I started this about a week ago, kind of forgot about it. I had one of those “sleep won’t come” nights tonight; I sometimes try to write when i can’t sleep.
My nachos were in my left hand, my right hand was over my heart as we honored America and Old Glory, with some vocal group’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. I was standing in front of the aisle seat in row 12, Section LS5 (behind the south backboard) in the LNC (Lloyd Noble Center).
My Oklahoma Sooners were preparing to take on the Iowa State Cyclones: the student section was overflowing and a little bit crazier than I had observed in recent years. The rest of the place wasn’t full, but it was close and the students’ enthusiasm kind of spread and even had old guys like me a little bit excited and ready for some basketball. The game was close and the crowd remained extremely vocal, reminded me a little bit of the way it used to be.
As the evening progressed I caught myself literally and figuratively glancing over my shoulder at row 18. For about 25 years our seats were in row 18, I always sat on the aisle.
I moved down a little this year; just thought a change might be good; I think it is good, but I have some great memories of those years in row 18.
We made some good friends in row 18 and the surrounding area; not the kind of friends you invite for dinner or the kind you spend time with in May or July or September. The kind you see at the LNC fifteen or so times between November and March. Guys and gals like Hoot, Dave (the other one), the professor, Bernie, Sandy, Hayden and the Seminole county used car dealer and there were others.
The common bond is Sooner Hoops, but you get to know and care a little bit about their families and what goes on in their world, then when the clock winds down, and the final buzzer ends another season, everyone exchanges nonchalant “see you guys next year’s” and just assume it will happen.
I never knew the professor’s name, I believe he taught history, we visited across the aisle when his wife was pregnant and looked forward to seeing his little girl each November; and then suddenly his little girl was all grown up and gone. I remember the ugly red sweats he wore before he was a dad and I remember the same red sweats as he and his wife adjusted to the empty nest. Sometime between ’08 and ’12 he and the red sweats failed the “see you next year” test; I hope he is doing well and I really hope he burned those sweats.
Hoot and Betty (I think) sat behind us for a few seasons. Hoot had been around Norman forever, he was a loyal Sooner fan and a name dropper, and he always had some interesting stories and was eager to share them. I still remember some of the stories but they are a little too personal to share in a public blog. Hoot was a diabetic and had to miss a lot of games because of the illness. We were disappointed and saddened but not surprised about 15 or 20 years ago when “see you next year” didn’t happen for Hoot.
Dave and his son Tyler sat in row 17 for a few years. I think Dave carried Tyler in until he was about six so he didn’t have to buy a ticket. They were both true basketball fans; they understood the game and didn’t hesitate to openly disagree with referees’ calls and coaching decisions and game strategy. I think Tyler became a pretty good player and his season conflicted with the Sooner season. You guessed it we didn’t see them next year.
Sandy and Hayden sat at the other end of row 18, down past Sharyl, Luke, Braxton, Dava and Rick for a few years. Hayden grew up and went away to college. Sandy got tired of looking through the backboard and found a more desirable place to sit. We still saw them once or twice a season; they dropped by row 18 last year, to say hi and make sure the old man was doing OK. Thanks guys, I’m down in row 12 now.
The Seminole county or maybe it was Hughes county used car dealer and his wife sat directly in front of Sharyl and me for a lot of years. They were almost always at the games but they were kind of quiet. He always had an unlit cigar in his mouth and his wife always had candy for Luke and Braxton. I am not sure why we didn’t see them next year; probably about ’06 or ’07.
Another family that was kind of fun to watch a game with took those seats. We really never developed any more than a speaking acquaintance with them.
Bernie and Yulanda replaced Dave and Tyler in row 17. Yulanda was quiet and reserved but seemed to enjoy the game of basketball. Quiet, reserved and Bernie don’t belong in the same sentence, at least not at a Sooner game. He understood the game, but he didn’t understand nor accept that his Sooners sometimes lost. He also fully believed that anyone on the floor with a striped shirt and a whistle didn’t like his Sooners. At halftime he always came and sat in the aisle and we reviewed the first half and put together a second half game plan.
A couple games before the final buzzer of the ’07 ’08 season Bernie was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Yes, we ended the season with the typical “see you guys next year” but it was probably more of a question. Like so many, Bernie gave it his best shot but Cancer won.
That same final buzzer was also the last time Sharyl would watch her Sooners from row 18. My trips to the LNC became very infrequent and not very fun for the next few years.
So far row 12 isn’t what row 18 used to be, but it is better than row 18 was last year and the year before that. There is only one group that appear to be season ticket holders. Two couples sit in row eleven; I have attempted to establish a “see you next year” friendship with them but they don’t appear eager to expand their social circle. Oh well, it’s their loss.
We sat in row 9, same section for almost as many years for Sooner women’s basketball. I think Sharyl is the only one missing from that group of “see you guys net year” friends. I think some of them read what I write; so all I will say to or about them is, thanks for the support during the difficult times.
To all of you, please consider a donation to your comfort level to the Cancer research organization of your choice. We need to whip that god awful thing.
Good Night and God Bless.