The last time Stanford played at Rutgers, I was there.
Things were different then.
Freshman forward T'Nae Thiel recorded then career-highs of 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead sixth-ranked Stanford University (13-1) to a 50-46 victory over host Rutgers.
No one cared who Don Imus was.
It was my first trip to New York.
It was just 3 months after 9/11.
Looking back, I remember it as perhaps the most remarkable trip I have ever been on.
A lot of it was just plain dumb luck--I knew so little about Manhattan, that I unknowingly booked a hotel right on the edge of Times Square. When we arrived the afternoon of New Years Eve, we had to show every form of ID to get to our hotel, which was located on a blocked off street. Afterwards, we had to have a special letter from the police to access in and out. But the best was that we were in the Times Square crowd for the New Years celebration, but in a little blocked off section all by ourselves. We met wonderful police and firemen who were celebrating the resiliency of their city. It was freezing. It was crazy. It was wonderful.
New Years Day we walked everywhere in the quiet city. Each street brought some reminder of the tragedy that had unfolded just a few months before--firehouses with pictures honoring their fallen comrades, flags still at half staff,a slight dusting of grit everywhere.
In our travels, we ran across the famous Fireman statue that became a shrine for all.
Not that we didn't have some good laughs. We couldn't find the Empire State Building. We thought it was just so big, we would be able to see it from anywhere. I didn't know that everything was so big there. Frustrated, we decided to stop for lunch. When we walked out, we looked up to find that we had eaten lunch right at the foot of the place!
Our trip to Piscataway was memorable. We braved Penn Station and ran like lemmings when they announced the track our train was on. We were so proud that we were able to muscle our way in and get a seat! By the time we got to Piscataway, we were just about the only ones left on the train and it was dark. From then on, it was a series of mis-adventures that led us to every gym on the campus before finding the Louis Brown Center. Whew, we finally made it! This was Kelley Suminski's trip home and she was treated like a regular teen idol--screams everywhere. Bethany Donaphin and Lauren St.Clair were also crowd favorites. It was a tough game, as expected, but Stanford won out.
The next day was the first day that Ground Zero was opened to the public for viewing. We stood in a solemn line that snaked through the lower Manhattan streets for hours, sharing the experience with others from throughout the world.
As we approached, the flyers seeking missing people were still everywhere, but now were dotted with decorations from the recent holidays and happy birthday cards to those who were lost.
As we moved up the platform, we looked up towards St Paul's Chapel, only to see window blinds still logged into a charred tree.
The site itself was almost too large to believe, not like the postage stamp size it seemed like on TV.
It was overwhelming.
We moved on from Ground Zero to Battery Park and onto the Staten Island Ferry. Somehow, seeing the Statue of Liberty after Ground Zero was incredibly re-assuring.
I recall telling Judy that I hoped they caught Osama bin Laden while we were there--what a party that would be. How wrong I was to expect that.
We took in The Great White Way and saw "Phantom of the Opera", the quintessential Broadway show.
The house was packed. New York was on the way back.
I fell in love with New York. The gruffness that I had heard about was not to be found. This was a place where people came together in the spirit of patriotism and rebuilding. My subsequent trips have found some of the edge coming back, but my New York will always be the one I found in January of 2002.
Other commitments are keeping me from going to Piscataway this weekend and that makes me sad. I often reflect back on all that Stanford Women's Basketball has given to me--and perhaps that trip was the greatest gift of all.