When IU's basketball schedule came out in late August or early September, there was one date that immediately stood out. February 2. IU vs. Michigan in Bloomington. It was a Saturday, Groundhog Day (my second-favorite pagan holiday), both teams were in the preseason Top 5, and ESPN's College GameDay was going to be there. I began to spread the word to my friends that went to IU. I even sent out an Evite. We had to be in Btown that weekend, even if we didn't go to the game.
By the time the game rolled around, it pitted the #3 Hoosiers against the #1 Wolverines. It's been a long time since there was a regular season game this big for IU -- about twenty years, in fact. After suffering through the lean last few years of Bob Knight's tenure, Knight's unceremonious exit, the once-successful Mike Davis years, and the fallout of the Kelvin Sampson debacle that led to the three worst seasons in IU basketball history, this is the kind of game that the ravenous IU basketball fan base could look to as the true sign that IU basketball is ready to reclaim its spot on college basketball's Mount Rushmore. Needless to say, Bloomington was buzzing this weekend, as alumni flocked to town to grab a little piece of the resurgence, and maybe have a few beers while doing that.
Thankfully, the man who sired me owns a plot of land in Bloomington, containing a dwelling. He has vacated the dwelling, but not yet sold it. All that remains inside are a bed, a chair, a lamp, a bottle of Turkish alcohol, an axe, wood chips for smoking meat, and a few bottles of marinade and hot sauce dating back to the mid part of last decade. It served as the perfect locale for a group of thirtysomethings to use as their makeshift crack house (minus the crack) for two nights. A variety of American, German, Japanese, and Tongan cars filled a driveway that was once home to a little-used but overly revered 1982 Volkswagen Westfalia Vanogon. Air mattresses, blankets, and used diaphragms littered the carpet in what used to be a living room where cats openly pooped in a box. Half-eaten pizza and a sixer of Natty Light tall boys occupied a refrigerator that used to house all variety of meats, cheeses, and dogs' blood.
Joining me for the weekend were Gregerson (who went to Michigan, but was allowed to come anyway), his special ladyfriend Colleen, Tradd, Jamie, Yehday, Spawn, Goni, his special ladyfriend Valerie, and Scott and Katie. If you don't know who these people are, that's your loss. We tore it up this weekend, as only a bunch of people ten to fifteen years out of college do when they go back to the greatest college town on the face of the Earth: with cautious abandon.
Most of us got into town Friday evening, with Jamie, Spawn, Goni, and Valerie getting in Saturday around Noon. The weekend was a great success, mostly because no one in our group got stabbed with a sword. None of us wanted to drop the insane amounts of money people were paying for tickets (the going rate for bad seats was at least $350, going up into quadruple digits for good seats), so we did the next best thing: watched the game at Nick's, the greatest college bar in the world.
Here are the highlights of the weekend, essentially in chronological order, to the best of my recollection.
No visit to Bloomington is complete without a trip to the Upstairs Pub and an AMF, a giant blue drink with a lot of booze that tastes like unicorn's milk, from what I remember. Friday night, our first stop was Upstairs, and our first drink (aside from one of us) was an AMF. It was the only point in the weekend where the phrase "go blue" was acceptable.
9. Seeing a ton of guys from college that I hadn't seen in years
In addition to the people who stayed with me -- who I either see on a regular basis or at least once or twice a year -- there were a ton of other people in town for the game. Friday night at Upstairs, there were about eight guys from my fraternity, some of whom I hadn't seen since 1997 or 1998. It was awesome. Saturday, I saw one of my old roommates outside Nick's, and then one of my pledge brothers and his wife (who went to the game) at Upstairs later in the night. And this isn't even taking into account the seemingly dozens of others I wasn't able to see due to circumstances beyond their control (see #6 below).
8. Going to ESPN's College GameDay in Assembly Hall
I have never been to GameDay, either the football or basketball version, so I was pretty excited that it was going to be in Assembly Hall. It started at 10 a.m., and we got there around 9:45. I would estimate that there were probably 6,000-8,000 people in the stands. The first hour was more IU-centric, while the second hour had a broader, more national scope. I loved that both Jay Bilas and Rece Davis wore IU's candy-striped warm-up pants over their suit pants, and that Jalen Rose (a member of Michigan's Fab Five, in case you are a moron) wore a candy-striped blazer, apparently the result of a lost bet with ESPN anchor Sage Steele (an IU grad). Here's a shot of the festivities from our seats:
7. Getting a table at Nick's Saturday
GameDay ended at Noon. Tip off was at 9 p.m. Thank Bob Knight that Scott and Katie went straight from GameDay to Nick's to grab tables, while the rest of us went back to my dad's place to pick up the people who were just getting into town. Scott and Katie were as important to the success of the weekend as the IU basketball team because they were able to get a couple tables next to each other upstairs in the hold part of Nick's. We arranged them in an "L" shape, to honor Lóðurr, the Norse god who animated the humans, for without him, we never would have made it there. One might say we had an L of a time. I wouldn't, but someone might. And I even love puns. Here are two shots of the table, one early in the day, one later. And yes, I'm eating a salad. Feel free to judge me.
It was pretty cold in Bloomington on Saturday, probably a high in the low to mid 30s, and it was snowing off and on throughout the day. Like I said, Scott and Katie (and their respective sisters, Beth and Cara) got to Nick's at about Noon. The rest of our crew got there around 1:20, and there was already a line to get in. We didn't get in the bar until about 2, which was essentially like winning the lottery. As the day went on, the line got longer. It was one in, one out.
About an hour or two before game time, one of Beth's friends got into Nick's. To save her from embarrassment (since I assume everyone in the world reads this), I'll call her "Christie." God bless her, when she arrived, tears were streaming down Christie's face. I thought it was because she hadn't seen Beth in a while. No, no. You know how sometimes when you're in the cold for a while, you begin to tear up? Well, Christie was in line at Nick's in the snow and cold for THREE HOURS. Now that is dedication. She was shivering for a good half hour as she thawed out. Several of us were legitimately concerned that she had hypothermia, but the beers we fed her had a warming effect, even if not medically. Even when we left Nick's after the game, there were still probably a hundred people in line.
5. The fact that our first waitress at Nick's looked like a dead ringer for Sweet Dee from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
I clandestinely (or creepily, depending on how you look at it) snapped this picture of our waitress because her resemblance to Dee from It's Always Sunny is uncanny. The picture doesn't even really do it justice. After her shift, she drank with us. Classic Dee!
4. Celebrity sightings at Nick's
With such a big game, you knew some decently famous people (at least by Bloomington standards) would be in town. And if there's one bar in town to go to for something like this, it's Nick's. In the mid afternoon, former Hoosier point guard and 2002 South Regional MVP Tom Coverdale showed up. Around 5 or so, I saw Dan Shulman, one half of the ESPN broadcasting crew who was calling the game, walking out of Nick's. Oddly, he left alone. You would think he would have some production assistants or handlers of some sort who would make sure he wasn't playing Sink the Bismarck or anything (or maybe they were there, but left after him or something). And finally, the rumor of the day was that Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista was at Nick's, although it was not confirmed because Nick's stopped letting people go between the old half and the new half, due to the number of people in the bar.
3. Watching a cocky recent grad get destroyed at Sink the Bismarck
In an effort to ensure that I would be able to stand during the game, I refused to play Sink the Bismarck -- a drinking game native to Nick's and my favorite of all of the bucket-based drinking games, but one that has been known to put people to bed early -- until an hour before game time. Others were not as prescient.
Around 4 or 5, some people started playing. A little while later, another game started with some of the same people and some new additions. Spawn, a wily veteran, was right before Beth, a cocky recent grad who thought nothing of taunting a man who won the campus bench press competition twice. This would prove to be a mistake. On no fewer than 18 occasions, Spawn set Beth up to sink the glass, whereupon she was required, by rule, to drink the glass.
Not long before the game started, Beth's equilibrium began to deteriorate, and she made her way to the ladies' room for a bit of retching, followed by some water drinking, and the tacit admission that you should never taunt someone who has played a drinking game ten years longer than you have. She sat down next to her brother, who said, "bitch, I told you," and then she began the slow process of rehydration and rallying. Whenever she put her head on the table or looked like she might be considering a nice vomit, I couldn't help but serenade her with a poignant, if not uncomfortable and often inaccurate, version of "Beth" by Kiss. To think, if the song had never been changed from its original title, "Beck," my caterwauling just would have been weird, notwithstanding the fact that my face would have painted like a cat anyway.
2. Getting unabashedly hit on by a relatively recent grad
It has been a long time since a woman has hit on me (or maybe I'm too much of an idiot to realize if one was), but there was no mistaking it Saturday night. I suppose it's not a total surprise. While in Bloomington, I am in my element. My aura is electric. My stare is uncomfortably piercing and often last several seconds longer than what is socially acceptable. My wife has described me as a "sexual mantis." Christie apparently took to my fresh approach to sarcasm, reckless yet flirtatious approach to drinking, and borderline autistic approach to watching Indiana basketball games. She pursued me as if I was Scott Baio, playfully but aggressively. The literally unbreakable titanium tungsten wedding band on my left ring finger apparently did not dissuade her. At Upstairs after the game, when it became obvious that I was more interested in talking to Grimace (a dude I know, not that purple motherfucker who used to haunt my dreams) than her, she trap doored. Or maybe I did. Either way, it worked out for the best.
1. IU 81 Michigan 73The game lived up to the hype, and obviously I was happy with the result, especially considering I didn't even have to break a toe this time. It's already being hailed as the game of the year thus far in college hoops, as it should. Oddly enough, the biggest highlight of the game might have been a turnover. With just under eight minutes left, Jordan Hulls threw an errant lob to Victor Oladipo, who was probably the only guy on the court who could have reached back and caught it, which he did, before attempting a one-handed tomahawk. He was a few inches too far from the rim, but attempted to throw it down. He had done that, it would have been the dunk of the year, and I think a mushroom cloud would have quickly formed over what used to be Assembly Hall.
This was after Dick Vitale compared Oladipo to a mini Michael Jordan. Barring a Christian Watford game-winning three from the wing, I'm not sure there could have been a better game. And while the celebration at Kilroy's Sports Bar after Saturday night's win wasn't quite like the celebration at Nick's after Watford's shot to beat Kentucky last year, it still shows how pumped up IU fans are about this team. So, to sum it all up, good times.