All this summer, leading up to our Voodoo Funeral where we'll bury and burn the past of USF Athletics, we'll look back on some of the most painful memories, moments, games, and events that have made Bulls fandom so particularly tortured. Most forms of modern psychotherapy ask patients to relive the traumatic events of their past to help deal with the pain. So this is how we'll deal with the issues from our past: sharing with the group in a safe setting.
Not all the losing has been totally brutal, as sometimes we had a blast in even seeing the losses. This was one of those times. And it's relevant since the Bulls just signed a home-and-home to play UAB again starting next season.
A bunch of us decided to follow in the footsteps of one Terry Lucas and basically camp outside the Sun Dome for the entire 2001-02 basketball season. He was the "Sheriff" of "Greenbergopolis," a fake town we made up on the patch of grass attached to the North side of the Sun Dome and named after men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg.
To understand why, you have to understand that Terry is a stark raving lunatic. I love the guy, but he's way off his rocker. Six years on a Navy submarine followed by walking on to play football for Jim Leavitt before an injury ends your career tends to do that to people. A few of my fraternity brothers set up our tent just a few spots down from Terry and his friend Robbie, and we basically hung out there when there was nothing else to do. It became a thing quickly, with dozens of tents and sometimes hundreds of people out there. I wrote about it for The Oracle. Keep in mind this was before Greek housing at USF, so we spent a lot of time out there.
Truth be told I didn't sleep there much, and did so only the nights before games at best. But give Terry credit, he was out there basically every night. They were some that stuck with it even when the weather sucked. And ironically a night where it rained also turned into one of the biggest parties USF ever had: the night before the Florida game on Dec. 8th, 2001.
I covered that night a few years ago, but it turned into the biggest outdoor overnight party USF ever had. At least 1000 people eventually passed through that sacred patch of grass the night before the game, and we would of had more if it didn't start pouring. There was beer pong & flip cup, there was loud music, there was a Slip-N-Slide, and there was every type of alcohol imaginable. And there was Matt Bonner going 13-16 from the floor and the Bulls getting blown out 92-73 after being down only one at halftime. Yup.
Somehow the Bulls still managed to be in the NCAA hunt later in that season, and were 17-9 heading into the last Saturday in February. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I was involved in helping to organize a bus trip for students to Birmingham. It was a big game for a USF team on the bubble, and we ended up easily filling the bus no problem. But what happened on the bus was a risk management nightmare, and we loved every second of it.
Greenberg got us a dozen cases of Yuengling, which were kept on the back of the bus for general consumption at all times. But everyone also brought their favorite beverages, so I ended up with Yuenglings in my refrigerator for what seemed like years afterwards. The trip up was filled with good times, but once we got to Gene Bartow Arena that's when the party really started.
Upon arrival unnamed members of our travel party may or may not have purchased marijuana from a parking lot attendant at the arena. It wasn't me, but I thought it was pretty funny that they could and there wasn't much anyone could do about it. What were we gonna do... leave them in Birmingham?? How much of it got smoked I still don't know, but everyone knew about the transaction about 30 seconds after it happened. I remember the parking guy trying to move even more product afterwards, but I think that got shut down by a USF chaperone pretty quickly.
We arrived early and were tailgating with Yuenglings in hand for an hour or two before the tip, and saw Blazers coach (and son of UAB legend Gene) Murry Bartow pull into the staff parking lot in a Honda. We heckled him a bit, with one of our party yelling something akin to "hey Coach, that's all you got? Program can't get you a B'Mer??" And that's when it got surreal.
Bartow walked over towards our quite inebriated and riled up throng and went right up to his heckler. He got about half an inch from his face, and said the following while wagging his finger.
"Son, this is the University of Alabama Fucking Birmingham. This ain't Tampa. Do you understand me??"
Note this is an exact quote because it's still burned to my memory as it happened about four feet from my face. The heckler replied "No... tell me." But Bartow then just walked away and headed in the arena. It was a total bush league move by him, and it showed he couldn't even take a good-natured ribbing.
I think the "U-A-F-B" chant started as soon as we got to our seats even though the Blazer crowd had no idea why. The student Bulls that day were as loud as I've ever heard a small group in any arena. They were proud until hoarse, but it looked like we were trying harder in the stands than the team was on the court.
The game was dramatic though pretty ugly. The refs never stopped blowing their whistles, with 57 fouls called between both teams. USF had 32 of them, including five each on stars Altron Jackson and Will McDonald. Reggie Kohn was just 1-9 from the floor, and the bigger Bulls got outrebounded by four which shouldn't ever happen with the size difference between the teams. Just like so many Seth Greenberg teams during that era it was another game in a February swoon, and the Bulls lost in double overtime 83-78. USF would lose four of their next six games afterwards to finish 19-13, and miss the NCAA's yet again.
We all got a picture afterwards on the court, and somehow ended up stealing a UAB emblazoned floor mat from their arena. I'm not sure why that happened, but it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time. That floor mat was in the Green and Gold Room beneath the Sun Dome for years afterwards, and occasionally people would ask "why do we have a UAB floor mat?" Just... never mind.
That entire season was a microcosm of USF expectations being unmet. USF had talented seniors in Altron Jackson and B.B. Waldon, and seemed a lock to make some noise especially after that amazing 7-0 start. But they went 5-7 from February 1st onwards, and got their heart stolen in three crucial home games. The aforementioned Matt Bonner Game, Steve Logan of #4 Cincinnati putting up 27 points and getting every whistle in another close one, and Jobey Thomas of UNC-Charlotte who hit a dagger three over an injured-beyond-broken Reggie Kohn for a 49ers victory.
It was a brutal season. But at least I still had the Yuengling to make it better.