Tuesday, August 24, 2004

And I Gave Up Tickets To That Game. . .

Dave Sez posted today on the 1992 NCAA Eastern Regional Finals, Christian Laettner's last-second shot that gave Duke a 103-102 win over Kentucky and the fact that ESPN has rated it as one of its best sports moments ever.

The game was played on a Saturday night at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. I had tickets to the Eastern Regional Finals, and on the previous Thursday night went to watch Kentucky beat UMass in a so-so fashion and Duke (with Bobby Hurley) beat Seton Hall (with Danny Hurley). Coming out of those games, I honestly thought that Duke would win in a walk.

I also had a conflict. I had promised my girlfriend that I would accompany her to a wine-tasting that Saturday night, and this was to be a big date because I would be meeting many of her friends. The reason I had committed to this was because I thought that the championship game would be played in the afternoon. I'm almost certain that the network moved it back to prime-time because it was a match-up between Duke and Kentucky. Anyway, I had committed to going to the wine-tasting, so I bequeathed my tickets to the couple who had introduced us and to a good friend from college and his fiancee. My girlfriend was magnanimous and told me that if I had wanted to go to the regional finals, she would understand. I said, no, that's okay, I had made the commitment to her, I wanted to go, Duke would win big, and, besides, I had attended Final Fours before.

Anyway, we go to the winetasting, and I can't get a score. We go out afterwards, and I can't get a score at that place either. It's only after we get home that I see late highlights and realize that this was the greatest college basketball game ever played, that I had tickets to it, and that I had given them up.

Well, it was a hard thing to live down for a while. My girlfriend's father, when she told him what I had given up, gave her a benign lecture as to the importance of what I gave up. ("Do you realize what he gave up for you?" he must have said three times. "You owe him big.") My friends naturally wanted to meet the woman for whom I'd give up going to such an important basketball game.

Several months later we were engaged. At my college reunion, my friends made sure that they were going to meet this woman, because it wasn't just anyone for whom I'd forego a Duke-Kentucky regional final for a wine-tasting. At my bachelor party, one of the friends to whom I had given the tickets presented me with an autographed photograph of Coach K, inscribed, "Sorry you had to miss the big game. Best wishes." It was a great gift, although to this day I think that only the signature from Coach K and the rest my friend wrote, although I haven't shared that with him. At our wedding, my father-in-law gave a nice toast, and in it he described the events surrounding the tickets to this game and noted for the attendees that I had given up my tickets. He said, "As a future father-in-law I was heartened, but as a college basketball fan I was appalled."

And you know what, to this day, I'd honestly do it again and have no regrets. My relationship with my wife has been well worth the "apparent" sacrifice of Duke-Kentucky tickets, with an the added bonus of an adorable little boy to take to baseball games and a wonderful copper-haired elementary school-aged girl to watch run gracefully on a soccer field. The giving up of the tickets has become an amusing story about the journey that we have taken together.

After all, sports are just that, and we all need to remember that, even in the shadows of the greatest games ever.

But then again, if there is a next time, maybe I'd try to get 4 tickets to the game -- if I could.

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