Sunday, April 1, 2007

Eight years ago today...

...Tigerboard truly erupted for the first time. (I just spent 30 minutes on Internet Archive trying to find an example of the eruption, but it's apparently not contained for all-time.) In the early afternoon on April 1, 1999, things started to rumble. The rumor was, after leading Mizzou back to the NCAA Tournament, Norm Stewart was getting ready to retire. Supposedly a press conference was scheduled. I was extremely skeptical--hello, people, it's April Fools Day! This was obviously an Internet rumor.

Only it wasn't. In the late afternoon, there really was a press conference, and Norm really did retire. And since I'm all about the Trib's archive, here are some articles from April 2, 1999.

Norm Sits Down

Norm Retires: The Fellow Had a Good Run (Define Irony: "The fact that this transition is being made with such tranquility also speaks well for athletic director Mike Alden. As a newcomer, and a youngish fellow at that, the ending of a career for such a powerhouse as Stewart could have been difficult. Alden and Stewart worked it out, to their mutual credit.")

Home Court
Stewart's Long Run Ends
Stewart Became Mentor to Many (by the irreplaceable Kent Heitholt)
Stewart Takes His Seat (also by Norm was hired over Bill Fitch? Interesting.)
Stewart Leaves Long Legacy Behind

Rivals Remember 'The Dean' (Billy Tubbs: "Norm and I never grew up in this politically correct world. Now coaches hug after games. Norm and I never hugged. We were spit-in-your-eye-type guys.")

Dooling Says He'll Be Back
Players Stunned by Decision, Deny Rumors of Team Unrest
Doings in Detroit: MU Officials Talking with Snyder Today
Anderson Hopes for a Chance

Norm was all I truly knew about Mizzou while growing up the only Mizzou fan in Western Oklahoma (I even had a Mizzou Starter jacket!). I was born in Columbia while my dad went to grad school there, and for whatever reason I stayed attached to them even though we moved when I was 2. Obviously Mizzou football was nonexistent (which made wearing that jacket a bit unrewarding since I lived in Football Country), so all I really had to brag about growing up was Norm and Mizzou basketball. And since Mizzou basketball showed a penchant for underachieving in the NCAA tournament in the late-'80s, it was actually only Norm. I got to experience the Billy Tubbs-Norm Stewart rivalry every bit as up-close as I would have had I grown up in mid-Missouri, and I enjoyed every second of it, even if I was the only one on Norm's side.

I've been posting these 1993-94 Redux posts for about the last month, and it's been a lot of fun looking back on what was obviously a few of the most enjoyable months ever to be a Mizzou fan. Norm had crafted a team with size, strength, skill, experience, and lots of personality. It was the perfect Norm team, and it came at a time when my admiration for the man had never been higher.

In the Summer of 1993, my family and I took a trip to Ireland. Getting ready for the flight home, I saw someone in the Shannon Airport who looked a lot like Norm. Turns out, it actually was Norm. It took most of the 7-hour flight back to the midwest, but I finally worked up the guts to go up to him on the plane and ask for his autograph. Of course, the only thing I had for him to autograph was my 8th grade yearbook (yes, I realize I just aged myself...sorry, Atch). So he autographed the basketball page...but not before scrutinizing it pretty closely. He found me in the team picture, asked how much I played (not much...though I was pretty good at HORSE after practice!), and perused the results. We went 18-1 that year, but he quickly found our one loss (a 20-point loss to our main rival) and asked what happened. I said the refs screwed us (naturally), but I proudly pointed out that we got our revenge a month later by destroying them by 30 on their home court. He signed the page and shook my hand, and I went back to my seat and glowed for the rest of the flight. For the first time, I felt like I had a personal stake in the Missouri Tigers, which made the success of the '93-'94 team that much more satisfying.

And then, of course, a year later Tyus Edney raced down the court, and I was truly indoctrinated in Mizzou fandom.

Late in 1998, I met Norm again. I volunteered to be a host at Norm's March of Dimes Man of the Year banquet. After the banquet, I had this exchange with him:

Me: So...a few years ago, you met a kid on a plane back from Ireland and signed his 8th grade yearbook...

Norm: Well I'll be a son-of-a-gun! That was you?
He talked to me like he knew me for about 10 minutes, which, needless to say, felt pretty cool.

Anyway, when Norm retired I had mixed feelings like everybody else, and I'm not even talking about the "he was forced out" rumors (even if the rumors were true, and they probably were to some degree, that's just how things work nowadays). Norm was Mizzou basketball, and I was completely prepared for him to be Mizzou coach--for better or worse--as long as he could physically stand on the sidelines. But at the same seemed like Mizzou was losing as many transfers as they were signing recruits. And there was the well-publicized (as you'll see among the links above) spat between Norm and Keyon/Clarence, the first two highly-touted recruits Norm had gotten in a while. He was obviously having some trouble finding basketball players who a) were talented enough to bring wins to Mizzou and b) wanted to play for an abrasive, old-school guy. Mizzou had finally made it back to the NCAA tournament in 1999 for the first time since Tyus Edney, but he had still had overall diminishing returns over the last half-decade, and his relationship with Keyon probably confirmed that he wasn't likely to get too many more high-profile kids in the near future. A change was unfathomable, but a change would possibly be a good thing. Needless to say, there were some conflicting feelings floating about.

(I still think change was probably a good thing, but it obviously hasn't been as good as we might have hoped.)

Anyway, Norm started doing color commentary for some Mizzou games after his retirement, and he was pretty shaky and uncomfortable at first. You would only get 1-2 Normisms a game in those early years, but man oh man, has he grown into the role. He did pretty much every conference road game this season, and the Normisms were flowing left and right, specifically during the blowout at Hilton in February. Between his commentary and those old '93-'94 articles, which all featured a great quote or two, I've been reminiscing fondly about the Norm era. His embracing of Mike Anderson this season suggests that he'll be more and more of a presence in the near future, and that's a very good thing.

And by the way...exactly eight years after his retirement, Norm has been elected to the National Collegiate Hall of Fame. Fantastic news.