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The real work begins

SPOKANE, Wash. — Finally.

After 2,638.9 miles, 12 states and four time zones, seven climates, one snowstorm, 13 cups of coffee, six arguments and one spine-jangling descent down the Continental Divide, it’s time to toss the basketball in the air and win.

Winthrop University plays in the NCAA Tournament this afternoon at 2:35 Rock Hill time against Notre Dame. This isn’t a game anymore, not after all this. This is the Crusades and the Holy Grail.

I’m a stinking, foul-mouthed, raving beast.

I have interviewed dozens of people in the past three days, as Gary McCann, sports editor of The Herald and my driving mate, and I made the trip from Rock Hill to Spokane for the Eagles’ game.

McCann and I arrived at 12:14 a.m. Pacific time on Thursday, 391⁄2 hours after we left. We beat the bar closing bell by a whisker. Beer has never tasted so good.

This trip is already worth it.

But Winthrop, you must win. Win. Win.

I don’t care that those dozens of people in all those states and here in Washington asked, “Who is Winthrop?” and “Where is Rock Hill?” and said the famous Notre Dame would beat the Eagles.

To all of them, I say I love you, but you stink. I guarantee, right here, a Winthrop victory.

McCann and I set sail in a rented Mazda across this great country to meet those people who live in it. We met a convenience store clerk named Joyce in Wyoming, who quit to work in a dental office that same day. She told her boss she wasn’t coming back. Her boss is her husband, Steve.

I went to bed Thursday morning at 2:15 or so, then got up at 6:43. Really, that’s 9:43 back in Rock Hill, so actually I slept in.

Of course, I had slept four hours in the past 48, so I should’ve been tired, right?

No. I’m jacked to watch Winthrop win.

I stood in the lobby of The Red Lion Hotel on Thursday morning as the sun rose. My hair was greasy, stringy and dank. I had body odor. I wore the same T-shirt I started the trip in.

I looked in a window and saw a crazy man. I found out it wasn’t a window, but a mirror.The lunatic was me.

A waitress named Tamara took pity on me. She put a coffee in my hand the size of a 55-gallon drum.“Drink,” she said.

I took a sip, and she asked me where I was from. I could not speak. I pulled out my driver’s license.

“South Carolina?” she said. “You are in Washington. State.”

I said I knew that.

How was the flight, Tamara wanted to know.

“Didn’t fly,” I said. “Drove. Winthrop. Basketball. Win. This Year. Notre Dame.”

Tamara now knew why the werewolf stood in front of her.

“Are you telling me that you drove all this way just for a two-hour basketball game?” she asked. Her hands shook, she was so incredulous.“Not just me,” I said. “Another guy, too. His idea. He’s sleeping. Wimp.”

McCann, who drove the bulk of those 40 hours and officially has become my chaperone to keep truckers from punching me out when I try to interview them in dark parking lots, still for some reason has decided to talk to me again. He didn’t sleep long, though.

He had to cover Winthrop’s practice, and Notre Dame’s, too. He chased coaches and players and wrote important words on the most important game in the history of Winthrop sports. After that road trip, he’s still a pro.

I, though, talked to the guys who work security, and some fans, and the ladies who catered the food and the computer guys who saved me because I forgot how to turn on the computer I’m using to write this column. I drank seven more cups of coffee.

One sportswriter complained to another at the arena: “I had to drive four hours to get here.”

I cringed. My face was red from more coffee. My tie was askew on my neck, looking more like a noose all the time.

“We drove four hours, too,” I told the guy. “The first morning. Then we drove some more and some more after that. You, sir, need to quit your bellyachin.’”

We — McCann and me, the new Bing Crosby and Bob Hope road movies team — found time to give television interviews on KXLY-TV in Spokane and radio interviews on the Winthrop sports network and others. Spokane is apparently in shock that one goofball and a seasoned award-winning sportswriter would drive to the game instead of fly — and interview people along the way.

Lady TV interviewer, to McCann: “Does he always talk that much?”

McCann: “I might ask for solitary confinement instead of driving back with him.”

At Winthrop’s practice, about 40 fans who flew with the team to the game were there. The pep band was there. The cheerleaders and dance team, too.“Seemed like a good idea at the time, huh, driving?” one member of the band said to me.

Many in the crowd looked at Gary, people who had followed the escapade in the paper.“You talking to him again?”

McCann fled.

I was back to ingrate status.

But few other fans were here in Spokane because the game is so far away.

That’s why we drove, so you the fans at home could go along with us.

But all that preparation and all those miles are over now.

At Winthrop’s practice, four members of a family sat four across in the front row, wearing Notre Dame hats and sweat shirts and even one headband. They live in Idaho, 30 miles away.

I tried to hate them.

Dad Phil Cooper. Sons Dan, Mike, 17, and Ben, 15.

“I gotta root for Notre Dame, I’m a freshman there,” Dan said.

Dan, I don’t hate you, but I want your hair to fall out.

Dad Phil said Winthrop will be gracious in defeat.

I hoped for Phil to wake up for the game needing a root canal and maybe a knee replacement.

Young Ben and Mike also will root for Notre Dame. Much of America will. I will not.

Today is the reason McCann put up with me on this drive. Today is the reason Winthrop fans have supported the team in record numbers this year.After all those miles, the trip of a lifetime, I need more.

I, like all of you, are tired of Winthrop getting close.

I don’t want to drive home 2,600-plus miles stinking of loss.

I want blood.

Andrew Dys • 329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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