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He's Alive! Boswell Recounts His Game Day

Crawling out from underneath a mosh pit of Cardinal fans, here's Boswell with his report on live before, during, and after the Stanford game! He promises photographs shortly. Thanks, Boz!

People often ask me how I ever came up with the moniker “Boswell.” No, it’s not after the more famous quad dog. Rather it comes from a story I read on the Scotsman James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson. Boswell was described as having a “loquacious, long-winded, and pedantic style of writing.” The following proves how well the name fits.

Julio asked me to write a game-day report. Well, I’m assuming you all watched the game, so rather than focusing on that morbid aspect, I thought I’d give you a shamelessly egocentric report on how Game Day went for me. If you want to read one man’s perspective just on the game and press conferences rather than tofu and t-shirts, scroll down – way down.

Thursday, December 21

The day began contentious. I wanted to go jogging around Berkeley, where we are staying, so I got dressed, rummaged through a drawer, pulled out the only clean t-shirt I had left and put it on. Immediately my wife looked at me askew. She says, “What are you doing?”

Me: “Going jogging.”

She: “With that t-shirt???”

(Now, let me explain about the t-shirt. Somewhere between 930 and 537 (or was it 145?) votes, a friend who is in politics sent me a “Bush/Cheney 2000” t-shirt. It was kind of amusing but I didn’t think much about it, so I folded it and put it on a stack of t-shirts in my closet. When I grabbed some t-shirts in packing, that apparently was one of them.)

Me: “It’s my only clean one.”

She: “But it says Bush/Cheney.”

Me: “Yeah, so what?”

She: “We’re in Berkeley. That’s what’s so what.”

Me: “So?”

She: “So they’ll shoot you.”

Me: “They don’t have handguns in Berkeley.”

She: “Then they’ll beat you senseless with soy and tofu products. You can't wear that!”

I harrumphed but nonetheless put a sweatshirt over it and went down to the hotel lobby. Coming off the elevator, I saw a group of teenagers hanging around for autographs. These weren’t your typical little urchins waiting for their heroes. These were entrepreneurs, with a cottage industry fueled by bags filled with basketballs. I could tell E-Bay was going to busy later in the day.

The team was gathering for breakfast so the autographed hounds swooped down on them. Jason and Nate stopped to sign. Shane blew them off. Oscar Robertson, though, had a different approach. He cussed them out, and in one of his gentler phrases, said, “Dammit, a guy can’t walk to do his business without getting hassled by you jerks.”

I talk to one of the assistants and ask about the game. He says, “I’m concerned. This game has gotten a lot of hype here as a West Coast vs. East Coast battle of pride. Stanford is viewing this as not just a big game but as the biggest game in the history of their program. I don’t think it’s sunk in with our guys how important this game is to Stanford. We play lots of ‘big games’ during a season but we don’t make one any more important than the others like Stanford’s doing with us.”

Andre Sweet walks by. He sees my DBR hat and says, “Duke Basketball Report. Woooo hooooo!” He immediately moves on to my list of all-time favorite Blue Devils.

I go for my jog. Between the hills and my unnecessary, politically censoring, sweatshirt, I’m exhausted and sweating like mad. I find a coffee shop and enter looking for a Coke. There’s a huge line of Birkenstock-clad Berkeleyites waiting for their lattes and mochas (remember when people just ripped up those little orange packets of Sanka, added hot water, and called it a day?). I get the “You’re not from around here” stare. Man, imagine if they saw my t-shirt. I look around and, unlike Robert Downey, Jr., am unsuccessful in finding any Coke in California.

I retreat to the hotel and run into Jeff Fellenzer, the organizer of the Pete Newell Challenge. He gives me my tickets and passes for full access anywhere in the arena, including locker rooms. I seriously am forever indebted. I ask him about the game, and he says, “I just want a close game. If it’s a blowout, I think it’s Duke because of their explosive style of play.”

After lunch in San Francisco, we go to the Oakland Arena and attend a Duke alumni function at the Coliseum, which is immediately adjacent. After about an hour there, we head to the game.

The seats were awesome. We sat right on the court next to the basket at Duke’s end. To our left were Jerry West, the Big O, Pete Newell, and further down, Tiger Woods and Condoleeza Rice. In the stands were Jim Plunkett, Dusty Baker, Tony La Russa, and Bill Walsh. To our right was the Duke bench. Before the game, we wandered to the media room. There were about sixty reporters and staffers jammed in there, munching on food. Outside of it, the concession stand was well stocked. I could have ordered a Bombay Martini if I wanted one (now I know why some sports columnists write like drunkards – they are).

[Missing from the media room was anyone from the Durham Herald-Sun. Here was the #1 team in the country whose home is Durham playing the #3 team and both teams are undefeated and they can’t send anyone???? They’ve got some of the finest sportswriters in the state, and management ignores a game like this??? They probably should change their name to the Mayberry Herald-Sun. End or rant.]

We go back to our seats, and the announcer says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise and join us in the signing of…America the Beautiful.”

Huh? “What happened to The Star-Spangled Banner?” I whisper to my wife. She says, “Probably too militaristic for them.”

So the game begins. Duke’s looking pretty good and has thrown Stanford, which was 1-25 against #1 teams, off kilter. Battier was being aggressive offensively, our defense was strong, and the Duke faithful were doing a good job of cheering the team. Casey wasn’t doing too well and we were picking up some early fouls, but so far, so good.

At halftime, I talked to the Boozer’s and Fellenzer. Jeff said, “Duke is simply awesome.” I said, “It ain’t over by a long shot. You may still get the game you want.” I also saw DBR Bulletin Board poster SoCal Duke Fan. He was right on the money when he said this was a Final Four atmosphere.

Second half, Duke extends it lead a bit, but there were some troubling signs early on. Jason, who was really getting hammered, is tugging on his shorts and looking tired. I hear Dunleavy say, “Suck it up, guys.” The fouls started adding up. Most worrisome was that our defense didn’t have anywhere near its intensity.

Stanford gets on a roll. The crowd gets frenzied. I see Tiger Woods standing up and cheering the Cardinal. I look at him and think, “Hey, Tiger, Coach K is a Nike endorser and did you ever graduate from Stanford? Root for Duke, you ingrate.” Then I see Condoleeza Rice cheering for Stanford. “Hey, I wore a t-shirt supporting your boss. Give us a break. Add another ingrate to the list.”

Boozer goes out, Shane’s in foul trouble, and Stanford’s scoring every time down. I see Coach K twirl his finger in the area for the team to let some air out of the ball. Normally, I hate seeing us slow it down, but for once, I think it may be a good move (Feel free to start adding the egg to my face at this point). We needed to alter the tempo somehow. Then Battier fouls out, and things get really grim.

You know how it ends. Jacobsen drives left and hits the shot. Jason goes into autopilot and amazingly charges all the way down court. I was sitting directly in line with him and thought he was going to run over me. I see his shot rim out. The red light goes on. Nate taps it in. Pandemonium erupts as the Stanford fans storm the court.

We immediately go over to Fellenzer, and I tell him, “Jeff, congratulations. You got the game you wanted.” I then see Condolezza Rice clutching her chest. For a moment it looked as if Dick Cheney’s heart troubles were contagious. She kept saying, “What a game! What a game!”

We then headed to the media room. [By the way, to other Web sites who may be salivating over press passes for Duke games, let me repeat that we got these as a non-requested gift from Jeff Fellenzer and not from Duke, so don’t tell Duke that you should get one because the DBR got one. Duke had nothing to do with it.] Mike Montgomery and Casey Jacobsen were the first to enter. Montgomery said, “Wow. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I have so much respect for the Duke program. They bring in such an aura to a game. They have such confidence in themselves. They believe they will win. And for us to beat them in a game like this is just incredible. It really was a game of the last man standing.”

Asked about Duke’s depth, he said, “If they have a weakness, it is their depth. They have Sanders and Duhon, who are really good players, but that’s about it. They play defense so intensely. Maybe they did get a little tired and they got in foul trouble and that can hurt when you really only have seven guys.”

Jacobsen was also extremely gracious. As much as a Duke fan that I am, I couldn’t help but be happy for him. He said, “I’ve never taken the last shot for Stanford, yet at the last time out, I visualized myself taking the shot. That kind of drive and bank shot from six or seven feet out actually is a favorite of mine. Jason Williams was guarding me and I had a height advantage so I felt pretty good. When it went in, I looked up and saw there were still 3.6 seconds left so I tried to play defense. But Jason is just so fast and he’s such a great player. I couldn’t believe how quickly he got downcourt. His shot easily could have gone in. When it didn’t, I had all these hands and arms in my face and people yelling. I couldn’t see or breathe, but I was having a good time.”

Coach K followed Montgomery and Jacobsen. Mickie and daughter Lindy, who is getting her master’s degree from Pepperdine, were there I was. I was sure he was going to be pissed, but he wasn’t at all and joked around a bit.

Among his comments:

“After all these years of coaching, I’ve firmly become a believer in the gods of basketball. Tonight it was like they were saying, ‘Hey, Polish coach, we’ll let you have an offensive rebound in the second half, but it’s going to be 0.1 seconds after the horn sounds.’”

“This was nothing like last year’s game. Last year’s game was sloppy and ugly. This was a great, great game. I’m disappointed that we lost, but I’m not disappointed in the players at all.”

“You don’t lose games on foul shots. You can win games on foul shots. We don’t lose individually; if we lose, we lose collectively. This was a game of momentum. We missed four dunks. Man, if you make four dunks, then you have a lot of momentum going for you. The little things add up.” [A side note: I read a great book coming out here that I recommend called, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s how seemingly tiny changes can cause massive shifts. Gladwell uses examples from Hush Puppies to subway graffiti to AIDS in making his point. His theory works for missed dunks and foul shots as well.]

“A home-and-home series against Stanford is possible. I wouldn’t mind seeing it. There is a problem with the long coast-to-coast trips for teams and that can make it difficult to schedule appropriately. UCLA backed out of our series with them, and we picked up St. John’s. We have Michigan and have been doing that for a long time. It probably would have to be earlier in the season. Our conference has a new Sunday night game contract with Fox and that changes the schedules around. But, yeah, a series is possible.”

Coach K ended the press conference by wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas then went back to the locker room. We followed. Most of the guys were already heading for the buses that were humming in the cavernous concrete bowels of the arena. Jason Williams was talking to some members of the press as was Shane. After Jason finished speaking, Chris Collins gave him a big hug. You clearly got the feeling that everyone was very supportive of each other and that there was no anger, bitterness, or animosity.

The team flew back after the game on a chartered plane. Coach K said they would have four days off for Christmas to visit family. We’re hanging around until Saturday to take in the sights. The loss is tough but only because we’re so successful. Unless you were out here, I think it’s hard to fully appreciate how powerful the name “Duke” is in college basketball circles. Stanford freely admits that they want to be like Duke.

Anyhow, losing sucks. Mistakes were made, leads were blown, but all of that will be addressed. I remember a few years ago when we lost a similar game to Kentucky in the Eastern Regional Final. If we’re going to lose one like that, I’d much rather it be in December. Overall, though, it was great to have witnessed such a truly classic game and to have seen the reactions and emotions to it up close. And if any of you are bitter or upset, go ahead and vent but then get over it, congratulate Stanford on a great comeback, admire our success, and as Dunleavy said, “Suck it up.”

On a more festive note, let me close by doing what Coach K said to media and wish each of you, “Merry Christmas and happy holidays!”