Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Win Some, You Lose Some

After two years of dating, and knowing for a long time I wanted to sign her for a long term deal, the time was drawing near for me to pop the question.

Except, I hadn't really planned anything. I had no idea what I was going to do. Not one iota.

And then it hit me, all at once, actually, like a ton of bricks.

It had to be public. It had to be planned. It had to be orchestrated.

But when? Where? How?

Let's rewind just a little bit, just to give it some background on the topic.

For the 2010-2011 season, Rachel (my fiance) and myself had attended the home game against Morehead State, in which the Racers clinched the OVC regular season with a decisive 70-62 victory.

She loved the game. I mean, how couldn't she? I pointed out the "Manimal" to her, referencing him as the dread-lock demon who stormed the glass with authority. I pointed out no. 3, the sharp-shooting Isaiah Canaan, who I knew would lead the team this year. I was screaming for Daniel and Aska, and the chants of "O-V-C" rained down onto the court as the Racers stormed to a huge lead.

We had a lot of fun. She was hooked as a Racer.

Fast-forward to Jan. 2012. Rachel had just graduated from Ezell's Cosmetology and was working nights at Sally Beauty Supply. She couldn't go to the home games with me. She was missing the magical season.

The wins continued to pile up. 10-0. 12-0. 16-0. It went on an on. I kept hoping she'd have a night off to go with me, to see history being made right in our back yard.

Finally, she said, she had a night off.

February 12, 2012. The Racers. Tennessee State.

Canaan does his best to defend the corner.
At 23-0, the Racers were the last undefeated team in the entire nation, beating out the likes of Baylor, Missouri and Syracuse for the prestigious title. While the competition was admittedly weaker, the title was still important and meant a lot for this community.

Tennessee State, however, came into the game on a six-game win streak, unfazed by the hype and prepared to win a tough conference road game.

I thought to myself, "What a perfect opportunity. I've got to ask her at the game!"

I had heard of people doing such things, so I made a couple of calls and I poked around the Athletic Dept. I finally got in touch with Morris White, Marketing and Promotions Director for the CFSB Center (or the Bank, as we like to call it).

"I want to rent the jumbo-tron, sir, so I can ask my girlfriend to marry me," I quivered into the phone.

"You sure you want to do that?" White asked.

He meant no harm. I'm sure he didn't want me to turn into a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons.

I simply replied, "Yes." Morris set to work organizing it, and I haven't thanked him enough.

I purchased a ring, one that I found in just under two hours online. It's the best purchase I've ever made.

It all began falling together. I was (and still am) a writer for the Murray State News, and I had been asked by Elizabeth Johnson (my editor-in-chief) to hand out our signs for the game. This got me into the game early, which made it easy for Morris and I to stage the location for the proposal.

Thousands began lining up. I was telling everyone that I could. I was so excited. Not just for the game, but for what was going to transpire during the game.

I was pledging my life to someone I love, someone I cherish, for the rest of my life.

Morris told me to be ready by the first media time-out, just four minutes into the game.

Thousands filled the stands as tip-off commenced. The cheers were beyond loud; I couldn't hear anything. As the Racers took the court, thunderous applause crescendo-ed through the rafters.

I don't remember the first minutes of the game; it was all a haze as I stared into the future, my future, our future. Us.

Morris boomed over the mic, something about a Kiss Cam. This was it. This was my queue. He "picked" me out of the crowd. I was nervous, shaky. I took the mic from him. My hand was sweaty from where I had been clinching the ring box tightly to my body, so as not to reveal it to Rachel.

The crowd was strangely hushed as I started to speak, but as my intentions were soon exposed, the stadium erupted - no - exploded into a raucous, frenzied fit.

She took forever to answer. Even Morris got a little worried. She was frozen in time. I was frozen in time. The crowd waited with anticipation, aching for an answer from her, perhaps more than I was.

I cracked jokes, just trying to fill the void, but finally, a meek and heartfelt "yes" eep-ed out.

The crowd's collective voices lifted the roof, making the CFSB an open arena, if just for a brief moment.

Rachel and I embraced, and as the game resumed, I didn't care. I had what I needed.

By half-time, my attention had returned to the game, and for good reason. The Racers were playing well and had a 13-point lead halfway through the second half.

It didn't last.

Wil Peters and Robert Covington (who will grace the NBA with his presence, I think) started making really tough shots, and the Racers clammed up, clanking shots left and right.

I stood up and leaned against the rails. I was screaming at refs at the top of my lungs. I was calling the plays. I was coaching. Fans behind me started to gather and jump with me, hanging on each and every second of the final minutes as if they were our very last.

Jewaun Long made an ill-advised inbound pass, Canaan got called for a ridiculous loose-ball foul and the full-court touchdown sailed out of the end-zone. And that was the end of the perfect season.

I sat down, crumbling into my seat, and laid my head on Rachel's shoulder. I was dazed, confused that a team could come in and win in such a matter. The Racers were supposed to go undefeated for the regular season. Why did it have to end this way?

I looked at Rachel, and everything was okay. It was just a game. It was a great game. It was a game I wanted us to win, just to make the night even more special.

"Hey, there's the guys who got engaged!" I heard from the exiting crowd beneath us.

I waved half-heartedly and tried to smile.

"I wish we would've won!" I yelled, but the response I got I'll never forget.

"At least you're still undefeated!" he said.

You know what? You're damn right.

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