Starting 5: Saying goodbye to Grandpa Bob as the weirdest March ever rolls on
What was the defining game of the 2019-20 basketball season? For me, it will always be the Clemson-Miami game in the second round of the ACC Tournament on March 11.
No, it wasn’t the most exciting game of the season (Clemson won 69-65, for the record). No, it didn’t even really have a big impact, as the rest of the tournament was canceled later that day due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
But, it was the last game I ever watched with my grandpa.
This month was supposed to be a highlight for me, as I was credentialed for the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. Oh, and on March 15, I was supposed to celebrate a big milestone — my 30th birthday.
Instead, on March 11, I was sitting with my sister in my grandpa’s room at the nursing home as he slept. I’m not sure if he ever knew that Amy and I were there, let alone that we had the basketball game on. I had changed the channel from some inane daytime talk show to the game, since that’s what Grandpa Bob and I both would have wanted.
My grandpa grew up on a farm and farmed every day of his adult life, going well into his 80s before he was trampled by a bull and had to quit the day-to-day aspects of farm life. I didn’t see him much growing up, but there were always 2 things we could talk about — Illinois sports and St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
Last fall was a good one for the Cardinals, as they made it to the NLCS before being swept by the eventual World Series-champion Washington Nationals. And this year was also good (relatively) for Illinois football and basketball. In fact, the Illini looked like they were going to be a dangerous team to face in the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, there is no NCAA Tournament and the start of the MLB season has been postponed indefinitely. Thus, that Clemson-Miami game was the last one I watched with Grandpa Bob. He died Wednesday, though after seeing him on March 11, I’m surprised he lasted that long (he always did have that stubborn farm demeanor).
Part of me was hoping the Illini would be sent out to Sacramento (where I was going to cover the first and second rounds of the tournament) and I’d be able to cover the team that Grandpa Bob liked best. I remember having games on at his and grandma’s house, watching as Cory Bradford set an NCAA record by making at least 1 three-point shot in 88 consecutive games.
(Side note: I also remember being at their house and watching Arizona beat Kentucky in the 1997 NCAA title game. I’m pretty sure that’s my first college basketball-related memory. I had hot dogs for dinner and got to stay up late to watch the game while eating popcorn. Grandpa got home from the farm at halftime.)
An Illinois run in the tourney would have been cathartic for me, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now, I also don’t know when the Cardinals are going to be back on the diamond, either. The best way to honor my grandpa’s memory would be to crack open an ice-cold Budweiser (can or bottle, he wasn’t picky) and watch 1 of those 2 teams play. I can’t even do that now.
Eventually, things will hopefully go back to normal and sports will return. But, for someone like me (and many of you readers out there), sports are a way to process emotions. Cardinals baseball runs in my family. When I visit home, I always watch at least 1 game in the basement with my dad. The Cardinals, Celtics, Blues and Mizzou are the teams we agree on. He’s a Dallas Cowboys fan, though, while I like the Green Bay Packers. Still, those moments are special to me, just like talking to my grandpa about the Illini and the Cardinals were our way of connecting.
Sadly, we don’t get to choose which memories will be the last ones we have with our loved ones. I don’t remember the last Cardinals game I watched with Grandpa Bob. I’m sure we had one on when I visited him in the summer of 2018 as I stopped in to see him while on my way across the country to my new home in California, but I couldn’t tell you anything about that game.
Instead, my last memory of him will be sitting in that nursing home with my sister, wondering if he even knew we were there, watching a game no one in the room cared about.
Still, I guarantee you that when Clemson and Miami face off on the court next winter, I’m going to sit down with an ice-cold Budweiser and remember my grandpa.