I was pleasantly surprised when Jacob asked me to write a post for this site. It’s not everyday a Cincinnati sports fan gets to spout on a Cleveland sports site, but today is neither about Cleveland nor Cincinnati. No, we must put our differences aside for this moment.
Today is a celebration of Cinderella. Today, we celebrate THE University of Dayton.
I have what could be called a typical UD history. My grandfather went to Dayton in the 1950s, splitting time between playing club baseball with several members of the great Flyer basketball teams of the ‘50s and serving his country during the Korean War. All five of his children then went to Dayton, although a couple didn’t graduate from UD — it’s a bit of an underrated party school. I’m a third-generation Flyer, which isn’t all that unique at UD, but that doesn’t make me or any other alumnus less proud of what’s happening with the Flyers right now because UD has spent the last 24 years, since their 1990 NCAA tournament bid, fighting the clutches of mediocrity.
Cleveland fans can understand that feeling UD fans get when something bad is going to happen, not “might happen.”
So no one saw this run happening. No one had Dayton in the Elite Eight. If they say they did, they’re a liar! This is, after all, a team that started off the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule 1-5. Not insurmountable by any means, but the team’s play did not inspire any confidence. The guards were slow, the wings couldn’t shoot and the frontcourt couldn’t wrangle a rebound from a toddler.
But rather than call it a season – like some teams I covered during my days at UD – this team did something. It won. Thirteen of its next 15, to be exact. Talk to any Dayton fan you know. They’re all doing the same thing right now: Smiling and scratching their head. No one saw this happening.
After such a slow start, Dayton remembered what it was best at: Defense, rebounding and shooting threes in transition, which is how the Flyers put away Ohio State, Syracuse and now Stanford in the NCAA tournament. Dayton’s 82-72 win over Stanford Thursday night marks the first time UD has made it to the Elite Eight since 1984. That year Roosevelt “Velvet” Chapman single-handedly carried the Flyers to a regional final against eventual champion Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. That’s not how the Flyers of 2014 play. This team relies on the cliché “team effort.” When three players score in double digits, Dayton is 24-3. Not bad.
But, really, this run has given Dayton fans a chance to boast. Sure, we’re ecstatic. UD is one win away from the Final Four! (Words I never thought I’d type in my life, by the way.) Now the NCAA has given us a free opportunity to shout about our school to the rest of the world, and for the first time, the world wants to hear.
Dayton is basketball. There’s not much else to do in Dayton, Ohio, so that’s why 13,435 of the Flyer Faithful pack UD Arena – the greatest college basketball venue in the country – every single night. Dayton has been in the Top 40 for attendance every year since 1969, the year the Arena opened.
Dayton is Tom Blackburn, a tough man who smiled only once in recorded history when Dayton won the NIT championship in 1962. Dayton fans will inform you of how important the NIT was in 1962 because it was the preeminent tournament of the day. It reigned above the NCAA until the 1970s. Think I’m joking … Al McGuire, the Hall of Fame coach from Marquette, turned down a NCAA bid in 1970 to play in the NIT. McGuire thought the NIT was a better tourney. Marquette would make the Sweet Sixteen in six of the next seven years, including a NCAA championship in 1977.1
Dayton is making fun of Digger Phelps. (This is a little known fact.) Before Mr. Phelps spent most of his time matching ties and highlighters, he was the coach of a Catholic institution called Notre Dame (Notre Who?). Current UD students hate Xavier, but times that by 10 and you have how the old school Dayton fans felt about the Fighting Irish. This was made all the better when Phelps and the legendary UD head coach Don Donoher almost got into a brawl at half court during a matchup on March 1, 1980. Apparently, Phelps didn’t appreciate getting hit with a roll — or two — of toilet paper. You can only imagine how the Flyer Faithful felt when Phelps got ejected from a game a couple years later. Mention “Goodnight, Digger,” to a 1980s alumnus and you’ve got yourself a free drink.
Dayton is basketball. We love it. We don’t have much else. We’re available 24/7 to talk about 2-3 trapping zones, the Princeton offense or the seemingly growing excess of inefficient jump shooters at the college level. We study the game.
But most importantly, Dayton is about community. I never realized that when I was an undergraduate, though. I thought it was a cheesy branding slogan for the university. I always thought it was cool to live in the Ghetto with a thousand of my peers drinking on the front porch, but now I know I’m a part of something truly bigger than myself.
I’m an alumnus now and I’m proud to flaunt my UD pride. Flyers truly do stick together.
I’ve gone across the country and in the most random places at the most random times I’ve met a fellow UD graduate and made a lifelong friend. Today’s students are making waves on the Internet for packing Kiefaber Street like it’s St. Patrick’s Day (another thing we take seriously). But look around the country in the major cities like New York, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Nashville, Louisville and even the little town in Tennessee where I live, Dayton fans come together to celebrate.
Celebrate the success of the team, for sure. We’re also there, though, to celebrate those good times we had closing down the favorite bars or strolling through the Ghetto waving at fellow Flyers, who would simply ask if we wanted a beer.2 Cinderellas have happened before, and they’ll happen again. But never has the country fallen so in love with her.
It’s really quite simple. UD is a great school. It’s a great place. It’s a great, historic program. But the reason everyone is falling for the Dayton Flyers isn’t so much the basketball, which made us famous, it’s the community everyone wants to be a part of. Once a Flyer, always a Flyer.
Here’s the good news: Today, we’re all Flyers.
Chris Moorman was the 2013 Editor-in-Chief of University of Dayton’s Flyer News. He can be followed on Twitter at @Stormin_Moorman. Photo by Joe Capka.