Sunday, January 9, 2011

Close Call

The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail…*

We had planned the trip a couple of months ago, and were looking forward to the weekend jaunt before the new semester began.  As events began to unfold, it appeared that the fates were conspiring to ruin our fun.  But such appearances can be deceiving.  Indeed,  each time we felt doomed to disappointment, we were, in fact, wrong.  Everything turned out just splendidly, but some significant leaps of faith were required on our parts.

Here is what happened:

Al and I are both UConn alumni and ardent fans of the women’s basketball program.   We began following the team in the mid 1990’s, albeit with varying degrees of intensity, when we lived in Tennessee.  In  those days, women’s basketball was dominated by the rivalry between Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies and Pat Summit’s Lady Vols.  We’d take the kids to Thompson-Bolling Arena  and to their embarrassment, we’d be the only blue shirts in a sea of brilliant orange.  These days,  we have to settle for watching the games on TV, which means we are limited to the games that ESPN2 deems interesting enough to televise to a national audience.  With UConn’s unprecedented 90 game winning streak, we were able to watch many of the games this season, including the Stanford game which ended that historic run.

Anyway, early in the season, Al noticed that UConn would be playing Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana on Saturday, January 8 and we decided to get tickets.  The first omen was that despite being months in advance, the game was nearly sold out and we were unable to get seats together.  His best efforts resulted in two seats in the same row but separated by a party of four …waaayyy up in the nose-bleed section.  Still, we were excited to see the game and figured we could probably negotiate with our neighbors to sit together.  And we made a mental note to bring binoculars.

So, with tickets in hand, we made a hotel reservation, found a pet sitter, and eagerly awaited our little winter getaway.  

The key word in that last sentence is winter.  It certainly is winter in the upper mid-west  and  as the day of our departure approached, we paid close attention to the weather predictions along the route of our four-hour drive.  On Thursday, we began to get a little nervous as significant snowfall was predicted.  On Friday, we heard reports from friends that the roads in western MI were terrible and that the snow was expected to continue through Saturday night.  Always optimistic, on Friday night  we packed the car, intending to get an early start on the next day.  

Saturday morning, the weatherman was still calling for 8-11 inches of snow in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, but because the majority of our travels would be on major interstates, we decided to make the trip anyway.  To our delight, the day turned out to be cold but surprisingly clear, and instead of the expected snowy skies and bad roads we were treated to cleared roads, blue skies and simply beautiful winter scenery.  

We felt pretty smug about having defied the weather forecasts until we were about 10 miles from South Bend and the skies began to cloud up and snow began to fall.  It turns out that it had been snowing there all day, and snowing pretty hard.  In fact, South Bend was buried under 2 to 3 feet of fluffy, sparkly, lake-effect snow, breaking a 150 year record for the most snow in one day!  Had we known what we were heading for, we almost certainly would have stayed home.  But, there we were… 

The roads in South Bend, as you might imagine, were pretty bad, so we parked the car at the hotel and set out on foot for the game. Of course, none of the sidewalks had been cleared.  Our choice was to trudge through thigh deep snow or walk on slippery roads and hope that Indiana drivers could handle the conditions.  We opted for the thigh deep snow.  A couple of crazy runners (one wearing SHORTS) were ahead of us and had sort of cleared a path on what we believe were probably sidewalks.  So following in their footsteps, although dressed more appropriately, we made our way across campus to Purcell Arena.

We found our seats, about 4 rows from the top of the arena, got out the binoculars and got ready to watch UConn beat Notre Dame.  We fully expected a victory, although we also expected to see some good basketball from both teams.  The arena was slow to fill because of the bad weather, but gradually seats filled around us, so that our two blue UConn shirts once again stood out-- this time in a sea of lime green.   

Kelly Faris, Maya Moore (23), Stephanie Dolson- photo by Al
Well, the fighting Irish women certainly came out strong, leading for most of the first half, indeed leading for most of the game.  We gradually moved closer to the action as it became clear that some people were smart enough to stay off the roads.  We watched the first half of the game from the bleachers, but at half time moved to the floor with the other UConn groupies, sitting just a few rows behind the team.

Geno and the team planning their strategy
To say it was an exciting game is a bit of an understatement   For a while, it looked pretty grim for us.  But those Husky women do NOT give up and with just a few minutes left in the game, they pulled ahead.  But, the fighting Irish fought back and the lead oscillated with every basket.  Finally, with just a few seconds to spare, UConn secured its 79-76 victory.  If you were watching on TV and you heard one lone UConn fan yelling “DEFENSE” when Notre Dame had the ball, that was Al.  If you were watching on TV and you heard pandemonium every time Notre Dame scored, that was pretty much everybody else.  I had never really believed in the so-called home-court advantage, but it is real and it is amazing!  

Whew!  It was exhausting.  

Next on the agenda was dinner.  We walked, or rather trudged, to the college-town area hoping to find some interesting food.   I guess we are spoiled by the options at the University of Michigan, but it didn’t seem like there was much to choose from, especially since the snow closed most of the restaurants.  We thought our only choice would be fast food, and we were having trouble resigning ourselves to that option when we discovered that a  little local place called “The Mark” was open.  We went in and were met with a display case of outrageously wonderful looking cheesecakes and truffles.  Encouraged, we asked to see the menu.  Hmmm, plastic laminated menu with pictures of scrambled eggs.  Breakfast all day.  Sandwiches.  Meat loaf.  Not exactly inspiring, but probably better than fast food.  The host gave us the supplementary menu of daily specials, the wine and beer lists, then left us to peruse our choices.  

What’s this?  In stark contrast to the regular menu, the specials looked interesting and wonderful- tandoori salmon with saffron yogurt?  lamb tagliatelle with fennel?    When we asked the waiter for recommendations, he suggested the foie gras appetizer , the lamb special,  the meatloaf or the grilled cheese.   Ok.  Clearly, this  restaurant is in the midst of an identity crisis.  We opted for the tandoori salmon and the lamb and both were excellent.  We were expecting Denny’s and got haute cuisine.  A very nice surprise.  

So, the weather reports did not deter us.  The storm did not deter us.  The fighting Irish did not spoil our fun and we did not have to eat fast food.  The day, which might have ended in Saginaw with those bad weather reports, ended with an exciting victory, beautiful scenery, a wonderful dinner and stories to tell.

Those Hoosier squirrels are very friendly!
Before leaving town this morning, we took a long walk around the Notre Dame campus, one of the most beautiful I have seen.  The campus was nearly empty and serene with the fresh snow.  We drove home, most satisfied with the weekend that could have turned out very differently.    

Al's cardinal

Today I am grateful for safe travels and good luck!  Next season, I want to see UConn play at home, which we’ll have to start planning soon...those tickets are probably already sold out. Let's hope for better weather.

·          * The Fellowship of the Ring, Galadriel, in Lothlorien

1 comment:

  1. Weather or not! (Only way to go, glad you were not deterred) beautiful cardinal picture. and happy birthday