I'll write about the game in the morning. This one was everything I've been worrying about showing up in one game. And I don't want to write about that right now. As Meat Loaf once said, let me sleep on it.
Instead, I'll write about two chairs. This is just one of those "and then what happened?" articles where I chronicle my night. These never cost you a click. No one should have to subscribe to read something like this. It's basically a personal blog entry. And this one is 86% "look at how great I am." If that's your kind of thing, well, here we go.
I didn't apply for a press credential for this game. Yes, that would get me in for free, but I felt like sitting in the stands. I did that at the Minnesota game (sat in the stands with a friend of mine), and I decided to do it solo tonight. There are reasons for all of this, and it's a very long story (I haven't attended a single press conference in seven weeks), but that's for another time. Right now, let's just say that I'm trying to figure some things out and leave it at that.
Part of "figure some things out" is just buying a ticket for some of these games. I fully realize the stupidity of that - I have subscribers, they're paying for this hotel room I'm sitting in right now, and I'm eschewing the access I worked so hard to gain in order to sit in the stands and tweet from my phone - but it's the best I can do right now. Besides, I never want to lose my fan side, and sitting with the fans helps me hang on to that side of myself. The moment this stops coming from a place of fandom is the moment everyone stops reading.
I could, especially for a game like this with zero crowd, apply for a credential and then just find a place to sit in the stands. At home, I have the freedom to do that as long as the game isn't a sellout and I'm taking someone's seat. But I don't think I'm comfortable doing that on the road. Just doesn't feel right. Feels like I should buy a ticket.
So that's what I did. And then I didn't sit in that seat. I wandered. Spent some time in a standing-room-only area, then went upstairs to say hi to a friend, then spent the second half down by the Illinois bench. I feel like I'm not getting to the story so I should just get to the story.
I go upstairs to meet a friend. Not just any friend - an IlliniBoard legend. For those of you who go back 20 years with us, you'll remember certain usernames from the message board days (that's why IlliniBoard is named IlliniBoard, you know). This name: Tort. Well, Tortillini. Tort and I have interacted for nearly 20 years - 23% of it over the song Cuddly Toy by Roachford - and yet we'd never met in person. So I went upstairs and sat down with Tort.
Well, "sat down". Because when I went to sit down with him, the chair did not cooperate. It went straight down. He had come down the aisle from where he was sitting with his family, and I was walking up the aisle, so we picked two empty seats to sit down. My seat looked like this after I sat in it:
I SWEAR it was broken before I sat in it because there was basically no resistance. I just went to sit down and down it went. Lookin' a little too much like a Cuddly Toy these days. Time for a diet.
After chatting with Tort, I returned to my pacing spot at the end of the arena and watched the end of the first half from there. I had been DMing with another Illini fan who said he was sitting over by the Illinois bench, and there were at least 75 empty seats over by the Illinois bench, so I decided to post up from there. It was then where I wished that I HAD applied for a credential - if an usher asked why I was sitting there, I could have showed them the credential - but I still felt like paying for a ticket was the right way to go about it.
As I sat there, several people tried to fill the row directly behind the Illinois bench. And all of them were kicked out. Some Illini fans were first. Then a single Maryland fan. Then four Maryland fans. The usher was all over it. Which made me feel a little sheepish for sitting seven rows back from there (without a ticket for that section). But, I'm "covering" the Illini game, and the best place to cover an Illini game is behind the bench, so that's where I sat.
It's only Illini fans for the first few rows (the visiting section) and then Maryland fans beyond that (filling about every fourth seat or so). So I was sitting with Maryland fans. They saw my Illini gear and, uh, let me hear it in the second half.
But that's not the story of the second chair. The second chair isn't for another 45 minutes. Let's just skip ahead.
The game ends. We lose (did you hear?). I think about bolting, but the Maryland fans behind me are looking for an Uber and they say that the surge pricing says it's $51 to take them three miles. I have to go about 10 miles. Yeah, I'm gonna wait until the surge pricing goes down.
So I wait, just sitting there with the other depressed Illini fans. Several players come out to greet friends and family (Jacob Grandison, Luke Goode, RJ Melendez, Brandin Podziemski). And Chester Frazier comes out to great several members of his family. Makes total sense. Chester is originally from Baltimore.
After flipping through my phone and tweeting a few things and observing all of this, I check Uber. Still surge pricing. Gonna wait some more.
Chester finishes greeting his family and I see what looks like his brother help what looks like his mom over to the stairs. They have a discussion about how many stairs are there (she's in a walking boot), but she motions that she's fine and heads up the stairs towards the concourse.
I stick around for about 10 more minutes and then head out myself. When I reach the concourse, Chester's brother and mother haven't gotten very far. They had just gotten to the top of the stairs. Slow going with a walking boot. I went up to ask them if they wanted me to find a wheelchair (honestly, at that moment, I was thinking "my press pass probably gets me access to some areas where I could look for a wheelchair", forgetting that I didn't have a press pass for this game). Chester's brother told me he had asked an usher for a wheelchair and they said they didn't have any.
OK so now I'm in fix-it mode. They still have to walk around one-half of the concourse, just to get to the exit. This isn't right. I'm going to find a wheelchair. "I'll go see what I can find", I tell them, and I head off to look for a chair.
Maryland's arena is kind of odd, and the two main exits are both at the same end. It would be like the State Farm Center having two main exits at the southeast lot and the southwest lot. If you want to go to the northeast or northwest lots, well, you have to go out one of the other exits and double back.
So I check both exits. No wheelchairs. I find a security guard at the second exit. He says to check with facilities. He walks me over to a railing, points down two levels, and says that facilities is at the end of that hallway.
I take the elevator down two levels. I'm now in the bowels of the Xfinity Center. I finally find the door to Facilities, go in, and no one is there. I say "hello?" and check several offices. No one there. More importantly, no wheelchairs anywhere.
I take the elevator back up and go to look for Chester's brother and mom. They haven't made it very far. Maybe 15% of their journey to the exit. "I couldn't find anything", I tell them. "I looked everywhere." They were very nice about it. His mom insisted that she was fine. Leave it to Chester Frazier's mom to be walking on a walking boot, at an advanced age, telling everyone she didn't need help walking 600 yards to the car. Makes total sense why Chester is so no-nonsense.
I go out one of the exits and had one of those moments where I realize that once the door latches behind me, this quest is over. Am I really ready for this quest to be over? I don't think I am. I grab the door.
And then it hits me. In the facilities office downstairs there was a reception area. And when I looked in that cubicle to see if there was a wheelchair in the corner, I saw a rolling desk chair. That could be the wheelchair. I go back in. Peggy needs a wheelchair, and Maryland should have one sitting at every exit but they don't, so I'm getting Peggy a wheelchair. Nobody puts Peggy in a corner.
I take the elevator back down. I go to the facilities office. I grab the chair. I wheel it out. And I SWEAR TO GOD this is what happens next.
Danny Manning is standing there.
Here I am, in an orange Illinois hoodie, two levels down, this Illini fan coming out of the facilities office pushing an office chair. And there's the Maryland head coach.
But he didn't really even acknowledge me (or maybe even see the orange hoodie)? I was just someone coming out of the facilities office, and I guess it makes sense for someone to be coming out of that office pushing a rolling chair. Maybe the needed it on the third floor.
I go to the elevator, he goes the other way (to leave the arena through the tunnel, I think). When I get in the elevator, I snap that pic at the top because after running into the Maryland head coach I realize I'd probably be writing about this and I needed proof that I wasn't, you know, just making the whole thing up. So here's the chair in the elevator:
I exit the elevator and go to look for Chester's brother and mother and... they're nowhere to be found. I'm dumbfounded. I hadn't told them I was continuing my quest, but when I went to go back to Facilities, I saw them starting to round the corner towards the big long hallway to the other exit. They were just RIGHT HERE? Did someone find a wheelchair and wheel her out? Did she say "screw it", toss her cane, kick off the walking boot, and start shoving people out of her way like they're Eric Gordon? Probably.
I check both ends to see if maybe they turned around or something, but nothing. They've vanished. So I get back on the elevator to take the chair back. I get off the elevator two flights down and... there they are. While I was taking the elevator up (and taking the photo of the chair), they were in the other elevator going down. This is a movie. I'm in a movie.
But they still have a long hallway (plus a long sidewalk outside), so I can at least help with this part of the journey. I say "found one of those fancy new wheelchairs" and show them what I found. Chester's brother helps her into the chair and we start to roll her down the hallway. "Oh thank you Jesus, thank you Lord", she says. "Mom, what'd you say?" Chester's brother says as he pulls out his phone to film her rolling down the hallway. "Thank you Jesus. Thank you Lord."
As it ended up, we had a very long way to go. The long hallway. A long vestibule. Then a very long sidewalk to where Chester's brother's fiance' had brought the car around. We had to go slow over the sidewalk joints (there's no footrest on an office chair, so she had to kind of hold here walking boot on top of her other let and let her heel drag a bit). But we eventually made it to the car.
I look back up the sidewalk and I see a facilities guy leaving out that door, staring at the thing I used to prop open the door. If he moves the thing, I can't get this "wheelchair" back in the building and the facilities receptionist is going to find her chair sitting outside tomorrow. He leaves it alone and so I'm good. I go back up the sidewalk, down the long hallway, return the chair to its cubicle, and call an Uber.
Forgot one thing. I told Chester's mom that I thought her son was the toughest player to ever play for Illinois. She smiled. His brother said something like "that sounds like him". And I told her I'd absolutely expect for her to walk two flights of stairs in a walking boot just so she could see her son on the bench at a basketball game.
Maybe it was simply because we lost and I was bitter, but as I was rolling the chair back, I was fairly angry that Maryland didn't have a way to get Chester's mom from her seat to the car. I did see the usher for that section urge her to go out the tunnel and not walk up to the concourse (still would have been a very long trek, just without any stairs), and the thing that made Chester such a great defender is probably the same thing that led to his mom refusing a shortcut and going out the way she came in.
But still - two collapsible wheelchairs tucked away in the corner of a vestibule at each entrance and this whole problem is solved. Because they didn't do that, some Illini blogger who didn't have a credential for this game and is wearing the brightest orange hoodie of all time is now wandering around the bowels of the Xfinity Center "borrowing" office chairs.
So two things for the Maryland folks reading this:
1. Please, just add two wheelchairs to those main entrances.
2. Section 212, maybe row 10 or so, right on the aisle next to 213 - seat's broken. Wasn't me I swear.
As for this game and what it means? Let me sleep on it.
I'll give you an answer in the morning.