Teetering on the edge of victory

March 29, 2007

I try to be modest, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m the reason that the Hoyas are winning.

Okay, well, obviously the team and the coach play a larger part than I do. And of course the real “twelfth men” are all the loyal Hoya fans who paint their faces and go to the games. But I like to think that it’s my obsessive-compulsive rituals that give us a decisive edge.

First, it’s the place: over the weekend, hundreds of students lined up for the Final Four tickets, spending a night—two, for some—under the stars as they sought the ultimate seat to watch the Hoyas clash with Ohio State. Though being in the arena for the big game would be an amazing experience, I didn’t make any attempt to join the throngs of ticket hopefuls. Instead, come tip-off, I’ll be safely ensconced in my local, Ledo’s Pizza in Burleith, with fifteen or so of my closest friends.

Simone Popperl

Well, in the past few games of March Madness match-ups, we haven’t always made it by tip-off time. By the time we round up everyone in the house, and call everybody down the street, and make the walk to the Neighborhood, as the strip of restaurants and stores tucked between Safeway and R street is affectionately known, we’re usually a minute or two into the game. But that’s okay. We ascend the stairs to our usual table—four or five little tables pushed together really—that always awaits us right underneath the television, broadcasting in Technicolor, or, for most of the last two games, in stress-o-vision.

Ledo’s vibe is something like Chuck E. Cheese’s but with cheap beer pitchers. Weird grinning portraits of pizza chefs hang on one wall, and another features a trippy mural of vegetables hanging out on Wisconsin Street. Its big upstairs room feels empty until you fill it with fifteen to twenty screaming Hoyas fans.

But once the gang’s all there and dinner is ordered—always the same two stalwarts for luck, Buffalo Chicken and Sausage and Onion, along with a third mystery pizza—and the plastic cups spilled across the table, well, Ledo’s feels like home. Eric, our habitual server, is a taciturn man of indeterminate extra-national origins who responds to our requests with equanimity, if not speed, and is always willing to get an extra pitcher or pizza during half-time. Even as our raucous crowd is augmented by other Hoya supporters flooding the other tables and booths, he remains cool under the pressure, just like Jonathan Wallace.

Obviously, the next part to keeping the Hoyas going strong is the accessories, or rather, accessory: a red-white-and-blue sweat band that hasn’t been washed since the Round of 32 is always present on my wrist

Of course, you need to keep your in-bar cheers (not to be confused with the higher-octane Hoya Blue-led arena versions) straight. When Roy takes two from the low post, you can do the “Roy-Roy-Roy,” or go with something about “The Birdman.” If Jonathan Wallace sinks a clutch three from outside, throw your hands up and yell FREEDOM! (its a Braveheart reference, go with it). And when Jeff Green bulls through for an impossible lay-up—or a subtlety dunk, if you want to be weird—well, you just stare in awe. I still haven’t figured out the karmic implications of throwing up your hands and holding your breath during free throws, but I’m working on it.

But most important is your attitude, the mental equipment you bring to the game: what I call quiet confidence. You’re not bragging, you’re not the guy who’s jinxing the game. You’re not trash-talking your own team either, harping on every little problem in the game. You know they’re going to win, but you’re not going to throw it in everybody’s face. You’re cool. If your tablemates violate this rule, glare at them.

Oh, and at the end of the game, when we’re on the verge of victory, you have to stand up behind the table. Otherwise, you’ll send chairs flying when you jump for joy after the win.

But last week, for the Elite Eight, I didn’t feel these measures were enough. So I summoned my dad down from New Hampshire. Clad in a blue oxford and neatly pressed jeans, his initial trepidation at joining a table of bona fide college idiots soon passed until he was yelling as much as we were. In the initial minutes of overtime, teetering on the edge of victory after those first few magical baskets passed unanswered, he leapt to his feet, shouting of the Tar Hells, “They’re giving up! They’re giving up!”

My friend Chris leaned over to me. “Dude, tell your Dad to stop talking shit—it’s not over yet.”

But it was over. And we won, and the armband, the cheers, the pizza and the confidence are all ready to go for the Final Four.

All I have to do now is figure out how to fly my Dad back down by Saturday.

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