Well, almost. Wednesday was Iowa State’s women’s basketball media day, which means college hoops season can’t be far behind. It seems like the Cyclones usually get the jump on most teams with their media day, and maybe it’s because Bill Fennelly is as eager as the rest of us lunatics to get this thing going.
It used to be – before the WNBA came into existence and when I was, perhaps, not so well-rounded a person with various interests (cough) _ that college season would end, and then I would plunge into a depression. I would start to come out of it around June when baseball could finally cheer me up enough to lift the fog.
My worst depression year was 1985, when I just sat on the floor of my room after returning from what was then still called Northeast Louisiana. The Missouri women had played there in the NCAA Tournament, and another reporter, Diane, a photographer, Jeff, and I had driven down there for the game.
We left in the late afternoon from Columbia, ate dinner at Waffle House in Springfield, Mo., drove all night and then arrived in Louisiana. Once in Monroe, we went looking for a place to eat breakfast and decided on Shoney’s.
As we saw one in the distance, suddenly there was a thump. A woman getting off her shift at a hospital had pulled into traffic and not seen us. It wasn’t a bad accident, but it left a big dent in the side of Diane’s car.
Diane was from Mahwah, N.J., a maniac Bruce Springsteen fan and probably wouldn’t even have objected to being called the moodiest person on earth. So Jeff and I were pretty surprised she handled the accident as well as she did. It would only be later when it really “set in” for Di that she had a big ol’ dented car … as in on the drive home, when I don’t believe she spoke in any more than mono-syllabic grunts for the last eight hours of the trip.
Missouri lost in overtime to Northeast Louisiana, which went on to the Final Four that year. Now, I didn’t have a computer then. Not even one of the old TRS-80 (or Trash-80s, as we called them) from Radio Shack. I was writing for the MU student paper and we still typed on paper and gave it to a typesetter when we were in town. I wouldn’t work on computers until the next year.
Anyway, my still great buddy Mike Holtzclaw was the guy assigned to take dictation from me. I wrote a story down on a legal pad and called him. I assume I must have called collect, as I had no phone card. Mike was working at one of those junky old typewriters we used to have in the office of a the junky building in which the newspaper was then located. It seems surreal now, how little technology we had and how much we didn’t mind because we didn’t know any different.
Diane was working for the school of journalism’s paper, and she did her story and filed it. I don’t think Jeff had any way to transmit pictures … I’m sure he took plenty, but mostly he liked going on road trips to absolutely anything as a way to not have to go to class.
We went back to our hotel after the game, and I was feeling sad about the Tigers. While it’s embarrassing to admit now, when you’re in college covering a team, you often are not very objective. Or at least I wasn’t with that team. The best Tiger in history, Joni Davis, ended her career that night. And the other “best Tiger” Renee Kelly – they are the two MU women’s hoops players to have their jerseys retired – was a sophomore then.
I was thinking about the press conference … the two seniors Joni Davis and Mary Brueggestrass (yeah, that was a hell of a name to have to fit in a headline) were actually comforting the sophomore Kelly, because she was the one who was crying her eyes out.
The movie “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymore was on in our hotel and even though it was pure schlock, I started crying watching it. Because I felt sad basketball season was over and Joni Davis’ career was finished and I’d never see her play ball again.
The next day, we drove in near silence back to Columbia, Mo., which isn’t exactly around the corner from Louisiana, and then it was time for spring break. Uggghh! Depression. Later, I watched the Final Four on TV. Then basketball was really over. Deeper depression. My little dog, Dolly, had died in January, and that added to my morose state of mind.
My mom had an idea to change that. She told me that we were “going for a ride” one morning, and then we pulled up in front of a strange house. I walked in, wondering what was going on … and there was a room of puppies.
The woman there told me to sit on a chair and just look at them for a while and then pick out the one I wanted. I was too surprised to even say anything. Then a puppy came over and sat on my foot, while his siblings continued chasing each other all over the room.
He became my dog soul mate, Cager. He passed away nearly 11 years ago, and I still have dreams where I really feel I’m kissing his head and holding him in my arms and smelling his hair. Among so many other things he did for me, Cager got me over the Great Hoops Depression of 1985.
My second-worst basketball depression was in 1992, when the great Virginia program of that time lost in the Final Four and I feared it would be the last time I’d see Dawn Staley play. I just wasn’t sure what her Olympic future would be. Thankfully, the ABL and then the WNBA came along soon enough (and Dawn became a stellar Olympian) as pro women’s basketball in the United States became a great salve for post-Final Four depression.
Now, honest to goodness, I really did become more well-rounded _ thanks in large part to some really good pals and the fact that maturity seems to catch up with all of us sooner or later. (Me=later). And so I don’t get depressed when college season ends now. (Well, not too much.) Nonetheless, there is still that feeling of impending salvation when the weather starts to get a little brisk, and the leaves are changing and stores are full of Halloween candy and overpriced custumes.
The WNBA season was extended into October, of course, because it’s an Olympic year, so I have had a good amount of “basketball fix” very recently. But just seeing that the Cyclones had their media day made me think of Joni and Mary and Jeff and Diane and Cager and Dawn and how glad I am to be looking on the front side of another college season again.