Atlanta It's the team bus. But you could call it the dejÃ vu mobile. And Bruce Guffey of Lawrence is the driver.
When the Kansas Jayhawks earned a trip to the Final Four, KU officials asked Arrow Stage Lines to deploy Guffey to Atlanta to squire the basketball team through the remainder of the NCAA Tournament. He had been behind the wheel for the Jayhawks at Midwest Regional ports of call in St. Louis and Madison, Wis.
If this bus business sounds familiar, it's because it's a replay of the 1988 tournament, when then-coach Larry Brown latched on to a lucky bus jockey and KU won the national championship.
In '88, the supremely superstitious Brown stuck with Greyhound driver Jimmy Dunlap, who drove the team around Pontiac, Mich., prior to and after the Jayhawks' victories in NCAA Midwest Regional competition.
Brown had Dunlap flown to Kansas City, Mo., to drive the team's bus for the Final Four at Kemper Arena.
This time, Guffey was the Jayhawks' choice.
"It is a thrill for me to be selected. They're a great bunch of guys," said Guffey, who drove 13 hours over two days from Lawrence to Atlanta to meet the Jayhawks there on Wednesday.
Consider this exquisite gig a birthday present for Guffey Â he turns 61 today.
Back in '88, Dunlap was welcomed into the KU fold because of Brown's appetite for good omens Â and because Dunlap developed a friendship with Ryan Gray, a Lawrence teen-ager, legendary fan and the team's unofficial mascot. Ryan had an inoperable brain tumor and died in 1990.
Dunlap didn't surrender his driver's seat until he jumped in the back of a convertible for the Jayhawks' victory parade down Massachusetts Street. People sought his autograph and posed with him for pictures.
Chuck Gunnels, general manager for Arrow Stage Lines in Kansas City, Mo., paid close attention 14 years ago to hoopla surrounding Dunlap's travails.
As a coach driver, Gunnels dreamed of savoring a moment like Dunlap's. When Gunnels moved into management at Arrow, he ached for the day one of his drivers would buckle into an appointment at the Final Four.
"Ever since all that happened with Larry Brown, if it's sports (business), we go after it," Gunnels said. "We've worked for KU basketball for many years. It's obviously been a privilege."
Guffey, who has logged more than 500,000 miles with Arrow during his 11-year career, has driven for Kansas basketball in the past. And he added 855 miles to his log book on the drive from Lawrence to Atlanta.
"KU called before they left Madison and said, 'Can Bruce go to Atlanta?'" Gunnels said. "Bruce told me, 'Let's go.'"
Guffey took off Tuesday in his eight-wheel, 50-passenger cruiser. He spent the night in Nashville, Tenn., before pushing on.
Until catching up with the team in Atlanta, he was the bus' lone occupant. His base of operation is the JW Marriott Hotel, the team's home away from home on Lenox Road.
Guffey said the 2001-2002 edition of Jayhawks was the most pleasurable group of young men he had encountered as a professional driver, and he's not talking just basketball skills.
Roy Williams and Co. are polite, good-natured passengers, he said.
"There's no tomfoolery that goes on," Guffey said. "This is the best team that I've hauled."
Guffey got into the bus business after retiring in 1991 from Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. He enjoyed driving and traveling, and decided a job at Arrow might complement those interests.
"It's been a God's blessing to me," he said.
He said interacting with KU players and coaches in informal settings was a treat.
"On the road, I take them out to eat," he said. "I get to go in and be a part of that."
And he's not stuck in the rig listening on a radio when KU takes the court.
"I go in and see the games," Guffey said. "Roy makes sure that I have a ticket. They're very good about that."