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-   -   The Gem of a Saturday in Dayton (http://www.udpride.com/forums/showthread.php?t=34119)

Chris R 03-08-2020 07:06 AM

The Gem of a Saturday in Dayton
 
As the Dayton Flyers pulled away from George Washington midway through the second half to finish unblemished at UD Arena and set a new season record for wins (29), the Colonial bench at long last waved the white flag too. For the first 30 minutes of the game, a GW staffer lifted a large posterboard-sized sign to help instruct their players on where to be and/or what to do. Flyer fans sitting directly behind the bench took exception because the sign blocked a large portion of their view of the court. One particular female Flyer fan got out of her seat, walked down the aisle, and unloaded.

“Nobody sits behind you anywhere else so it’s never a problem, but we came to see basketball – not the back of your sign!!!!”

Shortly thereafter, National Player of the Year favorite Obi Toppin finished off his third SportsCenter-worthy dunk in a span of three minutes. The Flyers blew the doors off a tight game and never looked back. Those annoying signs also vanished as the Flyer Faithful – aware of San Diego State’s loss to Utah State from their cell phones – came out of their seats for good to serenade the Dream Team to the buzzer. They knew the 76-51 Flyer victory meant an unblemished A10 record but also a potential #1 NCAA Tournament seed in most March Madness brackets on Sunday morning. Whether it was on the floor or in the stands, there was no backing down.

The city of Dayton is many things, but the fabric that binds uptown, downtown, and around town has always been an inestimable sense of belonging. It’s a place on a map that was always a waypoint sandwiched between over there and somewhere else. Locals saw themselves as a dark-horse community as far back as the 1800’s, becoming an official brand when two brothers with a bicycle shop moonlighted a dream of conquering aeronautics. The story was so on-brand that it still saturates every corner of Miami Valley life.

That was self-evident on Saturday as Dayton became the center of attention in the college basketball world from morning to dusk. Picked as the weekend’s ESPN College Gameday home turf, Rece Davis, Seth Greenberg, Jay Bilas, and LaPhonso Ellis joined an armada of satellite trucks, tractor trailers, motorcoaches, and supporting engineers from the mothership in Bristol, CT, and converged on the Gem City to see what the fuss was about. While UD Arena was being commandeered by the A10 Women’s Basketball Tournament, the Frericks Center stepped in as the ballroom of choice – and in a way it worked out for the better because the magic carpet ride of 2019-20 is more than about this season, this team, or these players. It’s a narrative 75 years in the making and the old UD Fieldhouse is where the Book of Genesis began. It was only fitting the story return there to remind us how far we’ve come, how difficult it was to get here, and why the fabric matters.

Dayton Flyer basketball has been one of those defining threads in the quilt, blanketing the town with the only franchise team it’s ever had. From obscurity to obsessively good in the 1950s, UD basketball grew out of its own shadow and into one of the city’s defining landmarks. Like the Huffman Prairie winds that lifted Orville and Wilbur’s fresh invention, UD basketball took that same thermal energy and turned the cagers into Dayton’s newest anthem for relevance, reason, and self-awareness. The small town on the way to somewhere else wanted to be an endpoint too.

As Anthony Grant’s team finished off GW to cap the greatest regular season in program history (29-2), one couldn’t help but feel decades of loose threads were finally being addressed. Players, coaches, and 13,407 hysterical fans at UD Arena shared a sense of reconciliation that this Flyer team and this Flyer season were and are the closest embodiments to the dream that’s been inside all of us – perhaps for all of our lives -- but never realized. This year was our modern-day Kitty Hawk moment when every theorized measurement and equation finally lifted off the page, fell into place, and performed with precision just as the blueprints suggested. Year after year, decade after decade, the Faithful knew of true greatness only at a distance. These were realities for other towns, jurisdictions, and fan bases too spoiled from success to ever understand undying patience, perseverance – and most importantly -- hope.

Those hopes and dreams were often mocked by outsiders playing annual killjoy, but the community remained steadfast for that one season when the planets aligned and everything came together. There was always next season.

On Saturday, next season finally arrived.

It was a day unlike any other before it, a buildup of unprecedented hype, and a sendoff crowd for the ages in the regular season finale. Team Dayton showed up and won like they have all year – doing things together. The coaches, players, and fans all did their part from taxi, liftoff, to touchdown. Spearheaded by Toppin and a collection of slick guards and post players with their own ability to headline, the Flyers took flight, lit the afterburner, and left a contrail of turbulence in the second half of the second half.

Earlier in the morning, the ESPN Gameday crew set the table by waxing poetic about UD’s basketball history and importance to the community. Thousands of students packed the stands, made signs, and shouted their collective lungs off with Must-See TV. The team made a brief appearance and Obi walked 94 feet with Jay Bilas on a court that now serves up A10 volleyball championship banners as often as Toppin windmill dunks. But the journey of Flyer basketball was only half-told until a slim, aging, silver-haired fellow forced himself out from the shadows to summarize the very essence of the brand.

It was less than a year ago when a series of tornadoes devastated the northwest, central, and eastern parts of the city. Hundreds of homes were damaged or wiped off the map, businesses ruined, and lives changed forever. A community rocked by Mother Nature was also stunned by cowardly violence in the Oregon District. Nine killed, more than 30 wounded, and more questions than answers. Daytonians responded the only way they knew how – together. It might be a diamond in the rough, but nothing sparkles like the Gem City when things are darkest. The town has been underwater before and knows how to sink or swim.

Yet there he was with his own sparkle, in the gym he competed in, for the school he competed for, under a coach that created the brand and a coach he later replaced. For a man that prefers blending into the carpet, Don Donoher stepped out from his shadow and into the light, just enough for the ESPN audience to familiarize themselves with one of our Mount Rushmores. He winked to the Gameday crowd, smiled to the camera, and faded into the shadows once again hoping his presence wasn’t off-putting in any way. For a man with 437 victories under his belt – all on a Dayton sideline – the sense of pride must have been overwhelming to see his own disciple carrying the torch bigger and brighter than at any moment since the 1967 NCAA Finals. No man was more instrumental in realizing the dream of a UD Arena and the city’s unofficial title as the Epicenter of College Basketball. Bringing it all back to where it started was the only honest way to tell the story.

Saturday meant different things to different people, but many childhood Flyer fantasies aging into adult dreams -- seemingly destined to remain a dream forever -- suddenly came true. For the first time in many of our lives, we felt on top of the basketball world and the world finally acknowledged us back. Because all of us suffered through the near-misses and never-weres to get here, the sweetness tasted all the sweeter for having endured the sour. From the students to the alums to the subway Flyer nation, it was our day in the sunshine. Together, we celebrated the blessings of the present, healed wounds of the recent past, and rediscovered what it is to be a Daytonian: an imagination destination where no dream is too big or hardship too profound. On Saturday, the Flyers – and the city – graduated from a waypoint to an endpoint.

Three seasons ago, former Flyer forward Anthony Grant left a comfortable and stable life as an NBA assistant coach to return to where it all started. At the time, fan reaction was a mixed bag. As he climbed the ladder to take the final cut and hoist the championship net at UD Arena on Saturday night, the loudest ovation was reserved for him. Quiet but fierce, reserved but confident, perhaps no one other than Grant himself could encapsulate the journey more eloquently. Within his own complexion is the hologram of his former coach. Within his own players is a hologram of Anthony Grant. The DNA is omnipresent in the unselfishness, humility, and temperance in everything they do, everyone they touch, and everywhere they go.

Of all the threads in the fabric that is Dayton, self-awareness might be the strongest part of the quilt. Over 100 years ago, two brothers orchestrated one of the greatest underdog stories in human history, outflanking the best-trained scientists and engineers around the world from the back of a bike shop on West Third Street by trusting their own talents, experiments, and data. The Wrights knew something everyone else didn’t. It’s not the brand that takes flight, it’s preparation, opportunity, and perseverance. When it all comes together and lifts off the page – like it did again on Saturday – it is perfection realized in a way that forces us to acknowledge what outsiders already knew: their validation never mattered at all. We did something that’s never come easy to us: we validated ourselves, and no metric or ranking can obfuscate the difference.

BeckysTXA 03-08-2020 08:10 AM

Pure perfection. Great job Chris.

UACFlyer 03-08-2020 08:16 AM

Magnificent!
 
Magnificent Chris. Thank you.

UACFlyer.

NJFlyr71 03-08-2020 08:29 AM

Wonderful
 
OK, it's official now. The best piece of writing to ever, and I mean ever, tell the story of the UD and Gem City ties that bind.

Thank you Chris for this. First thing I read today, the day after maybe the unthinkable or incredible season I've been a witness to since first listening to the 1967 Championship Game those many years ago ....

ATL84 03-08-2020 10:57 AM

This! A heartfelt thanks for putting it so beautifully in words :)

Radar 03-08-2020 11:12 AM

Well done, thanks Chris.

San Diego Flyer 03-08-2020 11:15 AM

Awesome Flyers and likewise Chris. !!

UncleFester 03-08-2020 11:57 AM

Thank you, Chris.
Posted via Mobile Device

UD Dave 03-08-2020 02:34 PM

Chris, this is the best piece of writing that I have read in a very long time. You accurately state not only what this team is about, but also what the City of Dayton is about.

I passed your piece along to a dear friend who is Dayton-born and raised. Like me, she's a long-time Dayton fan and a UD alum. What you wrote moved her to tears. She asked me whether UD could beat Kansas were they to face each other in the tournament. While not as eloquent as what you wrote, here is my reply:

Depending on match-ups I believe that UD can beat anyone in the country right now. KU had to win in OT against UD early in the season. KU is the consensus #1 team, and the metrics show that. But I believe that UD and maybe another half dozen teams are capable of beating KU.

UD is greater than the sum of its parts. They play with more heart than any team that I have ever seen. They play as a team. These guys like each other. They pick each other up and know who to go to and when during the course of a game. They play with joy. There is no fear in their eyes -- only determination and quiet confidence. They've taken everybody's best shot and have lost just twice -- on neutral courts, in OT, by a total of 8 points. One could argue that just two more points in regulation -- two points -- and this team is 31-0. It boggles my mind.

The guys need to keep listening to AG and continue to play as they have been all season. Only in fleeting dreams did I ever think that UD could challenge for a national championship. I can barely remember 1967. What happened in 1984 with Chapman was a surprise, which seemed like it would be as high as Flyers could fly. Then a few years back, the fun that was True Team and taking down tOSU. I have seen so many Dayton teams. I have cheered them all, but none of them has ever played like this team. I never thought that I'd see the day. Yes, this team can beat KU. Yes, this team can play for a national championship.

MikeFlyer 03-08-2020 05:03 PM

Poetry

moville 03-08-2020 07:08 PM

That's a beautiful piece of writing Chris. Thank you.

Sid Louick 03-08-2020 10:28 PM

Fantastic job Chris. I have mentioned before here that I first started watching the Flyers in 1950 when WHIO started broadcasting and televising the Flyers. I stood in line all night outside the Fieldhouse many times to get one of the 900 student tickets to games when I was at UD from 1959-64. I read many great columns written by Si Burick and Ritter Collett who covered the Flyers' NIT exploits in the 50s and 60s. Archdeacon has taken up where they left off. Your column above, however, is in a class by itself and very meaningful to this old Daytonian who has only been able to follow the Flyers from afar for the past 55+ years. Thanks so much for bringing UDPride into my life for as long as it lasts.

Medford 03-09-2020 09:07 AM

Fantastic article; somebody must have cut onions cause my eyes are starting to sweat :)


Great stuff.

Class of 73 Alum 03-09-2020 05:36 PM

Is there a Pulitzer Prize equivalent award for blog posts. Outstanding post, Mr Rieman!

DGO67 03-09-2020 09:43 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Class of 73 Alum (Post 621550)
Is there a Pulitzer Prize equivalent award for blog posts. Outstanding post, Mr Rieman!

"Modern day Kitty Hawk" wow!

TX Flyer 03-12-2020 10:13 PM

Good job Chris, good read


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