For twenty-three years he had always been there, beside me, to my right because he knew I didn’t hear well out of my left ear. Two guys, almost twenty years apart in age, from different parts of the country, connected by our love of college basketball. He was from Kansas; attended KU when legendary coach Phog Allen and Wilt Chamberlain ruled the round ball world. I’m from North Carolina, Tobacco Road, land of Jim Valvano, David Thompson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Tim Duncan, and James Worthy. We did have Dean Smith in common, as Dean had played with Wilt at Kansas and then became the head coach at the University of North Carolina. We were different in many ways; he was small in stature, where I’m a large guy, Mutt and Jeff if you will, but we both loved the game. College basketball bridged any gap that may have separated us and we became, most importantly, great friends. We had both been attending college basketball games since we were in college and argued continually about which conference was the better. It was a conversation that neither one of us could lose.
Dale Bowers was one of the first people I met when I moved to Corpus Christi back in 1985. Dale worked for KZTV, the local CBS affiliate, selling television advertising, and the company I was with had just purchased the local Pizza Hut franchise. With Pizza Hut being a major sponsor of NCAA Basketball and CBS the home of “March Madness,” we managed to snag some tickets each year to the NCAA Tournament.
In 1999, after 25 years without a basketball program, Dale and I purchased season tickets for the Islanders, the local upstart team for Texas A&M University here in Corpus Christi. The program was just restarting with a new head coach by the name of Ronnie Arrow. We were excited and could not wait for the season to begin. Our tickets were always on the floor, front row, across from our home team’s bench; the best seat in the house, as far as we were concerned. While sitting there together each year, we stuffed ourselves with the college game and met hundreds of great kids, seeking their dream to play at the next level. We befriended many referees, who always made it a point to come by and say hello to us and talk basketball. We met numerous coaches and players from the other teams and many of the parents of the kids playing for the Islanders. Radio and TV announcers became first-name friends. Gary Bender, Cheryl Miller, and Don Crique were just s few. We were honored when many of the past Islander players made it a point to come say “hello” to us after they graduated, when they returned to a game.
The first year we attended the NCAA Tournament (March Madness) together was in 1990, in Austin, Texas, where we saw the beginnings of a great Arkansas program that would eventually win the National Championship in 1994. We marveled at the talent of Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Duke in the 1990’s. Arizona, Florida, Stanford, UNC, and Kansas again reigned during the next decade as some of the best college basketball programs. We traveled to many different cities and enjoyed the first and second rounds the most. The early rounds always included eight different teams, with six games played, during a three-day event. Some years we attended all three rounds, including the “Final Four.” I can’t count how many basketball games we have seen together. We always filled out our brackets before the tournament. Lunch and bragging rights for a year was the winner’s prize. Even after we had both retired, we entered the drawing for tickets each year and never missed but once (2006); I guess they had just gotten used to seeing our names on the list.
Along the way, we sat beside and behind many stars of the game like Magic Johnson, Bobby Jones, Ralph Sampson, Elvin Hayes, Danny Manning, Mitch Kupchak, John Lucas, Robert Horry, and Bobby Hurley. We also met the parents of many great players at the restaurants at night.
We met Coaches Norm Stewart, Eddie Sutton, Digger Phelps, Ray Myers, Rick Majerus, Jud Heathcoat, Nolan Richardson, Don Haskins, Bobby Cremins, Jim Boeheim, Bo Ryan, Norm Sloan, Leonard Hamilton, Andrew Helton, Jimmy Dykes, Fran Fraschilla, Tubby Smith, Willis Wilson, Tim Floyd, Guy Lewis, Sean Woods, Perry Clark, Cy Alexander and many many others.
There is nothing like the excitement of the NCAA Tournament. Fans consist of the oldest of the alumni to the youngest member born into that family. Tradition, pep bands, cheerleaders, high profile head coaches and players, and the “one and done” concept are the ingredients of sports at its best. Win and you move on, lose and you go home. The seeding of 64 teams insures that there will be an upset along the way. Dale and I got to see firsthand programs like Princeton, Gonzaga, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Butler take the college basketball world by storm.
Dale Bowers was a true basketball fan in every sense of the word. At the beginning in every season, he would email me a copy of the new rules that had been put in place for college basketball. He liked knowing the rule changes and how they may impact the game he loved.
Dale began to feel poorly the first of this year. He was a proud and private man who only shared his misfortune if I asked. Dale left his seat vacant on September 1, 2013. He was 80 years of age.
If there is a basketball Heaven, my friend Dale Bowers will be there. As for me, I have a vacant seat to next year’s Islander games. Rest well, Dale, and yes, I still owe you lunch from last year’s tournament. You were always a winner.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.