Baylor's Sweet 16 Run A Dream Come TrueMarch 25, 2010
Hundreds of fans showed up at the Bill Daniel Student Center Wednesday to send the Bears off to Houston in anticipation of tonight's game. It was a short but raucous party, featuring the players and head coach Scott Drew, reveling in the anticipation of a game that will be played in front of 40,000 plus inside the stadium and millions more on television.
Baylor nation seems bigger than ever these days, pulsating with the energy that only March Madness can provide. But many remember that this wasn't always the case.
Much has been made of where the program was when coach Drew got here following the scandalous summer of 2003, a low point for a program that found sustained success elusive since the days following World War II. The team advanced to the Final Four in 1950, when the NCAA tournament consisted of just 8 teams. In the intervening sixty years, the Baylor men finished with a winning record just 23 times. But there remained in that time fans who supported the team no matter the situation. Voice of the Bears John Morris has been around the program for over 30 years now, and has come to know many of them.
Wes Bailey is one of those fans. Both he and his wife, and all four of their parents are Baylor graduates. His office at his family's insurance agency features pictures of him handing all three of children their diplomas upon graduating at Baylor. Growing up, rooting on the Bears was a way of life.
Another such fan is Chris Fuentes. He hasn't been going to Baylor games quite as long, but he's got the hardware to prove his fandom. The 25 year old was named the Skip Goehring Fan of the Year at a game against Texas this year, others having taken notice of the dedication of a fan who shows up at every game when the doors open with 4 year old son Ethan in tow. His grandmother worked in admissions for 25 years, and took him to every game from the time he was young. He hasn't missed a game since...well, since when?
The Harry Miller days lasted from 1994 to 1999. That's over a decade of perfect attendance, a model the students he serves as a truant officer at Lake Air Intermediate School might be well-advised to follow in the classroom. For Morris, Bailey, Fuentes, and many who have supported the program for decades have heard "That Good Old Baylor Line" played after far more losses than wins. Fans like Bailey and Fuentes had to wonder if the only private school in the Big 12 would ever rise above the crowd.
Athletic director Ian McCaw remembered those early days when Drew was a youthful, enthusiastic 32 year old head coach, as opposed to the youthful, enthusiastic 39 year old he is today. McCaw's hiring of Drew was pivotal for a program desperately in need of stability. For Chris Fuentes, then an 18 year old, the hiring confirmed something he and his-never-say-die attitude already believed.
That belief paid off, and now there's more fans than ever joining him these days at the Ferrell Center. And then there's the winning. For John Morris, Baylor athletics is his livelihood as the Voice of the Bears. But he's also a fan, having graduated from the university and either covered or called their games since then. He's spent far more time calling games that Baylor was losing than winning. And while Morris downplays his role, its a lot more fun for he and analyst Pat Nunley to join their colleagues in calling games late into March and in front of packed home crowds than it is to sit and watch them elsewhere.
Wes Bailey and his family will be at Reliant Stadium tonight, John Morris will call the game from courtside, and Chris Fuentes is riding down with a friend to cheer the Bears on. And what will it feel like to watch the program that they watched during the down times playing in such rarefied air?
The dream weekend for Baylor basketball fans begins tonight when the men take on St. Mary's at 6:30, the women will play Tennessee in Memphis for the right to advance to the Elite 8 tomorrow morning at 11. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.