Yes, Virginia, there is a San Francisco (just ask Pete Barry)
Picture it: An otherwise banal early Friday afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving. And there was Pete Barry, the former basketball coach at Coast Guard, in his home decorating his Christmas tree, totally unaware one of those touching, "this is your life" moments was about to happen up the road.
Barry, having untangled the lights and properly dangled the ornaments, flipped on the television with no expectation. Maybe some football or college hoops. And then what he saw carried him on a 40-year-old rainbow ride back to his days in San Francisco.
There it was on TV: Yes, Virginia, there is a San Francisco. The first college team Barry ever coached, the Dons of San Francisco, had just upset the No. 4 Cavaliers at Mohegan Sun Arena. Up popped the graphic: "USF's first win over a top five opponent since 1981."
The coach of the Dons in 1981: Pete Barry. He led them to 24 wins and the West Coast Athletic Conference championship.
"I remember the game (over the top five team)," Barry said by phone Friday. "We were in Hawaii. The Rainbow Classic. We beat Wichita State. They had Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston. They were loaded."
Barry was thrilled for his old school. He still loves his old city. Put it this way: Barry may lean toward a Manhattan (when they're made with Canadian Club and he gets to keep the shaker of ice) but he's a San Francisco Guy for life.
"What a great win," he said.
Serendipitous as well. Think about it. San Francisco's first win over a top five opponent came against a team coached by Tony Bennett, whose namesake was famous for leaving his heart in San Francisco.
It didn't take Barry, ever the entertaining conversationalist, long to transport himself back to the aforementioned Rainbow Classic.
"You hate Hawaii when you're there with a basketball team," Barry said. "That's not why you want to be in Hawaii. But we also beat Bradley out there. Their coach (Dick) Versace got so mad at one of the officials he ripped the whistle off his neck. We were up three and shooting free throws."
Coaches may forget their spouse's birthday on occasion. But they never forget the big wins.
Barry, a Coast Guard Hall of Famer, has the academy's career record for basketball wins (262). He led the Bears to five conference titles, most notably in 2008 when the Bears later made the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
That trip was my favorite journalistic experience in 30 years here.
First, the Bears defeated Div. III power Rochester in the Sweet 16 at Ursinus College in suburban Philadelphia.
"We just lost to bleeping Coast Guard!" one Rochester player said to another as they trudged back to the bus, underscoring the depth of the upset.
This was a night after the Rochester coach big-timed Barry at a local restaurant. I am not allowed to print what Barry said in rebuttal.
The Bears came within a possession of defeating Ursinus in the Elite Eight game, before losing in overtime. A gut buster that didn't fit the rest of the laughs all weekend.
Then on the ride home ...
Our bus driver, who claimed to be Reggie Jackson's cousin, left Ursinus the same way all weekend. Except here. He knew a shortcut.
But Reggie's cousin missed a turn. Or took it too quickly. He clipped a concrete abutment to someone's house, a cement porch-looking thing that sat absurdly close to the road. If nothing else, it indicated that the owner must have paid off some schmo from planning & zoning.
Something happened to a ball bearing and a tire on the bus.
Irony: It was a Peter Pan bus. Nobody knew at the time that Peter Pan's immortal line, "I'm flying!" was also code for the safer method of transportation.
The crash only delayed the four-hour trip back to Connecticut for three hours.
While awaiting Mr. Fix It, two Pennsylvania police officers escorted the bus to the parking lot of a Wawa, so the passengers could at least eat something. Barry exited the bus, but not before saying "nice shortcut" to Reggie's cousin.
And then Barry returned with a liverwurst sandwich and milk, exactly the fare he always thought would punctuate the greatest postseason run of his career.
Barry's retired now and enjoying his grandchildren. He had quite the day Friday he never saw coming. The best stories, sports and otherwise, often come from nowhere, as innocence belies their poignancy.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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