March 15, 1980. Calgary, Alberta. But this is no regular Saturday.
The clock strikes 9pm. Outside The Refinery, a popular nightclub, the thermometer indicates 15F. An icy wind rushes down the street, but the Victoria Vikes don’t feel the cold. Rather, eyes sparkle, grins stretch from ear to ear, laughter is ever present. Giddy with excitement, we prepare to celebrate, hard on the heels of dropping the Brandon Bobcats 73-65 just five hours earlier to claim the Canadian University Men’s Basketball title.
And we look the part, all fifteen of us dressed to the nines in black tuxedos and bow ties. Hair slicked back and shoes polished. A quick negotiation with the burly doormen sees the cover charge waived, on our promise to put a sizable dent in the establishment’s beer supply.
Inside, the place is absolutely jumping. On stage, ready, loose and themselves greased up, Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids pump out a steady stream of retro rock n roll. Appropriately, as we enter, the band signals our arrival by launching into one of its signature tunes, “Dancin’ On A Saturday Night.”
The evening flies by. Bottles, once containing icy cold Miller drafts, soon litter our table. Well-fortified, we then join the assembled throng on the crowded dance floor. Fresh from setting screens, diving for loose balls, fighting for rebounds, and hitting jump shots, we now sway, spin, hop, and bop to the music. Comical in its own way, a physically imposing group of young men carried away on a wave of euphoria. We scream and shout to classics such as “She’s So Fine”, “Higher and Higher” and “Did You Boogie With Your Baby.”
The wee hours arrive almost without warning. The band plays two encores to rapturous applause, the crowd forming an ever-growing conga line that snakes through the building. Eventually, too soon, the lights come on and it is time to leave.
I look around me. At teammates I admire. Very fine players but even finer people. There is Doochie, Duke, Big Kaz. BJ, Billy and Narby. Pizzan and Little Kaz. The Eagle. Hebber, Higgs, Mikey, as well as Chapper and Hub. It has been a long season, but so worthwhile. Week upon week of hard work as we seek redemption for agonizingly narrow defeats at the two previous national tournaments. Having to lose in order to learn how to win, needing to get up after being knocked down. Needing to become grittier, in order to endure disappointment and gain the ability to overcome challenges and failure.
And there is so much more. While actual wins and losses fade as time passes, for us the other moments shared together will remain vivid. "Those moments", at team meals, in team meetings, on team bus rides. Those moments during card games on the ferry or on the plane. Those moments during fierce and competitive practices under the watchful eye of a brilliant coach, those moments during interminable weight room sessions and grueling cross-country training runs. And, most of all, those moments of endless banter, swapping stories, spinning yarns, telling jokes, giving each other heat. All part of the spirit and connectivity so absolutely vital for success.
En masse, we finally arrive back at our hotel, The Refinery and Flash Cadillac now destined to become part of team folklore. It is nearly 4am. Bow ties are discarded, jackets slung carelessly over shoulders. Hair askew. Perhaps, after a highly charged and unforgettable 18 hours, fatigue is finally setting in.
Nonetheless, a deep sense of pride washes over me. The satisfaction of a job completed. There is real joy as well, though with six of us soon to graduate from school, it is tempered by the jarring reality that tonight, almost certainly, we are together for the very last time.
I know others also feel this keenly, it is another one of those moments. Yet, as we settle instead for a final round of hugs and handshakes, all of us know how lucky we are to be part of such a special group. Grateful, and with memories intact, we head for bed, hoping to grab a few precious hours of sleep before the morning flight home.