Monday, March 24, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Say this about the road to Omaha, and the Rebels making their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament: It was fun while it lasted.
And it lasted a long time, because it was Omaha.
A look back at the NCAA Midwest Regional first and second rounds as seen through the eyes of Sun sports columnist Ron Kantowski who kept a blog, basically because there was nothing else to do.
Tuesday, real late, Eppley Airport — Greetings from Omaha. When I arrived last night, Omaha was closed. You cannot get anything to eat or drink in Omaha at 1:50 a.m. The bars close at 1 a.m. So do the 7-Elevens. (I will never make fun of Boulder City again.) The only thing you get at 1:50 a.m. in Omaha is a cab from the airport. But don’t forget the ear muffs.
Wednesday morning, Qwest Center interview room — Here’s something you don’t see every day on the Big Dance floor: An aeronautical studies major. “I used to drive past the airport, see them taking off and landing,’ Kent State’s Mike Scott said about his passion for things that fly. “I love airplanes.” If Scott says he used to drive past the airport and see airplanes taking off and landing, it can be assumed the airport in Indianapolis, which is where he’s from, is a lot busier than the one in Omaha.
Wednesday, late afternoon, The Qwest Center — It’s 5:45 p.m. in Omaha, and they are already rolling up the sidewalks. Speaking of things slowing to a crawl, the Wisconsin basketball team has just hit the court for its shoot-around.
Wednesday night, The Qwest Center — If you’re a Las Vegan, the first thought that crosses your mind upon seeing the Qwest Center is how Omaha managed to build an arena like this while we have diddly-squat. My only beef is that all the seats are drab gray. When it’s empty, The “Q” looks like a London morning. Or Richard Gere’s head. Last Friday, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band peformed there. So The Boss played Nebraska, but he didn’t play “Nebraska,” the title track of his critically acclaimed 1982 album. That was a bigger upset than Bucknell over Kansas in 2005.
Wednesday night, Old Market District — Father Flanagan just walked by chomping on a steak sandwich and I gotta ask him where he got it. Because I refuse to settle for a Subway sandwich, regardless of how long that Jared guy has kept off the weight.
Thursday morning, The Qwest Center — They’ve unrolled the sidewalks and it’s time to play some basketball, which is what everybody (except Portland State, which is just happy to be missing poli-sci class) came for. That, and the frozen Omaha Steaks at the airport.
Thursday afternoon, The Qwest Center — Portland State and Kansas have tipped off. I don’t think this game is gonna qualify for the “One Shining Moment” montage. Every time one of the Jayhawks makes a long basket or does something athletic, the big guys for the Vikings have these silly grins on their mugs like, “What are we doing here, playing these guys?” It’s 36-18, and I’ll bet CBS already has switched away to Denver or D.C. Or “The Young and the Restless.”
Later Thursday afternoon, The Qwest Center — Kent State is down 31-10 to the Rebels, and it is holding the ball for the last shot of the first half. It missed. Now there’s a surprise. With that errant toss, the Golden Flashes have just tied Villanova’s record for fewest points in a half in an NCAA Tournament game, set in 1939. Remind me to ask Corey Bailey if he played in that one.
15 minutes later, The Qwest Center — Confounding all on press row, Kent State did come out for the second half. Now the media is protesting on the commons. Quick, someone call the National Guard before this gets out of hand.
Friday morning, The Qwest Center media work room — Here’s one thing you don’t want to hear if you’re cheering — or have money — on a major college power during the NCAA tournament: A frenzied crowd, followed by Ian Eagle, whoever that is, yelling that such and such is the pride of such and such conference. Especially if such and such conference has the word “Sun” in it.
Friday night, The Omaha Hilton — Here comes Pat Riley strolling through the lobby. Like a werewolf from London, his hair is perfect.I think he’s here to scout USC’s O.J. Mayo or K-State’s Michael Beasley. Or the half-frozen Omaha Steaks at the airport. Four Kansas fans, still rocking and chalking and Jayhawking with their feet propped up on beer coolers the size of horse troughs, ask Riley if he would pose for a photo. “No,” Riles said, making tracks toward the elevator as if his sartorially splendid suit jacket needed pressing. Riley is headed toward the penthouse suite when a security guard tells Kansas fans to get those coolers out of the lobby, that there is a Motel 6 in Council Bluffs they could take them to. Omaha, I have found, is very accepting of a lot of things. But apparently it draws the line at beer coolers the size of horse troughs in the lobby.
Later Friday night, Johnny’s Cafe — You never know where you are going to bump into a Rebel fan. When in Omaha … well, get a new travel agent. But when in Omaha, also have an Omaha Strip at the original Johnny’s Cafe just off the 470 freeway. You can miss it, but probably won’t, because it sort of looks like Porky’s, at least on the outside. We told the hostess we came all the way from Las Vegas for a good steak. She said she did, too. Kari Kawa-Harding actually owns Johnny’s. She was born in Omaha, but graduated from UNLV — “when Tark was coach,” she said proudly — where in addition to the Amoeba defense she learned everything about managing a restaurant that her grandpa, who opened the place fronting the old Omaha stockyards in 1922, didn’t teach her. There’s a picture of Kari and Jack Nicholson on the wall. They filmed the retirement dinner scene in “About Schmidt” at Johnny’s. Kari said Jack was like the Kansas defense. Not all that accessible.
Real late (for Omaha) Friday night, Corner of 10th and Gass — Well, in the immortal words of REO Speedwagon, it’s time for me to fly. A sports writer pal just called and said he was going to catch the shuttle across the river to Council Bluffs, and I’m actually thinking about joining him. When you are thinking about going to Iowa to have a good time, it’s time to fly.
Saturday afternoon, The Qwest Center — The Clydesdales beat the Thoroughbreds. Wisconsin 72, K-State 55. Actually, the Wildcats shot the ball more like Mister Ed. They were 0-for-13 from beyond the 3-point arc. Back in the interview room Bo Ryan, the Wisconsin coach, is probably still complaining about Kevin Kruger flopping on that 4-point play he hit against the Clydesdales last year in Chicago.
Saturday night, The Qwest Center — Halftime: Big Guys 34, Little Guys Who Try Hard 29. The Rebels are hanging in there. The Kansas fans don’t exactly look nervous — or sober — but nobody rocking and chalking and Jayhawking is making reservations for Detroit just yet.
Saturday night, The Qwest Center — Uh-oh. Kansas is shooting layups on almost every possession now. Jayhawks fans have pulled out their cell phones. They still look a little buzzed. They’re either snapping low resolution photos or dialing 1-800-I-FLY-SWA. Kansas is pulling away like this were a tug-of-war on Battle of the Network Stars. Or something like that.
Sunday morning, The Omaha Hilton — The closest of the six games played in Omaha was decided by 13 points. Not exactly a thrill-a-minute. Just like Omaha.