I was a fan of women's basketball long before it was cool. I coached girls' basketball in high school for about 25 years. It made sense to follow the college game. Besides, I liked it. It was a game of strategy and shooting and defense.
In 1985, my Woodward Academy team won its way to the state tournament for the first time in school history. I decided to reward my team with a trip to the women's Final Four in Austin, Texas. In those days the women's tournament was played on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, so on the last Thursday in March, we piled into two school vans and headed west.
Yes. We drove to Austin, Texas, for the games.
We stopped over in New Orleans the first night for some beignets and cafe au lait at the Cafe Dumond. The next day we had a lot of miles to travel, but made it to Austin in time to take our seats, high above the floor in the University of Texas arena for the premier game of the evening.
Did I mention the fact that Andy Landers's Lady Bulldogs were playing?
What a team that was! Teresa Edwards was on that team and remains the greatest woman player I have ever seen. I had seen her lead Cairo to a high school state championship over a Tracy Waits-led Rockdale team and would later watch her lead the U.S. team to Olympic gold. I was anxious to see her lead my alma mater to its first-ever NCAA crown that weekend.
Katrina McLain was on that team, as was Janet Harris. All three would eventually make it to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Our team traveled in red sweaters -- our own team colors. Coach Landers, during his team's pregame warm-ups, noticed a group of 20 or so people, way up in the nosebleed seats, and sent a manager up to find out who we were and what we were doing there. When he found out that we were from Georgia and had traveled more than a thousand road miles -- which are way different than air miles -- to see his team play, he arranged for us to take seats right behind the Georgia bench.
That first night went as planned and Sunday afternoon found us right back behind the bench for the championship game. Vince Dooley was right there amongst us. We carried a toy bulldog to the game with us for good luck, and I will never forget the look on Coach Dooley's face when one of my players introduced our dog -- which was named Dooley -- to the real Vince Dooley. He didn't blink an eye. He just said, "Hello, Dooley."
I am sure he had seen it all before.
My lovely wife, Lisa, was seated, by happenstance, next to Pam Landers, Andy's wife. Both were "great with child," which we decided was an omen of good luck.
It was not to be. Teresa Edwards fouled out of the game, the first time she had done that since her freshman year in high school. Every rebound seemed to bounce right into the outstretched hands of the other team and the Lady Dogs, inexplicably, lost that day to Old Dominion.
That was 28 years ago and I have been a huge Andy Landers fan -- and Lady Bulldogs fan -- ever since. Actually, those two things are one and the same because Andy Landers is Georgia women's basketball.
I have followed his team all over the country and, back in the days before television and the rest of the world discovered women's hoops, I would stay up late and go to great lengths to find out the scores of games played in different time zones than our own.
Before I had this column as an outlet for my thoughts I would send Coach Landers long handwritten letters of encouragement before big games and letters of congratulations after big wins. He probably thought I was a nut. Maybe I was. Maybe I am.
But I told you all of that to tell you this. I have followed Andy and his teams throughout his entire career and it has been a long time since I have enjoyed watching a team as much as this year's squad. Through the magic of television I have been able to see a number of games. As they prepared to play in Monday night's Elite Eight round of the current version of the NCAA tournament I was on vacation, camping on Jekyll Island, busily trying to figure out how I could rearrange my schedule for a trip to New Orleans next weekend.
My normal bedtime is 9 o'clock these days, as rest is paramount to my health. Not Monday night. I stayed up until midnight watching the battle between Georgia and California. I felt confident as we held onto a six-point lead with only a few minutes to play. Then the lead was 4 and then 2 and then we were tied and behind and tied again and overtime was not kind to us. So we have to wait another year to return to the Final Four.
But return we will. Andy Landers is a class act -- and a damn good dog.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.