The blue cloud over our home is dissipating now that basketball season has ended, but it still provides a faint reminder that my husband Ray does not confine himself to the quasi-mild oath -- frickin' -- that Kansas University coach Roy Williams uses while coaching and discussing basketball. Ray's penchant for profanity, generally limited to the times he is viewing Jayhawk basketball, may explain why he watches the games at home on television.
Ray's anger is not directed at the KU round-ball athletes who, when they infrequently exhibit sub-par performances, he refers to as "poor guys." No, it's the games' referees whose paternity he questions. The fact that they got their jobs with 20-400 vision never ceases to amaze him, nor does the fact that their eyesight can be surprisingly keen at detecting fouls at only one end -- according to Ray, the wrong end -- of the court. He insists that the Jayhawk basketball team is consistently forced to play at an eight-to-five disadvantage.
And don't think for a minute that announcers (but never you, Max) escape Ray's wrath -- especially those who have archrival connections, who don't have their facts straight or who consistently mispronounce players' names.
So "You IDIOT!" and "You MORON!" yelled at the top of his lungs may be directed at either referees or announcers -- hard for me to tell who he's castigating when I'm down the hall in my little office where I listen to most games' audio (both TV and in-house). The truth is I will watch games in the same room with my husband only when KU jumps off to a commanding lead and never looks back.
So far, Ray has never broken a chair while disputing a call ... which is more than brother-in-law Steve can say. "It was in 1966 when the referee said JoJo White's foot was on the line, but it wasn't. It cost us the game. I was bouncing up and down on the chair -- a rocking chair I'd bought for Vicki -- so hard that it cracked."
My mother is very nearly as bad as Ray while watching the Jayhawks play. Her language may not be as salty, but her frustration with the referees equals or surpasses Ray's own. Mom, an outstanding basketball athlete in high school, is an alumnus of Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M; when she was a coed). You'd think she'd have a passion for orange and black, but Mom bleeds crimson and blue. From the time she married Dad, then a KU student, she embraced the Jayhawks as her own.
Several years ago, in the wee hours of a cold, dark morning, my sister Lesta and I took Mom to Allen Fieldhouse to welcome home the KU basketball team after they suffered a disappointing loss (aren't they all?) in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks' plane made a late landing in Topeka, but Mom wouldn't consider leaving until the team arrived at the fieldhouse. She wanted them to know that -- win or lose -- she was proud of them.
At the time, Matt Doherty, who recently resigned as men's head basketball coach at North Carolina, was an assistant coach at KU. As the dejected players and coaches left the arena after addressing the crowd, Doherty noticed Mom sitting in her wheelchair, enthusiastically waving a poster proclaiming "June Henry loves the Hawks." He smiled and waved to her, giving her such a warm-and-fuzzy feeling that I'm sure she didn't even feel the chill as we wheeled her back to the car.
I won't watch a game with Lesta either. She is such a nervous fan that she can't stay seated. She paces; she fidgets; she drives me nuts. She often tapes KU's games and will watch them only after she's learned the Jayhawks were victorious; on those rare occasions when they lose, she records over the tape without viewing the game.
I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to watch a game with my cousin, who is a sports reporter for a big-city newspaper. When watching his alma mater, does Mac go ballistic like Ray? Or is he cool and methodical, clinical and analytical in his viewing? If his approach to watching basketball is the latter, I think I prefer Ray's fiery spirit.
The fact is, there's a lot to be said for passion ... wherever one encounters it. And Ray is often accurate in his assessment of calls by referees. For example, during a recent game, I heard him loudly question an official's charge call. If that referee's head really was in the position Ray said it was, there's no WAY he could have seen a foul!
-- Marsha Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her new book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.