The revolt of the home team

March 30, 2002|By Rob Kasper

LIKE MANY dads, I often find myself sparring with my offspring. We have ongoing disputes over what constitutes loud music, about whether rolling out of the sack at 11:30 on a Saturday morning constitutes "getting up early."

But this week a new question has dominated the family debates. Namely, which team to root for during tonight's Maryland-Kansas NCAA Final Four basketball game. We are a house divided.

On the Kansas side stands a kind, loving, considerate father - a KU alum. That would be me. On the Maryland side stands the offspring, an independent, or some might say rebellious, teen-ager. That would be my 17-year-old son.

I never thought this day would come, when my own flesh and blood would root against me and my beloved Jayhawks in a big game. Time can be cruel, and so, it seems, can geography. Born and bred in Baltimore, my kid is pulling for his homeboys, the Maryland Terrapins.

I should have seen this coming, but I have been blinded by passion. Since the kid and his older brother (now away at college) were toddlers, I have been busy propagandizing them. For example, during our annual family forays to Kansas City to visit relatives, I regularly included an excursion to Allen Field House in Lawrence, Kan., to watch the Jayhawks play. I regarded these outings as sentimental journeys to a temple of basketball tradition, a feeling that Maryland alumni seem to have about visits to Cole Field House.

My 17-year-old, however, seems to view Allen Field House as a big barn with bleachers. The best spot to take in a basketball game, he reports, is the MCI Center in Washington, with its comfortable seats, good sight lines and awesome refreshments. That, he reminds me, is where we witnessed the last meeting of these two schools, the December 1997 contest in which the underdog Terps beat the highly favored Jayhawks, 86-83. Ouch!

Over the years, the kid and his older brother have become accustomed to finding me hunkered down in the family room of our Baltimore home watching a tape of KU's 1988 NCAA championship victory over Oklahoma. "Look at that spacing between players," I would say as I pointed at the flickering screen. "Watch this entry pass."

When he was younger, the kid pretended to listen. Once he got old enough to drive, he followed the example of his older brother and fled the premises. At Christmastime, both kids would receive a plethora of KU T-shirts, jerseys, caps and shorts, gifts from their father. Occasionally they humored me by wearing the garb. But once they hit adolescence, the Jayhawk apparel rarely made it out of their dresser drawers. Eventually anything saying "Kansas" on it ended up in my closet.

Instead the guys started wearing red and black Maryland basketball shorts, sometimes for days in a row. For a time, the younger one was virtually living in a T-shirt he picked up at a Gary Williams basketball summer camp. My Kansas shirts, he told me, were "too old style" for his taste.

So far this week the verbal exchanges between my son and me have been civil. Little mention has been made of hot-button issues such as KU's painful and surprising NCAA loss a few years back to Rhode Island (this is known in family circles as the night "dad went ballistic"). Nor has anything much been said about Maryland's deflating collapse in the second half of last year's Final Four game against Duke.

In fact, there are a few points the Maryland and Kansas factions see eye to eye on. One would be the compelling urge to give "Coach Williams" advice. We agree that KU's Coach Roy Williams, who has said he is "not gonna love his players any less" if they don't win, needs to be nastier. I want him to take lessons in meanness, or maybe a pill, from Bob Dole.

Speaking of pills, we agree that Maryland Coach Gary Williams should take a tranquilizer. He looks like he is ready to jump out of his skin, even as he boards the team bus.

On the sidelines of this family dispute is my wife, an alum of KU and mother of a Terrapin fan. The other day she announced that she didn't really care who won the Maryland-Kansas game. She added that instead of watching the contest on TV, she is probably going to attend a play in Washington.

Hearing this, I shook my head in amazement. You can, I have learned, share the same house with people for years, and still have no idea who they really are.

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