days before and deciding that these guys are for real once again. Memphis was just going to be another step in the final countdown that pushed these Zags towards a Final Four.
Then the game starts. The crowd was totally geeked up. Did I mention that one yet? Well, they were. It almost defied what a Spokane Arena crowd was supposed to be. We limited student seats to a paltry 400, added a few thousand Spokanites, and expected it to be bonkers in there? For some crazy reason, it was. It was definitely an Old Kennel crowd. It was 2001 all over again for me. My seat’s close enough to the KC that I actually feel like I was sardined on those bleachers again. We’re “Go, Gonzaga, G-O-N-Z-A-G-A”-in’ like there’s no tomorrow. My head hurt and my voice was all scratchy, and it wasn’t even three minutes in.
Oh…three minutes in. That’s pretty much about the time where the wheels flew right the hell off. At that point, the game was effectively over. Of course it didn’t officially end until an hour and a half later, but it did so in a mess of laze, standin’, stars on the bench, and some very disappointed Zag fans. Three examples:
1) At the final buzzer, I heard more than a few smattering of boos. Imagine! A Zag crowd six or seven years ago booing a Zag team? Never. Never on your life, and if anyone told me back then that it would ever happen, I’d have told them they were a liar. But they were there. In large, people were cheering and waving their white towels (symbolism?) to show that they were still behind the team, but there were definitely some pissed off people.
2) At the end of the game, I get a call from my friend Kyle who’s sitting next to A&T the Whiskey Killa. Turns out A&T got so angry/blacked out that he stormed off and wandered away into the night. Where did he go? Nobody knows. But he was pissed. When we finally caught up with him outside the Arena, he was yelling about how the team was “dead” to him. Then when we got back to the hotel room, he was still yelling suchly, but also began throwing his fully-packed duffle bag all over the room. Sure, it might have been the whiskey talking, but I think he was mostly just really angry.
3) I personally watched the game next to El Cazador. At the beginning of the game (you know, Happy Cheer Time?), he’s That Guy who’s high-fiving randoms and yelling “Go Zags!” inside “Rock and Roll Part II.” Once halftime rolled around, though, he was sufficiently off the bandwagon, at least for the night. From the start of halftime until the end of the game, he assumed the following position, and didn’t budge, not even when I started smacking him on the leg once Meech tossed that 3/4 court alley-oop:
Sad, huh? Notice how his shirt says “BOULDIN” across the front. Yikes, especially considering how the BOULDIN in question spent the better part of the second half on the bench.
So, yeah, the mood after the game was not exactly a happy one. So many people walking out of the Arena were downright pissed. Grumbly grumbly pissed. “Why can’t they rebound?” pissed. “Why the crazy substitutions and odd game plan?” pissed. It’s been so rare that a Zag team gets as thoroughly outplayed as they were Saturday against Memphis that people were completely dumbfounded. Think back over the last ten years. If you can think of many more times than three that the Zags looked like they did against Memphis, I’ll give you some money. In the end, I think that’s why everyone was so upset. What they saw at the Arena was so unlike any other Zag team they could ever remember watching. They hold their Zags to a high standard, and well they should. The problem here though, and ultimately the reason why the Memphis loss did not hurt me in the slightest, is that I’ve come to realize that this is who this team is. In fact, I can barely remember a time this season where I didn’t think that they were different, that they played weaker, stupider, lazier than any other Zag team in the last 10 years. Yet, somehow, thousands of people still held out hope going into the Memphis game. Maybe they still do, even now, but I cannot help but think about the past when I watch this team play (even, and probably especially, last night). We’ve created some kind of standard for Zag teams based on the past. All Josh Heytvelts must be Casey Calvarys and Ronny Turiafs. All Jeremy Pargos must be Dan Dickaus and Blake Stepps. All Micah Downses must be Erroll Knights and all Austin Dayes must be Adam Morrisons.
In short, we have become Jay Gatsby. What we’ve built for ourselves, this team we’ve created, is not reality. The 2008-2009 Zags are not like any Zag team we’ve ever seen. They are at once more skilled and infinitely weaker. This is it. We might be holding on, throwing cocktail parties by the pool and going into the city on weekends, telling stories about our glorious service in the Great War, but all that stuff’s a mirage.
This team, this group of incredible individual talent, is currently doing a sad impression of the Gonzaga Bulldogs you once knew. I expect that things will be ok once again, maybe even as early as next year. But as for this season? I cannot help but think that the past we’re chasing, that Daisy we’re looking for, is impossible.