I remember the place goin’ absolutely nuts. I’d been covering sports for a few years by then, and had not experienced anything like it up to that point. Probably wasn’t going to last, but the 17,000 strong in the Civic Arena on March 14, 1997, especially the two newlyweds sitting back left of the visitor’s basket, halfway up the bowl, were going to ride it for as long as they possibly could. 

A #15 seed who had never won an NCAA tournament game, was going absolutely toe-to-toe with the #2, among the favorites that year to win the whole thing.

The emotional experience of it is remarkable, when you think about it. The only strong feeling I could claim when we took our seats for tipoff was for my nachos, and the small mountain of jalapenos I had gratuitously spooned between the two sidecars of melted cheese. 

Allegiance, emotion, that must be earned. Like steaming hot nacho cheese, it is not to be squandered.

The process is both a methodical and fragile one. 

You go from mere detached observing, not really caring, to an objective acknowledging — “… ooh, nice pass  …,” “… good D.” 

Stack enough of those together “… ooh, he’s feelin’ it ….” … then the pilot light kicks on. 

You start to lean in. 

All right, let’s go ….” 

It is at this point you formally place your wager … in the form of your heart. 

It’s not that you necessarily believe … yet. That’s not the point. You know going in that the odds are not in your favor. 

But now you got somethin’ to root for. 

And isn’t that really what you show up for in the first place? 

Karry and I were absolutely caught up in it. Sitting in seats I’d won — for a term paper I’d written for my Sports Marketing class at Duquesne University, which just happened to be hosting the opening rounds of March Madness, a first for the city in 1997.

For us it was a rare outing. About six months removed from our I-Dos, she was working full-time while I was taking a full load of graduate classes on top of research assistantship while also working part-time evenings at the newspaper in Washington. We’d sandwiched our attendance into an afternoon before my Friday evening shift at the paper. I remember feeling like a big shot using my Duquesne parking pass at the school’s garage to avoid the insane prices around the arena, yielding me a little extra nacho money in the process. 

I don’t remember much about the early games themselves, which (refreshing my memory with a quick Googling) largely went according to script. Sixth-seeded Louisville held serve over #11 UMass, #3 New Mexico eeked out a win over #14 Old Dominion, while #10 Texas scored a modest upset over #7 Wisconsin.

What I do remember is delighting in how much Karry was into it. She wasn’t much of a basketball fan before we met, but had started to pick up some of the game’s nuances through osmosis. I remember we had barely settled into our seats for the first game when she commented, “That’s one of those rolling pick … things.” 

I remember hi-fiving my co-pilot.  

We calculated we could stay until about midway through the first half of the night cap, which would give me enough time to drop her off at our tiny apartment before heading in to work. Remember thinking we may not even want to stay that long. 

Coppin State, a 15-seed, took the court as a 30-point underdog to #2-seeded South Carolina, which would’ve been a #1 seed had it not lost in the SEC Championship game that year. Not only had the Eagles never won an NCAA tournament game, their conference – the MEAC – had never won a game in the history of the tournament.  

We knew nothing about Coppin State. 

First thing that caught our attention, during the team introductions, was that their coach was named “Fang.” 

And in the first couple minutes, that they came to play some defense. 

Objective acknowledgement. 

And, while their offense was cool early, their guard Danny Singletary was stacking enough shots to keep ‘em close. You could tell he was feelin’ it. 

Midway through the first half, at the point where we should’ve been getting up to leave, the pilot light kicked on. 

We started to lean in.

“Stay ’til halftime?” 

While the Eagles continued to ignore the spread, Coach Fang grew more impossible to ignore on the sidelines, his animated antics casting spells over his team, and, slowly, over the portion of the 17,000 of us not from South Carolina.

It’s a singular experience to be amongst thousands of strangers without a rooting interest as they find common ground behind an underdog, and slowly swell into a unified crescendo. 

To go from not caring to caring deeply. 

We placed our wager. 

At the half, the score was knotted at 34. 

All right, let’s go ….” 

Getting up from our seats I remember telling Karry that a #15 never beats a #2, that we’d already seen the best part. South Carolina was too good to get beat by an unknown. 

Whistling in the graveyard I was. 

She gave me a wary look. She did not want to leave. In retrospect, she probably would’ve called my ass an Uber if such had been around at the time. 

We were running late by this point, so I remember she just dropped me off at work.

The rest is history. 

Coppin State became only the third #15 to upset a #2 in the tournament’s history, and the first to win by double-digits (78-65). I just read that they just released a new documentary on that game this week, such has their legend remained. 

And we missed it. 

Karry was pissed. 

I remember I did get a decent column out of it … likening my pride in growing Karry into a genuine basketball fanatic to that of Dr. Frankenstein creating life itself. Still remember my closing line, “Although I bet Dr. Frankenstein didn’t have to sleep on the couch.”  

Shoulda called in sick. 


Last Monday my son texts me, “Opening Round in Columbus Friday?”

Me: This has bad decision written all over it. You should totally look into it.

I sanity check with Karry. She gives us the green light. 

I search Air BnB for Friday night in Columbus. Find a spot a few miles from the arena. In the meantime, he scores us tickets for both Friday sessions. 

Game on. 

Monday night I come home from work and report a tickle in my throat. 

“Heck, I’ll go if Dad can’t make it,” Karry chimes in without anyone having to ask. 

By Wednesday my head is pouring from both my eyes and my nose. Wednesday night I spend in chills under multiple blankets. Thursday morning I can’t get out of bed. Manage a shower at noon, and lug myself to Med Express, where they confirm me positive for flu.

This time I had no choice but to call in sick. I was too ill to even complete my brackets.

I break the news to my son, ask him to confirm if Karry is still up for being his wing man. 


I inform our Air BnB host of the substitution to our starting lineup.

They leave for Columbus Friday morning, while I am still flat on my back. 


Games started at 12:15.

I sent a couple of texts around noon.

Things were not going well. 

After a 10-minute walk in the rain from the parking lot to the entrance, Karry was forced back to the car by security, who wouldn’t let her carry her purse-backpack into the arena. After getting soaked trudging back and forth, she had to make the near vertical climb to the top bowl at Nationwide Arena, where she pledged to remain firmly bolted through the entire first session, such is her fear of heights. 

The early games played out mostly as expected, #7 Michigan State holding serve over #10 USC, #2 Marquette dispatching #15 Vermont. 

I traded texts with Karry as they settled into their seats for the second session. 

She: This is a lot for me, in case you did not know that. 

Me: Yes, I knew it would be.

She: Mentally and physically exhausting. 

Me: And you will never forget it. 

From my bed I found the live stream of the game. It had the makings of a blowout. #1 seed Purdue was favored by 23.5 points.

I knew nothing about Farleigh Dickinson. During the intros the announcers mentioned that they were the smallest men’s team in the entire tournament. I concluded that the Knights, and therefore my co-pilot and wing man, were in for a long night. 

FDU knocked down a couple shots early on. 

And watching their swarming defense, it was obvious they had a definite game plan, such as it was, for Purdue and their 7-4 center Zach Edey. 

Objective acknowledgement.

Every time Purdue sank a basket, the pesky Knights seemed to have an answer. They kept things close through most of the first half. I refrained from texting my wife and son. Didn’t want to jinx things. 

Pilot light kicked on, though.

During halftime I switched channels to watch Kentucky play, and kept an eye along the top of the screen while the scores of all the other games updated. Saw that Purdue quickly pulled ahead by five at the start of the second half. This is where the #1 team reminds the #16 team who’s #1, I figured. 

Couple minutes later FDU had tied it up, though. They weren’t going away. You allow an underdog to hang around long enough and they start to believe. 

I switched back to watch. Made my wager. 

I had somethin’ to root for … specifically, my co-pilot and my wing man.

Kept waiting for Purdue to remember who they were, but the Knights didn’t give ‘em the chance. They were too busy reminding themselves who they were. With under a minute and a half left, Sean Moore, playing the game of his life in his hometown, hit a dagger three-pointer from the top of the key to put FDU up five and I finally text my co-pilot. 

Me: How we doin’ …? 

The rest is history. 

This time, I didn’t miss it. 

Best of all, Karry was there to see it live. 

I celebrated with a shot of Nyquill, and wished my home team a goodnight. 

Karry and Peter still had one more game to go, the nightcap between Memphis and Florida Atlantic. 

In the morning I asked Karry if they stayed until the end. 

“You think your son would leave early?” 


I always think about Coppin State this time of year. Coach Mitchell stalking the sidelines, casting spells. 

Think about earning tickets for us to the Big Dance, tickets we couldn’t otherwise afford.

Think about the whirlwind of getting married … going back to school … carving out a life from our tiny apartment.

Formally placing our wager, I guess you could say. 

It wasn’t that we necessarily believed … yet. We knew going in that the odds were not in our favor. But we were going to ride it for as long as we possibly could. 

When you’re underdogs, you don’t take things for granted.

I think about how good those nachos tasted. 

Think about having to leave when it was just getting good … because there was work to be done.

Was thinking about all that Friday night …  lying in bed and feeling like crap, my co-pilot sitting next to our oldest high above it all. 

Twenty-six years later and counting, and still an unapologetic sucker for a good Cinderella ending. 

There is a lot to be said for having somethin’ to root for. 

Rearview Mirror, Righteous riffs

Colophon: March 6-10

In no particular order … an incomplete, un-edited, accounting of the stuff that got me through the week:

Monday afternoon, inviting some student leaders from BYU’s Experience Design program to our team’s weekly meeting. Co-creating the agenda with Michaela, a senior in the program. Her showing up prepared with some custom slides to guide the menu we’d discussed (she, a badass). Their team giving us a prompt for our Story Circle, “How did you get here?” Every answer a window into each other’s Story. Me, choosing not to overthink it, confessing how I am here in spite of myself, and (still) basking in awe at that fact.

Not getting back to sleep Monday night and instead of the obligatory trying in vain to doze, getting outta bed and going downstairs to write, finishing something for Karry to read on her late morning work break.

Getting a hand-written letter in the mail from my niece on Monday, and saving it until Wednesday morning, when I knew I would need it most. Walking outside to tear the envelope so I could savor it while listening to the chattering birds whispering their reminders that today matters. 

That letter filling my cup full, and me needing every ounce of it on a Wednesday that drained it to the dregs. 

Leaving the office late, depleted, for home and Peter texting me asking about dinner. Said I was thinking pasta since I assumed I’d be solo. Five minutes later, he shooting me a recipe he found and a shortlist of ingredients to pick up on my way home.

Getting home a few minutes before him, filling the pasta pot, getting out the cutting board, peeling the garlic, making us salads. He coming home from his Wednesday classes and commencing to chef up the new recipe. Calling new tunes for me to hear (he’s digging Ghost these days). While he worked and I sipped from a freshly cracked Malbec, our easy conversation the best Wednesday medicine. Filling our plates full and watching Duquesne in the A-10 tourney. While the Dukes lost, Peter’s delicious dish earning an automatic bid to our future family dinner bracket. Coming this close to crushing an entire box of pasta between us. Sun-dried tomatoes … who knew? 

In my Friday morning feed, a jet-lagged Patti Smith, from her tender room, her cat Cairo in her lap, honoring John Cale, her late-husband Fred Smith, and her kindred spirit Robert, on the anniversary of the latter’s day of passing, reading just the most beautiful passage from their story, Just Kids, the product of a promise kept, nine years in the making.

Staying up late Thursday night putting slides together for a Friday client meeting that I really wanted to slay. Rising early Friday morning on little sleep but with an epiphany. Scrap my slides. Tell a story. On my 45-mile commute into work, randomly tuning in a random episode of a podcast I’d only dipped toes in, and the episode the perfect pre-presentation pump up, had me literally clapping and shouting affirmations at the stop light into the industrial park, drawing the most curious stares from the car next to me. Clicking into my client meeting shot out of a cannon and fully caffeinated, naked of slides, armed only with a (glorious) story. Me OK with whatever the outcome, knowing I served their curiosity and attention as best I could, and gave them the best possible window into my humble offering. Authenticity over polish. 

My Friday work week ending on the highest of notes with my monthly connection with my P.S.F. (Professional Serendipity Friend), and listening to her gloriously effervescing hours after returning home with her husband from a sacred return pilgrimage to New Orleans. Us feverishly making notes of treasures to share with the other. Our conversational jazz making time melt (like all good jazz does). 

Karry calling me on my way home, confessing the weather too gray and cold to go back out in (me agreeing), and she calling in a takeout order from the Catholic Church Lenten fish fry across town, me picking it up, and us sitting lights out in the living room in the glow of Friday night whatever’s on, communing over church kitchen cole slaw, fries, hushpuppies and Heinz-baptized cod.  

Saturday morning, listening to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, steaming coffee in my favorite Saturday mug, my antenna still up … and typin’. 


The Road Ahead

Something To Look Forward To

Going through mail late Wednesday night after a long week of long travel, I noticed a letter from a friend, a single rose amongst all the junk mail. Rather than opening it on the spot, I made plans to save it until Saturday morning, where I might savor it at the coffee shop down the road, where our friendship was born a handful of years ago. Lately, I’ve tried to make a point of giving myself things to look forward to. When it works well, my Saturday mornings become sacred spaces, a chance to replenish some measure of all the week’s taxes. 

Yesterday, though, had a few plot twists that kept me from filling my cup, both figuratively and literally. It was well past 1 p.m. and I found myself driving around after running a couple errands.  Robbed of my ritual, my head was not in the best of spaces. The coffee shop closes at 1:30 on Saturdays, so I’d missed my window. 

I was about to return home, where I’d probably grumpily wallow through the rest of a ruined Saturday, when I remembered I still had the unopened letter in my bag. On a whim I navigated to the Eat n’ Park off Oak Springs Road, which I hadn’t visited in years, but which was in heavy rotation when the kids were younger. Pulling into an open parking spot triggered a memory of an Eat n’ Park Saturday long past, when Peter, maybe 9 at the time, attempted to order a Boys’ Day-Out lunch consisting of mashed potatoes, a baked potato, french fries and potato chips. I remember telling him at that time that if his mother was with us, she would stab him in the eye with a fork.

I wasn’t really hungry, and I’d already had the morning’s coffee, but the idea of a big table and a comfy booth sounded … comforting for some reason. 

The hostess seated me near the front.

So, hours late, off schedule and way off course, I exhaled from my comfy booth and fished the letter from my bag.

Though deep into his 80’s, my friend Jim writes his letters with a calligrapher’s hand (though he saves his best penmanship for his poems).

As one whose handwriting has degraded so much that I have long resorted to typing my letters (though I try salvaging a measure of dignity by choosing a typewriter font … lame, I know), I delight in reading the hand of others. Tearing open the letter, I pluck just a brief note from my friend. Letting me know that the timing of my last letter to him was of great encouragement, as he received it on the day of his wife Mary’s passing. He had only months ago placed her in a personal care facility, after caring for her for years and through the Pandemic as she slipped further into dementia. In his last letter to me he wrote unflinchingly, achingly but beautifully about being physically separated from his wife for the first time in their 66 years of marriage. A minister and former Army chaplain during his long full life, Jim always writes mindful of God’s audience, which begs an even greater reverence from his fortunate reader. 

He closed his short note by sharing that his final Valentine’s gift to Mary was a new book of poems he’d written over the past three years, finished several days before she passed. The title: The Road Bends Upwards (those four words a poem unto themselves). 

He wrote in my letter that Mary chuckled when he read the collection’s dedication to her over the phone … 

Duck your head

Close your eyes

Take my hand

And we will walk this road

One more time 


My eyes filled as I read his words.

The ineffability of the inevitable disassembling of a long love on this earth. And still the poet reaches for the only tool he knows to claim the shaky ground beneath him. Knowing the effort will come nowhere close to its mark. Just as any long love misses as much as it aims at. Grief rendered in all its aching beauty.

Yes to that. 

I still held Jim’s note in my hand when the server stopped by my table to take my order. I somehow managed to mumble an order without my voice catching and then just sat there. 

A few minutes later my server brought me my sandwich. I began mindlessly picking at it. 

From my booth near the front, I faced the hostess station, so got to see everyone who came in. 

I was maybe midway through my sandwich when I looked up and saw an older couple being led to their table. They had to be in their 70s, maybe older (I’ve never tried to be good at guessing such things). They cut quite a contrasting presence. He was bald, tall and broad. She was his diminutive opposite, short, petite with a shock of straight gray. Candidly, though, I may not have given them a second thought, still so deep and lost in my figurative and literal sitting with the contents of Jim’s letter … if it wasn’t for one thing that caught my eye.

They held hands.

And took their good time in no great hurry. Heads high, looking forward, not saying a word as they followed the hostess in front of them.

The way they held each other’s hand, in their mismatched nylon coats, I swear to God they walked the worn carpet of our old Eat n’ Park like they were walking down the aisle of a church.

As if they hadn’t lost a step in probably the 50 years that passed since their I dos. 

It was like, in each other’s hand, they were reaching for the only tool they knew to claim the shaky ground beneath them.

Yes to that. 

Thanks to Jim’s friendship, his letter, his example, I found myself mindful of God’s audience. How else could I account for choosing to wait to open his letter until Saturday? My careful Saturday morning plans blowing up?  Finding myself at an Eat n’ Park I hadn’t visited in years to crack open his beautiful letter? Looking up from my front row seat to catch the fleeting glimpse of an old love still standing the test of time? 

And in the process … giving me something to look forward to … well beyond the end of any week. 

So, in between bites of my turkey club, I claimed the shaky ground beneath me, to honor my friend and his beloved. 

To stab at the ineffable, knowing going in that the effort would come nowhere close to its mark.

Love misses as much as it aims at.

And, before I gathered my things and myself to return to whatever was left of my Saturday, I asked for the check of the happy old couple seated at their wedding table near the salad bar. 

For Mary and Jim 

Sun finds me sitting alone at a big booth near the front

Saturdaying a double-decked turkey club, 

toothpicked together much like my morning, 

triangled in quarters just how I remember it

when enters an old couple,

he big, tall and bald, 

she small, gray and boss, 

following the hostess in procession, 

holding hands and walking slow

maybe because they are just old

maybe just because it’s as fast as they can

or just maybe 

because the warmth of each other’s hands 

is their knowing secret, 

still bewitching them like a good campfire

after all these years into a slow savor

claiming the worn carpet ‘neath their feet

as their I (still) do aisle,

rendering my booth a front row pew, 

and me grateful for the gift of bearing witness,

enrobed in nylon mismatched coats 

a king and his queen, regal,

as the hostess now way on ahead

waits to seat them next to the salad bar 

Yes to that.