We made it home.
And yes, a road trip to Denver -- and back -- to watch Winthrop University's men's basketball team play in the NCAA Tournament Thursday night was worth every one of the six days and 3,270 miles it took to make it happen.
I didn't ask Sports Editor Gary McCann if he thought it was worth it. He was stuck in the car with me, or covering the game and the events surrounding the game, the whole time. He had serious work, and he did it so well, covering this big deal for York County people, and my contribution was to carry on like a teenager on spring break.
McCann collected stories from players and coaches. I collected coasters and matchbooks from places such as the Buckhorn Exchange, Colorado's oldest bar. McCann chased star players and coaches for quotes. I chased bums on railroad tracks for quotes.
When he dropped me off at my house Saturday, after we drove from Denver to Nashville, Tenn., on Friday over a back-breaking 20 hours, then the rest of the way Saturday, the subject of "worth it" never came up. I dragged myself through the front door and found a note: Take out the garbage.
Ah, home sweet home.
A neighbor waved. He told me to cut my lawn. Yep, I was home.
Ultimately, you readers decide if the trip was worth it, anyway.
But I will say why was this trip worth it, for me:
• The people of this country are terrific. Funny and smart, if you stop to meet them on their own terms. Not one person this year to and from Denver, or last year to and from Spokane, Wash., for the same reason -- bringing Winthrop hoops to you at home -- was anything less than gracious. Even the guy at a rest stop in Salina, Kan., wearing an Ezra Brooks Bourbon black T-shirt without sleeves didn't punch me in the mouth when I asked him if he heard of Winthrop.
That same travel plaza sold everything. Truckers were all over the place. One guy bought a ratchet strap, also called a come-along, two bags of beef jerky and a pack of playing cards. Must've been for some party he was throwing.
• The place names are great, too. Although I couldn't pronounce too many. Limon, Colo. Not Lee-mon, but Li-mon. Ina. Last Chance. Vienna.
• The Kansas Highway Patrol. Two times pulled over, no tickets. Love them. Hate the state -- it takes longer to drive through than most marriages last -- but I must throw the cops a bone. I did not want to write the "strip-searched reporter found to have not worn clean underwear like wife and late mother always said to do" column.
• Buffalo burger in Denver. Tastes like you think it might. Good, but heavy. Required four big draft beers to wash it down. Forgot that I had even eaten buffalo by that point. Made snorting sounds and horns with fingers.
• Winthrop hoops. Sometimes, fans get mad if articles don't portray the team in a positive way. This team had a good season, very good at the end, until the last half of the last game. Fans again rallied to make the attendance the best it has ever been for a season. I bought tickets and went to more than 20 games. I cheered like a lunatic. I took my kids. I was honored to write about some of the good things they did, the great things like honoring deceased former teammate De'Andre Adams and again making it to the tournament. But Thursday, Winthrop lost by 31 points after being tied at halftime. The only positive out of that second half of the last game was that it ended.
But the team was a success this season. The season matters, not the last game. Winthrop has nothing to be ashamed of. Of the 65 teams in the NCAA Tournament, 64 lose their last game.
• McCann. McCann did say one thing as we shook hands and called the past six days officially over. He called over his shoulder: "Maybe again next year?"
Then, he backed out of the driveway, and I swear his head was shaking sideways and his mouth was saying, "Nah!"