Happy Birthday

It was a Wednesday.  I know because my favorite television program, Law and Order, would have a new episode at 9 pm.  It also was the first day of fall, but you didn’t need to wear a coat.  I had been at the hospital at 8 that morning and my wife, Michele, and I were getting impatient.  Finally, at about 6 that late afternoon, Sam was born.

Little did I know and little did Sam even have a single thought about it, but Sam had inherited my athleticism or lack of it.  He also would be forced into my obsession with sports.  Sure, I was a coach and had to weave my life around pre-game meals and Thanksgiving road trips.   His athletic obsession would go much farther.

I couldn’t imagine the sights that little guy would see way back on September 22, 1999.  Just short of three months later, the first magical moment occurred.  My first basketball team was not very good and that’s being kind.  There was one afternoon just before Christmas that the athletic world lined up just right for the Bearcats.

My basketball team was in Kansas City for a tournament at Rockhurst.  The Bearcat football team kicked off in their national championship game just as we were beginning our pre-game meal at the Italian Garden Restaurant.  Down three scores at one time, it looked hopeless for a second consecutive football national championship.

The team’s comeback began as we took the court at Rockhurst.  It took until just after halftime, over four hours later, for Scott Bostwick’s defense to get the turnover they needed.  Sam and I were now in the same athletic department of the two-time national football champion.

That poor team I coached that first year put together one great game.  My point guard scored 15 points, her only game in double figures.  In overtime, we beat a good Briar Cliff team.   For one moment, everything was right in the Steinmeyer athletic world even though Sam was napping and sucking his thumb without a clue.

That was the first of 17 and part of an 18th season Sam would experience from the Bearcats’ football team.  From the moment he realized what was going on, he cheered on a team that won 218 games in that span, while losing only 32 games.  He would sit glued to the television for all except one national championship game.  Nine times the Bearcats would make it to the final game.  Five times they would win and Sam would feel like he was a national champion.

When Sam was old enough to be aware there could be a Santa Claus, we received an annual visit from Santa.  He would come out of nowhere to leave a treat and important message at our back door.  Sam would watch Santa approach and leave, knowing for sure the guy from the North Pole really existed.

That big guy in a red costume was the men’s basketball coach, Steve Tappmeyer.  I was close to Steve from the moment I walked on campus.  I’m pretty sure I came in second place for Steve’s favorite Steinmeyer.  Sam would watch with the same intensity to the men’s games as he did to his dad’s women’s games.

Twice, we would meet after MIAA Conference Tournament Championship games to listen to the NCAA II Bracket Shows.  I’m not sure Sam, Steve or I enjoyed the sport any more than the aftermath of the two times Northwest won both the men’s and women’s MIAA Tournament Championship.  It’s never been done by another team.

After Steve left Northwest, Sam continued to follow the basketball team.  After all, Austin was still on the sidelines, making important substitutions.  He was in the stands last March to see the Bearcats win the National Championship.  How many kids sat in a snowstorm to see a football national championship and drive to South Dakota to see the basketball championship in the same school year?

When Sam hit high school, it was clear he would not be a football player.  That didn’t stop him as he became a manager on Matt Webb’s outstanding program.  Sam had taken a bus as an eighth grader to watch the team win a state championship in St Louis.  Now he was on the sidelines, getting as close as he could to Matt Houchin, the offensive coordinator.

Sam has only seen the Spoofhounds lose four football games.  When they lost the lead in the fourth quarter in last year’s championship game, Sam’s tears were as real as any of the players.  Sam takes his sports seriously.

Those weren’t the only tears Sam shed for a sporting event.  When he was only four, my team lost a first round game in the NCAA Regional Tournament on a last second shot.  Michele told me he lay on the floor and cried after the game.

It will be hard for Sam to admit this now, but in 2008, my eight year old son refused to go to bed as long as his favorite college team, besides Northwest, was fighting for a national championship.  That was the Monday night the Kansas Jayhawks were fighting for a national championship.

He cried and stomped around as Kansas fell behind by seven points with less than a minute to play.  He jumped up and down on the couch when Sharron Collins hit a three-point field goal to send the game into overtime.  It was only a matter of time before Kansas had defeated Memphis.  Sam celebrated late into the night.  He was in school the next day.

Despite all the football and basketball, baseball has always been Sam’s favorite sport.  This past spring, he won his first varsity letter in baseball.   Sam and I have attended games of professional teams all over the nation while his mother patiently waited in the hotel rooms.  From Baltimore to Seattle, Tampa to San Diego and many in-between, our family spent a vacation watching baseball in a different venue, always chosen by Sam.

The highlight of our baseball trips was in Kansas City.  We were lucky enough, thanks in large part to Geoff Conn, 97-1 The Vill & KNIM’s News and Sports Director, for tickets to attend four World Series games and many playoff games in 2014 and 2015.

Nothing could top the extra inning, come from behind win in the wild card game in 2014 against Jon Lester and the Oakland A’s.  We didn’t get home until 4 am, but Sam was in school the next day.

I’m not sure if Sam would agree, but the cherry on top of the birthday cake with 18 years’ worth of athletic experiences came in 2011.  That was the year my women’s team made the national Final Four game.

Along the way was a memorable regional trip to Oklahoma.  Sam was sick and I didn’t know if he should ride the bus.  The team doctor, Dr. Pat Harr, assured me he would provide all the medical care he would need.  After a week in Oklahoma and a regional championship, Sam came home free of any cold symptoms.  I’m convinced Dr. Harr is a super hero.

Sam shed a tear when that memorable season ended at the hands of Michigan Tech.  We should have known that all it meant was just a stop-over in 18 years of athletic memories and experiences.  I haven’t come close to talking about them all.  Happy birthday, Sam.

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