When You’re Not There~~by Dan Pfeifer
A look at Marquette’s historic win over Villanova from an insider on the outside
Since The Big 920 was nice enough to let me start writing Courtside three years ago, I think only the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velasquez and the folks actually working for Marquette Athletics have published more electronic words about Marquette Basketball, if you lump both this blog and my Twitter feed together. Throw in my lifelong Marquette fandom, save a few years of working at UWM, and you can say I’m pretty intimate with the program. A week and a half ago, I drove four and a half hours to Indianapolis to cover Marquette’s loss to Butler. I didn’t have to. I wanted to.
Yet, as Marquette did something last night it had only done once before in its history, and never on its home floor, I was not there. In fact, I was only glancing at the game as MU beat Villanova, 74-72.
What I was doing was public address announcing and in-arena music for Alverno College’s Division III women’s basketball team at the cozy Reiman Gymnasium on the south side of Milwaukee. Alverno is a mostly women’s school that plays in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference. Phil Dawson of Lucas & Dawson does similar work for another NACC member, Edgewood College. While Marquette was still losing to Villanova, Alverno was wrapping up a 68-37 victory over Aurora University in front of 89 fans. My view of the first 80 percent of Marquette/Villanova was an occasional glance at silent, streamed video on a small computer window, tucked behind a spreadsheet with Alverno & Aurora’s rosters and a music program loaded with peppy crowd favorites and sound effects.
There’s an obligation for me to do Alverno PA over covering Marquette Basketball when the two overlap. PA announcers aren’t as easy to find as you’d think, much less ones who also add music. There’s lots of MU coverage from Velasquez and others, but not as many folks who can handle PA, so I’m filling a greater need. I have also been Marquette’s PA announcer for soccer and lacrosse the past 10 years, and have made it clear here I’d love the opportunity to fill a similar role for Marquette Basketball someday. I’m not looking to replace their current voice, friend and mentor Mike Jakubowski, but he’s needed fill-ins, and I’m hopeful someday MU will give me the call. It hasn’t happened yet, but the best way to be ready is to practice, Alverno gives the chance to do so, and Alverno probably wouldn’t give the chance if I was abandoned them every time there was the off-chance of an MU upset.
Even if I hadn’t been doing Alverno PA, I still might not have been at the game. Tuesday was my wife’s birthday, and she might have won out over Marquette if Alverno didn’t. When you get paid to go to hundreds of sporting events per year, as I do with my PA, play-by-play and reporting work, missing one game, even a historic one, isn’t necessarily heartbreaking when you step back and remember how lucky you are most days. You occasionally have to take care of those who take care of you.
The Marquette game was still going when I left Alverno’s campus. It seemed like bad form to make the 15-minute trek downtown for a post-game interview session for a game I barely watched, so I started toward home. Marquette mounted the comeback mostly while I listened to the radio broadcast. Arriving home and rushing past Mrs. Courtside on her birthday to watch the final minutes of a basketball game also seemed ill-advised, so before stopping at the grocery store near my house to pick up some tiramisu and flowers for the lovely lady, I detoured to a sports-themed watering hole down the street.
I heard Villanova take its final timeout via the radio as I parked. Many of the 15-or-so screens in the bar had a commercial on when I walked in; others, the Wisconsin/Penn State game. Figuring the commercials were on the Marquette broadcast, I waited through the break, though it seemed longer than it should and didn’t feature Fox Sports 1’s usual sponsors. Sure enough, the break I was watching ended and revealed not the game broadcast but a highlights show on another channel.
This bar — a suburban Milwaukee sports bar — hadn’t been showing Marquette on any screen.
I politely asked the bartender to turn it on, then had to help her find FS1. It didn’t help she kept surfing one-by-one upward through channels in the 1100s after I told her it was channel 75. When she finally figured out I was right, the game was tied at 70. I saw Katin Reinhardt’s final free throws, deputy athletic director Mike Broker angrily yelling at his table staff after it started the clock too early on a Villanova inbound (essentially giving Villanova a pseudo timeout to come up with a play), Matt Heldt and Haanif Cheatham’s solid, game-ending defense, and the scene of Marquette students rushing the floor and players dancing on the table after the final horn sounded.
There’s a lot that goes through your head in such moments, especially when you’re used to being there for the mundane games against IUPUI but something miraculous happens while you’re watching from a distance. I thought about earlier-seen tweets saying the Bradley Center stands weren’t very full, especially considering the opponent. I thought about how there’s generally only three “regular” question-asking reporters at Marquette games — Velasquez, me and whoever’s there from Marquette’s student media — considering Butler had at least double, maybe triple, the media coverage in Indy. I thought about the prior fan talk online about various Marquette figures, ranging from those who had questioned Steve Wojciechowski’s job status to critical opinions many have had about various players.
The Villanova win smashed so much of that. I would hope some folks thinking about buying tickets to see Marquette after such a victory, given it’s hard to picture them out of the bracket now. I’d imagine there’ll be a little more media attention, too. I don’t think the #FireWojo hashtag has any validity left this season. Early-season knocks on Reinhardt, Luke Fischer, who appears fully back to form after a cold stretch, and Heldt, who only played two minutes but very much earned the right to be on the floor at the end of the contest with his strong defense, now feel like the distant past.
The biggest thing that struck me, though, was looking around the bar and seeing the faces of the 20 or so other people that weren’t involved with a Texas Hold’em poker game at one table. Everyone — everyone — now watched Marquette’s celebration. Had I not walked in, they might not have known it was going on. As someone who spends a lot of time trying to tell Marquette’s story, it was painfully obvious how few were listening until those final moments of last night’s game. I think that’s going to change now. The bar felt like a metaphor for where Marquette stood prior to last night’s win — out of sight and out of mind of many fans in their own hometown. But not anymore
Yes, I will still have to miss a few Marquette games for Alverno PA. But that doesn’t mean I’m not watching, and I think a lot more folks will start watching after last night.