What I did on my unplanned, unfamiliar, first-time-since-1984 separation from opening day at the NCAA tournament:
Bought some tires. Hit some putts. Super-chlorinated the hot tub. Wished Oct. 15 would hurry up and get here. Declined an offer to take a yoga class. Discovered a bird's nest on the patio. And, oh yeah, stashed my winter clothes (one jacket) until December.
Free time is overrated.
The Road to the Final Four has been redesigned and no longer connects to Tucson. The feeling in this town is something like a Barbra Streisand song: Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind.
Here's the way we were, year to year, The Streak in 25 opening weekend snippets:
1985, Albuquerque: With Arizona trailing Alabama 31-24 at the half, UA associate athletic director Bob Bockrath picked up a telephone in the media room. Correctly sensing what would be a 50-41 first-round loss, Bockrath re-booked the official traveling party on a flight home the next morning. "If you wait until the game is over," he said, "the flights to Tucson will be full and we'll be stuck here for two days."
1986, Long Beach: The media hotel wasn't a hotel at all but rather the delightful Queen Mary, docked in the Long Beach harbor. Nobody wanted to go home early. It was one night many scribes ignored the no-cheering-in-the-press-box dictum. Arizona lost 73-63 to Auburn.
1987, Tucson: After UTEP bounced Arizona in an early-afternoon, first-round game, UTEP coach Don Haskins chose not to stay at the team's Tucson hotel, but rather had friends drive him to El Paso for the night. "Don't want to party with strangers," he said.
1988, Los Angeles: I arrived at Pauley Pavilion for Arizona's second-round game against Seton Hall to find the heavily favored Wildcats were incensed. Early that morning, CBS' Brent Musburger predicted that Seton Hall would shock and eliminate the top-seeded Wildcats. "He's a fool," Tom Tolbert said. Arizona rolled 84-55.
1989, Boise: Late on St. Patrick's Day, two police cruisers, lights flashing, arrived at the UA's team hotel. A party had spilled into the lobby, disturbing some guests. In the middle of the scene, assistant coach Kevin O'Neill attempted, unsuccessfully, to get the officers to laugh it off. The party was over, but 24 hours later, Arizona ripped Clemson 94-68.
1990, Long Beach: Arizona's second-round loss to Alabama became inconsequential when hometown Loyola Marymount entered the emotionally charged arena. Two weeks after their teammate Hank Gathers died, LMU scored 149 points in an epic victory over Michigan.
1991, Salt Lake City: The night before Arizona played BYU in a second-round game, I found myself at Diamond Lil's steakhouse and was seated adjacent to the BYU team and staff. When the food arrived, 7-foot-6-inch BYU center Shawn Bradley stood, bowed his head, and said a prayer. Against Arizona, the Cougars had none, losing 76-61.
1992, Atlanta: The morning after a sobering loss to 14th-seeded East Tennessee State, Lute Olson held the customary season-over press briefing in his hotel suite. Stung by criticism, Olson said that those who questioned the setback should first "send me their résumé."
1993, Salt Lake City: Twelve hours after shocking No. 2 seed Arizona, Santa Clara coach Dick Davey admitted he got no sleep. "We had to check out of our hotel this morning," he said. "Fortunately, we are going to a different hotel; we're getting the rooms Arizona had."
1994, Sacramento: Matched against Virginia in a second-round game, UA guard Khalid Reeves would be guarded by All-ACC defensive standout Cornel Parker. Asked what he thought about Parker, Reeves said, "Who is he?" Reeves scored 32 points. Arizona won big.
1995, Dayton: Miami of Ohio coach Herb Sendek, he of the personality bypass, followed his team's upset over Arizona with the most dry, boring and uninformative news conference in recorded history. Or close. I remember thinking: Who would ever hire that guy to be their basketball coach?
1996, Tempe: The Pac-10-dominated crowd in the hospitality suite of the Mission Palms hotel gathered around a small TV set to watch 13th-seeded Princeton take out defending national champion UCLA 43-41 on a series of backdoor layups. No one seemed to be cheering for the Bruins.
1997, Memphis: The downtown Peabody Hotel has a twice-daily ritual in which a group of about 20 ducks march, in single file, through the lobby. Word spread. Wildcat forward Bennett Davison and a team manager showed up after lunch, hoping to see the ducks. Told that they wouldn't march again until 5 p.m., Davison said, "This is a joke, right?"
1998, Sacramento: The America West flight from Tucson to Sacramento was oversold. In a mix-up, Lute Olson's first-class seat was occupied. The only remaining seat was 15B. I saw Lute coming, just as he saw me in 15A. Both of us groaned.
1999, Milwaukee: After Oklahoma eliminated Arizona, writers from Oklahoma City and Tucson met at a downtown tavern to swap war stories and do what you usually can't do at on-site NCAA tournaments: watch NCAA games. We became a loud chorus of Weber State fans as the Utah team shocked No. 3-seeded North Carolina 76-74. Magic.
2000, Salt Lake City: A writer from the Daily Wildcat asked Wisconsin guard Mike Kelley if he was intimidated by UA guards Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner. Kelley's eyes flared. "Intimidated?" he replied. "I don't think so." Kelley shut down Arenas, and Wisconsin eliminated the No. 1-seeded Wildcats 66-59.
2001, Kansas City: After watching Arizona sweep Eastern Illinois and Butler, my early-morning return flight to Tucson was canceled. Mechanical problems. At noon, another crew boarded the flight and anxious passengers got in line. There was a delay. Finally, the crew got off the plane. I overheard one say to a gate agent, "That plane isn't safe." Long day.
2002, Albuquerque: On the day Arizona beat Wyoming to advance to the Sweet 16, UA sports information director Tom Duddleston and I killed a few hours playing golf at wind-swept University Golf Course. How windy was it? Duddleston hit a driver, pure, at the 180-yard 11th hole. The ball traveled 120 yards. The hat I had bought earlier at the clubhouse flew off my head and was forever lost.
2003, Salt Lake City: Why is this a favored site of all NCAA travelers? On the weekend Arizona beat Gonzaga in double overtime, newspaper guys were lodged (and given a notable discount) at the opulent Grand America Hotel. Not exactly Motel 6. If you want to stay there this weekend, rates begin at $259.
2004, Raleigh: A day after Arizona was ousted by a mediocre Seton Hall team, I drove a few miles to the Duke campus, walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium - and watched the Blue Devils women's team practice. It wasn't the same.
2005, Boise: My high school coach, Rod Tueller, now a radio analyst on the Utah State radio network, interviewed me on the pre-game show, Arizona vs. USU. I asked him if the Aggies had a chance. "We don't have a bench," he said. "I'm afraid of someone like Chris Rodgers." Off the bench, Rodgers scored 12 and Arizona won 66-53.
2006, Philadelphia: A team functionary parked Lute Olson's courtesy car in the vast Wachovia Center parking lot and forgot to mark down the location. As a media shuttle loaded, I watched Olson walk from aisle to aisle, over and over, 20 minutes or more, unable to locate his vehicle. Not a good day.
2007, New Orleans: After losing to Purdue, Olson left the arena with an ESPN reporter, telling him he was going to revamp Arizona's strength and conditioning program "and a lot of other things." It was the last game Olson ever coached.
2008, Washington, D.C.: Among the last guys out of the press room at 1:30 a.m., I found that the media shuttle had ceased, cabs were unavailable and the long and chilly walk back to the hotel was not safe. Ever seen a sports writer jog two miles in the dark carrying a laptop and a briefcase?
2009, Miami: In a corridor at American Airlines Arena, bound for the Sweet 16, UA coach Russ Pennell was chatting with a group of writers. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap walked by. "Speak slowly and articulate your words, Hambone," he advised.
What a ride, huh?