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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

IF THIS BUS COULD TALK

I'm going a little off the beaten path this morning.  Everyone that knows me knows I love music...its always on in my office...in my car...at my home -- even outside near my old blue chair.  And I love all genres of music.  While jazz remains my favorite I also enjoy R&B, country and rock.  Last night I was listening to a little Kenny Chesney, "If This Bus Could Talk."

It reminded me that a lot of the best memories we have with our teams won't always be on game nights.  More importantly, it is places, like buses where relationships can be developed and strengthened.

Recently I wrote about "my favorite team" -- the West Virginia State Yellow Jackets.  Those teams rode through the snow covered roads of West Virginia on the bald tires of school vans...and they were great times.  The rides to the game -- listening to the players talk about what needed to be done to win (we almost always drove up the day of a game). There was nothing better than the road trip back after a win.  The laughter, the stories, the camaraderie. 

It is said that a lot of games are won and lost in the locker room and this is true.  But the confined dwellings of a van or a bus can go a long way in growing a family.

There was a road trip when I was at Marshall that took us via bus to Cullowhee, North Carolina then on to Chattanooga, Tennessee before heading back to Huntington. After a win at Western Carolina, we had a couple of days in Chattanooga.  As I stayed back and watched video one night, the team took the bus to the mall.  Later that night, I get a knock on the door and standing there is our 6-2 post player Lollie Shipp holding a fairly large bus.

She said, "Coach, I have a problem and I need your help."

"What is it Lollie," I said.

At which she spill the box open on my bed only for me to see a rabbit come hopping out!  It seams that the team walked past a pet store and Lollie felt the need to liberate the rabbit.  After purchasing it, it finally occurred that we were not in Huntington but a long way from home.  After meeting with our head coach and bus driver, our new Lady Herd family member stayed in the bus for our game against UTC before romping up and down the aisle of the bus on our way home.  We actually beat UTC in triple overtime and our beat writer, who rode in the bus with us mentioned some lucky rabbit feet in his story.

There was Marie Ferdinand who got tired of people on the bus talking about their dogs and made up an imaginary cat named Snow Ball.  Her escapades with Snow Ball were epic and entertained the bus always.

In 1998-99, our LSU team faced a four consecutive games on the road in the SEC with Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama.  At the time, Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama were all ranked in the top 25.  Looking at the schedule, Ole Miss was our best chance to steal a road win.  After being behind to Ole Miss in double digits at half time, we fought back only to lose 66-59. It was a devastating loss with the prospect of three more ahead.

As we started home, Coach Sue Gunter asked if I had the VHS tape which I replied "yes ma'am."

She said "Pop it in." 

We place it in the bus video player and Coach Gunter began walking up and down the aisle of the bus as the tape played, critiquing each possession.  Letting players know they better not think about falling asleep.   When the game ended Coach Gunter said, "Bob, rewind it and play it again."

We watched that game three and a half times, all with Coach Gunter commentary, before our bus pulled into the campus on Baton Rouge.  We then upset Vanderbilt in Nashville, and Florida in Gainesville before a tired Lady Tiger team lost to #21 Alabama 71-66, despite a great effort.

Many years later I overhead Temeka Johnson telling our team on the bus as we again headed to Oxford to play the Rebels that there was no way we were going to lose this game.  She then repeated the story about Coach Gunter and the bus ride home.  It later occurred to me that Meek was not on that team and asked how she knew about it.

"Some things get passed down from team to team," she said with a smile.

For me, there is are hundreds of individual conversations on the bus, calling a player up to sit with me for a few minutes.  Talking basketball, talking school, talking life.  I've learned a lot about my players on bus rides and I'm sure they can say the same about me.

Now at Texas A&M, most everything is charter airplanes for our Aggies.  And don't get me wrong -- they are great and much appreciated.  They help get our team back and forth much quicker, allowing them to miss less class time.

But don't underestimate or underappreciate those times on the van or the bus.

"Many years of summers, and I hope it never ends
Been down so many highways, full of twists and turns and bends;
We caught lightning in a bottle, somehow we survived it all
All the stories he could tell, if this bus could talk."
 
-Kenny Chesney