We have to start with the song. That cheesy, irresistible, pretentious, iconic anthem for March Madness. My wife calls it horrible ’80s pop. I call it three minutes of heaven.
“The ball is tipped. ... And there you are.”
How much do I love “One Shining Moment”? Well, before we had YouTube, I recorded college basketball’s national championship game every year on VHS tape primarily so I could preserve the highlight montage that concludes the broadcast.
“You’re running for your life. ... You’re a shooting star.”
In college, I downloaded a version of “One Shining Moment” off Napster (look it up, kids) and burned it on CD so I didn’t have to wait until April to hear it. And days before my wedding, when it came time to choose a song for my childhood slideshow, guess what I chose, despite eye rolls from my fiancee.
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“And all those years, no one knows. ... Just how hard you worked. But now it shows.”
We all have embarrassing obsessions. “One Shining Moment” tops my list. But if you fell in love with college basketball during the late ’80s and early ’90s, you understand. The piano, the strings, the synthesizer, the goose bumps.
(Cue eye rolls.)
I first heard “One Shining Moment” in 1988, after Danny Manning upset Oklahoma. I was in kindergarten.
Over the years, CBS has cheapened the original brilliance with special effects, locker-room speeches, play-by-play calls, even new verses and artists. But the essence of “One Shining Moment” endures.
In 32 years, I’ve only missed it once. I had a good excuse.
* * *
From the beginning, the due date was a source of humor: April 5, 2010.
Seriously, the same day as the national championship? We’re going to have the game on in the delivery room, I told my wife. You can stay home, Andrea said.
Those nine months of pregame planning take forever. And somehow you still aren’t ready, especially when it’s child No. 1.
While my wife was in charge of delivering a human life, I attended roughly 47 doctor’s appointments, including the day we found out it was a ... boy. I read the same book to him 100 times, from outside the womb. “The Bear Snores On.” I earned a Ph.D. in child safety regulations, assembling a car seat, a swing, a rocking chair and — the final exam — a crib, which I finally completed during March Madness.
You might remember the 2010 NCAA tournament for Ali Farokhmanesh’s daring 3 to beat Kansas or Kansas State’s double overtime thriller over Xavier. I mostly remember it for long, frequent walks with my wife. She was 38 to 40 weeks pregnant and walking was her only relief.
On semifinal Saturday in Indianapolis, Duke pounded West Virginia and Butler edged Michigan State to set up what looked like a lopsided championship game. Tip-off Monday at 8:21 p.m.
Sunday night, I wrote a short championship preview: “A Butler victory Monday night would make the Bulldogs the most unlikely national champion in the modern era.”
I never saw the paper. Monday morning, April 5, Andrea woke up at 5 a.m. to a new kind of pain. Contractions. Our son was right on time. We rolled into UNMC just after sunrise.
Andrea squeezed my hand through hours of contractions until she received an epidural around 11 a.m. Early afternoon, I had enough downtime to shoot a video from our quiet hospital room.
“Next time we’re on,” I said on camera, “she’ll be pushing.”
Said Andrea: “That will not be on a camera.”
According to our doctor, the baby should’ve arrived late afternoon. He didn’t. Labor began at 3 and Andrea tried and tried until she could barely breathe. Baby was stuck in the birth canal, face up when he should’ve been face down. Sometime after 6, his heart rate dropped.
“He’s not gonna come this way,” Andrea said through her oxygen mask.
Our doctor, worried about his heart, gave us a choice: Keep pushing or have an emergency C-section. We chose the latter. They hurried Andrea into an operating room, where they attempted a spinal block, but it failed and they placed her under general anesthesia.
For nine months, I envisioned being next to my wife as our first child entered the world. And she envisioned a beautiful birth moment. Instead, she was unconscious and I waited alone in a hallway. Just before 8 p.m., the nurse practitioner met me outside the operating room. Our conversation is still a blur, but she said my son came out floppy and unresponsive. They tried resuscitating him multiple times — with chest compressions, neopuff, bag and mask, intubation.
You can go see him, she said. But quickly they needed to decide whether to cool cap him to reduce the chances of brain damage.
I read her eyes for hope. I waited for good news that didn’t come. What encouraging signs, I asked, should I be looking for?
Movement, she said.
I walked into a little room full of nurses and beeping machines. I met our baby boy, calling him the name we’d chosen months earlier.
He had tubes all over his face. One breathed for him. Another suctioned meconium from his lungs — he’d aspirated on his own waste during distressed labor.
I kissed his head and his heart rate rose a little bit. For a second, he opened his eyes. I turned on my video camera, desperate to capture anything for his mom, who was still under anesthesia. By the time I hit record, his eyes had closed.
Nurses moved Luke to a transport cart and wheeled him down a hallway through a small lobby, where his grandparents and aunts and uncle waited. I stopped and hugged my dad — the strongest one. Then I followed Luke to the NICU, terrified of what I might hear next.
What it would mean to the rest of his life. Our life.
Watching games together after bedtime. Pulling him out of school for state tournaments. Playing H-O-R-S-E in the driveway. Coaching his youth teams. As a new parent, you build these visions in your head for months, sometimes years. They can shatter in seconds.
When I reached him in the NICU, his eyes were still closed. He was still silent. But in his head and hands, I saw hope. I pulled out the video camera again and captured his first movements.
That’s good, right? Yes, nurses said.
One minute after birth, Luke’s APGAR score was a troubling 1 out of 10. At five minutes, it was 2. At 10 minutes, it was 4. But little by little, Luke became a healthy baby.
What happened? Did the anesthesia knock him out, too? Did all that meconium cut off his oxygen flow? We were never sure. But our doctor referenced Luke as the “miracle baby.”
The rest of that first night, I spent a lot of time watching my son, a little time checking on my wife and a few brief moments passing through an NICU lounge in between. The area featured empty chairs and a little TV, where my brother watched one of our favorite events on the calendar.
The national championship game.
A couple of times, I asked for the score. Wow, Butler’s still hanging in there, huh? Just before 10:30 p.m., the game reached its climax. And I stopped and watched the final heart-stopping possessions.
Duke leading 61-59 missed a free throw with 3.6 seconds left. Gordon Hayward grabbed the rebound, took four dribbles up the right sideline and launched — just before the buzzer — a running half-court shot.
“In One Shining Moment, it’s all on the line. ... One Shining Moment, there frozen in time.”
The ball caromed off the backboard and rim, falling away. By mere inches, we missed the greatest ending in basketball history. The ultimate Hoosiers story. Hometown hero leads his underdog school over mighty Duke with a half-court shot! Can you imagine!?!
I joked that I would’ve had to change my son’s name to Gordon. Then I turned around and walked back to the NICU. I didn’t stick around for the song.
* * *
Last Sunday afternoon, I intended to plant myself on the couch and watch the national championship game I missed 10 years ago. Maybe get Luke to watch with me.
We didn’t get around to it.
We watched a few grainy videos of his first minutes of life. Most notably the scene after midnight when I rolled Andrea into his NICU room and, still groggy from the drugs, she heard his cry for the first time. She touched his hand and soothed him.
COVID-19 has erased so many big events that the calendar loses meaning. Every day feels the same. Graduations are postponed. Weddings. Even funerals. But you can’t skip a birthday.
Especially No. 10.
Luke tried out his new roller blades. He played soccer in the empty lot across the street. He played hide and seek with his friends — don’t touch!
We ate chocolate cake and watched a movie and, before bed, Luke asked if we could play a basketball game in the basement. His favorite thing.
We have two hoops — probably 5 feet tall — at opposite ends of a long room. Red tape marks the court, as it did in my childhood basement.
We played 2-on-2. He and his 7-year-old sister vs. his 5-year-old brother and me. These games always turn into wars. I occasionally give out technical fouls and someone always cries.
Sunday night, just after 10 p.m., it came down to the final seconds. Like Butler, I missed a shot to win. Lost by two.
The world is sick and nothing makes sense anymore. The hospital that rescued my son — the place where thousands of little miracles happen every day — is locked down in preparation for a virus that threatens our city. Last week we should have been gearing up for a national championship game, but no one knows when we’ll watch a game again.
But within all the fear and mystery, good moments seem to last a little longer. Gratitude endures. My son is 10 years old and he’s still breathing. Wait, there’s a better word.