You learn a lot …

by Todd Zolecki

You learn a lot about life when you’re covering the Gophers men’s basketball team.
Somehow, by some random act of God, I’ve done that for the past two years. I went to the Final Four, saw Indiana coach Bob Knight throw a fit in Assembly Hall and watched Michigan’s Maurice Taylor choke a game away at Crisler Arena.
I won’t forget a minute of it.
It’s been an amazing experience, and also a brutal one. Covering the team isn’t all gravy. It’s also long road trips, many missed classes, lost hours of sleep, endless frustrations and lots of work.
And believe me, it is hard work.
But that’s why it’s been so much fun. When I’m stuck in some job at some small town newspaper covering Legion baseball, I’ll look back with several memories and realize I learned many lessons along the way.
Besides the games themselves, however, the part of this beat I will remember the most are the countless hours driving to all of them. That’s the biggest misconception I hear from people when they ask me what it’s like to cover the Gophers.
No, we do not fly to these games with the team. We drive to all of them in the glorious Daily car. In the past two years a photographer and I have probably logged more time in the car than any other duo in Daily history.
When I say we, I’m talking about ace Daily photographer Scott Cohen, who hasn’t been on all the road trips, but has been on most of them.
We can tell you everything you need to know about I-94 and I-65. We know gas stations, restaurants and which hotels call the cops on you if you try to sneak an extra person into it (the Expressway Motel just outside of Iowa City).
Scott and I aren’t sure how this rumor started that we fly with the team like the reporters from the Star Tribune or the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I’m sure most of the team doesn’t even know we drive to these games. Actually, Hosea Crittenden knows we do. He thinks we’re crazy for doing it, but he offers some sympathy at each Big Ten arena.
We appreciate it Hosea.
The Daily budget doesn’t allow us to fly to games in Bloomington, Ind., or Champaign, Ill. Personally, we think this glorious paper should come up with the money, but then again, we’ve seen some strange things and been through some near death experiences. Oddly enough, we wouldn’t trade them for anything.
We haven’t driven between a pair of trucks like John Candy did in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” but we drove through our share of brutal blizzards to know we’re lucky to be alive.
After the Gophers lost to Illinois in January, Scott and I drove straight back to Minneapolis through a nasty snow storm. We started our trek around midnight and arrived 10 hours later.
It’s a strange experience. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning, pitch black outside and the snow is rushing at you, reflecting off the headlights. The effect is hypnotizing, which isn’t a good thing when you want to keep the car from sliding off the road.
We obviously survived.
Some of the world’s greatest conversations took place on these trips, and we picked up some of the worst radio stations in our country. Luckily, a valuable collection of tapes kept us awake.
But after two years of driving through this stuff we were rewarded: San Antonio. Scott and I had spent so many hours in the Daily car we were elated when the Gophers made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Not because they had a chance to make the Final Four, but because we finally got to fly in a plane, and to some place warm.
We took advantage of it.
San Antonio is a great city. We ate big, checked out the sights and saw about a million Gophers fans along the River Walk, the only place in the United States that reminds me anything close to Europe. And best of all, I had no classes to worry about. We were in the middle of spring break.
Not a bad way to spend time off from school.
Yes, this was a job perk. Being a sports reporter is one of the coolest jobs in the world. Who else can be paid to spend six days in San Antonio for the NCAA tournament? Who gets better seats? Who is there for it all?
Don’t think we just lounged at pool side. We did work while we were down there. It was tough, but we managed.