Curt Miller Goes To Indiana, Where A Dopey Guy Watched Him At A Sports Bar

Curt Miller put his signature on the BGSU program with such a thick pen, his departure may not be enough to erase it. (Photo credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

A guy walks into a bar. The bartender asks what he wants. He says that he just wants to watch Bowling Green basketball on one of the televisions.

Sunday, March 18, 2007 — I had this all planned out. I mapped the directions from Toledo to Bedford, Indiana. This was a business trip and I took them quite often. This particular trek was a 5½-hour drive and yet the game was at 2 p.m. I couldn't drive before or after that time — too late in the day.

There was a Buffalo Wild Wings in Anderson, just north of Indianapolis. I'd stop and watch the game there. ESPN was still showing the tournament then and their whiparound coverage indicated that BGSU-Oklahoma State, the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament, would be the featured game.

Indeed, I made it into BW3 and sat down with a great view of a TV carrying that game. It was tinier than the other TVs, natch, because they were showing men's games, and I didn't even have sound. But it didn't take audio clues to follow the score: BG was in control for much of the game then iced the victory with free throws to win 70-66. This was neat.

HERE WAS THE PROBLEM THOUGH: I didn't think about how I'd watch the second round game.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 — Oh, God. A game against Vanderbilt on a Tuesday night. I checked the whiparound coverage map ... Notre Dame was playing a game at that very same time. Of course the state of Indiana is going to favor that game instead of BG-Vanderbilt. So I panicked. I absolutely NEEDED to view this game for my very well-being. This would have made me a substandard fan had I just refreshed the Internet box score in my hotel room. So I checked the satellite TV listings. As it turns out ESPN Full Court or whatever the bloody flip they called it had dedicated channels for each game. I didn't even need to look at my own channel options in my hotel. This wasn't going to end well.

And don't do a search for "sports bars in Bedford Indiana with satellite TVs" because the search engine just laughs at you.

So I weighed more options. Bloomington was just a half hour north of Bedford and being a college town they had a litany of sports bars. I found one: Kilroy's Sports, downtown just a couple blocks from the IU campus. I called them up the night before and asked "you have this channel, right?" Who the hell CALLS IN ADVANCE to a sports bar asking if they're going to show an obscure basketball game (for that region)? This damn BG fan. And yes, they did have a dish and ESPN Full Court.

After I was done with work that night, I darted to the car with printed out directions in hand, and drove from Bedford to Bloomington.

The place was damn near empty. I think they were on spring break, but it was also a Tuesday evening. There wasn't much on television in the way of sports except, really, women's basketball and possibly NBA/NHL. And you don't pack a sports bar for that — not in this town.

I walked up to the bar, gave them the channel on a piece of paper I had prewritten before. (You could tell I was serious about this.) I then asked for a Diet Pepsi (which was on the house) and nursed the bottomless drink for two hours, watching the game at a practically-empty restaurant in solitude.

This really was my idea of paradise. Free pop and Bowling Green athletics. This is all you ever really need to provide me to keep me content. Take note, future wife.

I had basically two interactions during that game: the bartender asking me if I wanted a refill (which was often) and a young girl bar-crawling on her 21st birthday who said, "Wow you must really care about this game!"

And to be truthful, I don't remember many details of the actual game. Just one. I had to look at the box score for a refresher and it all started coming back to me. BGSU had built a double-digit halftime lead, never trailed, and leaned on, of all people, Amber Flynn to lead the team in scoring.

After being up as much as 13 (at halftime) the Commodores started getting stops and cutting the lead down to a very uncomfortable level. Suddenly it was a three-point lead. Going over five minutes without scoring in the final seven minutes of the game is a really terrible time for a cold streak.

I did my damn best alone at that bar not to yell in celebration of BGSU women's basketball's rendition of The Shot. It wasn't a buzzer-beater but it was the game-sealer. Ali Mann broke free and was alone at the top of the key. The ball went to her and she drilled a 3-point shot to increase the lead to six points with 55 seconds to play, breaking a five-minute scoring drought.

That was essentially the game. Free throws and such later, BGSU won the game 59-56 had advanced to the Sweet 16. I pounded the bar table in celebration, left the bartender a tip for her troubles, and probably gave them a story to tell their friends for the night. Some weird guy ordered nothing, watched some women's college basketball game, and left.

* * *

This might be my favorite story to share about the lengths I had gone to watch my team, even if I wasn't able to be there in person. I don't share it often because, again, it's Bowling Green women's basketball and who else would understand it?

But now the story comes with a gloriously hilarious postscript: my favorite memories of this dynasty occurred when I was in Bloomington, Indiana, a mile and a half from Assembly Hall, where BGSU women's basketball cornerstone Curt Miller will coach his next basketball game for the Indiana Hoosiers. Now the story falls somewhere between irony and creepy. Maybe I should've driven to Ziggy Zoomba's that night instead?

Now, I'm going long-winded on this particular game and event because the women's basketball was so compelling. Even when I was a BGSU student I don't think I attended a single women's game, and I'm a terrible person for this. I went back post-diploma for a few games and I think even the MAC Championship in Cleveland, and you don't normally do that unless they're a special bunch of players.

But they weren't just good ... they were damn fun to watch. Curt Miller made his team not only successful and hard-working, but a dynamite spectator product. They ran, they dove for balls, they made crisp passes and excellent outside shots. And when the team would go on a run, in any game, the excitement was seen, heard and felt. It was a new sensation for me. No sports team is ever unbeatable by definition, but the special ones provide moments of clarity and ecstasy that make you believe fervently that they're the best team ever to play the sport. In the 2006-07 season they went 31-4 and almost topped #1 Duke. That might be as damn close as a BG team gets.

And I was almost certain that, being a child of the Urban Meyer departure, Miller was going to find a better job and leave after that Sweet 16 loss to Arizona State. Most notably Michigan State was the one everybody thought would become Miller's new home. That went to Suzy Merchant, another MAC coach who was coming off a maternity leave season and WNIT success prior to that at Eastern Michigan. So Miller stayed put and suffered growing pains with the loss of all those seniors. The second round of the WNIT would be all they could muster in the following year.

A few more NCAA tournament appearances (but no tourney wins) would start coming the Falcons' way and the banners kept getting hoisted. And the coaching rumors would always fly. I thought Miller was going to leave for New Mexico last year, and it made so much sense. UNM athletic director Greg Christopher Paul Krebs was an ex-BGSU AD who hired MIller in the first place. But he didn't take the job and instead stuck around for yet another rebuilding year, and it was one of his most glorious jobs perhaps of the 11 seasons. He returned one senior and one starter. Toledo, EMU, Miami, CMU — they were all rearing for even better seasons, and BGSU systematically beat them all (except Toledo) and captured a regular season title. Please don't bother me with how it ended — a loss to CMU in the semifinals, and a shocking WNIT loss to VCU in the first round.

Miller is now in Bloomington, Indiana and I don't know if he's ever going to head into Kilroy's at any time, nor do I think this matters in my personal narrative. But I can't help but wonder that the place Miller's (I'm sure of) going to thrive with yet another rebuilding program is the same city where my love for this program solidified for reasons inexplicable even to myself five years later.

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