Jan. 14, 2009
Blog #23: Nine hours of driving for a two-hour game. Are we nuts?
By Brendan O'Hallarn
Driving down I-40 toward Wilmington, N.C., my new friend and fellow ODU Monarchs freak Mike Germann said what our entire car was thinking. "We're driving four hours for a game we could have watched on television. This is crazy."
My kind of crazy. I've gotten to know many diehard ODU fans writing "Living Like a Monarch" this season. A few conversations, a handful of emails, and suddenly I'm driving south on Highway 13 for North Carolina, and ODU's pivotal road game with UNC-Wilmington.
In our car were Germann, a local telecom employee; Donna Meeks, who works at ODU; and Barbara Taychert, a retired journalist. Taychert said she's just along for the ride; Meeks and Germann are the real fanatics.
Germann relocated to Norfolk from Cincinnati about 10 years ago. He was a Cincinnati Bearcats fan when he arrived, and was struggling to listen to the games on AM radio. Then the University of North Carolina came to the Ted Center, and Germann thought to himself: "These guys are for real."
A decade later, Germann is all-in with the Monarchs. He's one of the "Ted Heads" -- the fans who sit behind the scorers table with their faces painted, tinfoil hair, basketball antennas and Elton John sunglasses.
"I spend about half of my vacation time traveling to ODU games," he said. This season alone, Germann has been to the South Padre Island Invitational, Lynchburg, Dayton, Richmond and is planning trips to the Northeastern game, the CAA Championship in Richmond, and hopefully, the NCAA tournament.
It's the trip that got away that Germann still talks about. He managed to secure 12 coveted tickets to the Georgetown game at McDonough Arena, and couldn't use them because of the blizzard that paralyzed D.C.
"I kept the tickets and got one player to sign each ticket and (coach) Blaine Taylor to sign one," he said. Germann also kept the Virginian-Pilot with the Monarchs on the front page, and hopes to frame it with the tickets.
Meeks started working at ODU about 30 years ago, after graduating from William and Mary as a Tribe basketball fan. It's safe to say she's completed her transition to the Monarchs. She knows the coaches and players. "Blaine introduced me to his daughters as his other daughter. I'm older than him," Meeks said with a laugh.
Meeks has formed friendships with players over the years, especially Alex Loughton, her all-time favorite Monarch.
We had time to kill - a lot of time to kill - so Germann and Meeks kept me entertained with stories from life on the road. There was the time an inebriated Drexel fan "exorcist vomited" behind the ODU bench, narrowly missing Loughton's girlfriend. Or the time a male ODU cheerleader got choked by VCU's ram mascot. Or the time in Wilmington an enterprising ODU fan held up a sign saying "Tarheel Rejects" to taunt the UNCW fans.
We arrived in Wilmington in time for a quick dinner, then we made our way to Trask Coliseum, which has a charming, retro feel. It's the type of gym you'd expect to host a state high school tournament.
When we found our seats behind the ODU bench, we were pleased to see more than a dozen ODU fans had made the trip to Norfolk. Fellow lunatics. I saw a gentleman sitting beside us with a big smile on his face. I introduced myself. "I bet you are Mr. Bazemore," I said. He looked exactly like the Monarchs' Kent Bazemore, only aged by 25 years.
Wilmington students turned out in good numbers, all wearing teel-colored shirts. Chanting joyously among them was Sock Puppet Lady, an elderly woman with golf head covers of a UNCW Seahawk on each hand. She was worth the trip all by herself.
Our little section had far more to cheer about than the home crowd, as ODU took an early lead and held it through most of the game. We broke open a tight game with a run, keyed by a steal by Marsharee Neely, fed to Ben Finney for a dunk. We ended up winning 70-52, allowing UNCW to top 50 points only when they hit a late three point shot and foul.
Now it's almost midnight, and Mike still has more than a hundred miles to drive. I have work in a little over eight hours. I am confident I won't be wearing my contact lenses at work on Thursday.
The ODU team bus just passed us on the highway, making tracks for Norfolk. I remembered something assistant coach Jim Corrigan told me early in the season, about the commitment required to play Division I basketball. "Sometimes players will get off the bus well after midnight, and have to get to class at 8 a.m. the next morning. People have no idea," Corrigan said.
Now I do. And all I had to do was watch and cheer.
Brendan O'Hallarn works in Public Relations for Old Dominion University
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