Thursday, March 11, 2010

March Madness: Earl Boykins, high fevers, and one horrible Catholic!

Eastern Michigan's Earl Boykins is hugged by teammate Derrick Dial during EMU's magical run in 1996's March Madness, which included an upset win over Duke. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

A week ago, a friend asked on Facebook (sadly, the main means of communication these days) “What NCAA March Madness moment was the most memorable for you?”

Obviously, any college basketball fan knows there have been a ton of incredible March Madness moments over the years, but for me it was an easy question. The only strange thing was, my moment had very little to do with basketball.

It was the March of 1996 and my life was about to totally change for the better. In less than three weeks I was getting married, and for the first time in my photojournalism career, I was lucky enough to get assigned to cover the NCAA Tournament.

You’d think I’d be ecstatic, but in truth, I was freaking out because I’m Catholic, and as any Catholic knows, there are a lot of rules involved with being a Catholic … a lot. And one of those rules is you can’t get married until you participate in a marriage counseling seminar. This didn’t seem to be a big problem at the time my future wife Julie, and I scheduled the seminar for mid-March, but then both Michigan and Eastern Michigan University made the NCAA Tournament, which threw a total monkey wrench into the works because the first round of the tournament was the same weekend as our seminar.

Rather than call Father Burke (the Priest who would marry us) and inform him of my situation, I opted to try and do both the tournament and the seminar.  Since Michigan was in Milwaukee playing a Friday/Sunday schedule, that was out of the question. But Eastern was in Indianapolis on a Thursday/Saturday slot, and their first round game was against the Duke Blue Devils. I figured there was no way little old Eastern stood a chance against mighty Duke, so my plan was to drive to Indy, shoot EMU getting creamed by the Blue Devils on Thursday, then head back to Ann Arbor in time to go to my pre-marital seminar.

Of course, things don’t always go as planned, as I found out the night before I was set to leave for Indy when the glands in my throat began to swell and I started to get the chills. An hour later I was busting the thermometer with a 104-degree fever so I had Julie call my boss to tell her I couldn’t go to Indy. My boss told me not to worry; she’d get someone else on staff to take the slot, but an hour later my boss called to inform me there was no one else who could go.

Julie pleaded with me not to make the trip, but I told her if I was going to be miserable anyhow, why not be miserable in a car headed south down I-69? Who could argue with logic like that? Certainly not Julie, who just shook her head and realized she might be making a big mistake in three weeks.

After a sleepless night of repeated fevers, I got up, packed my car and headed for Indianapolis, fully expecting to be back in Ann Arbor in less than two days. The four hour trip to Indy is so boring, you’re better off having a high fever when you make the drive – at least it’s something to keep you occupied.

When I rolled into town, I tried to get out of my car only to find my legs didn’t work so well anymore. I was extremely weak and dizzy, but somehow I managed to heave my gear and my luggage out of my car and up to the front desk of the hotel where I promptly began infecting most of central Indiana with whatever virus it was that I was carrying. I would find out later that Indianapolis is a marvelous city, but at the time I found out sleeping the rest of the afternoon was equally as marvelous.

By morning light my fevers seemed to have passed. I managed to eat something for the first time in two days and I began feeling hopeful that I wouldn’t pass out on the floor of the RCA Dome sometime early in the first half of that afternoon’s game. What I didn’t expect were the delusions left behind by the high fevers, because while I was shooting the game, I could swear it looked like little Earl Boykins, all 5’ 5” of him, and the rest of the EMU team was blowing out Duke.

Now, I knew this couldn’t be, I even asked the photographers next to me if I was seeing things right. They assured me I wasn’t delusional; EMU was, in fact, kicking Duke’s ass. I started sweating again; only this time it had nothing to do with a virus. I was sunk. Eastern would play again on Saturday - the same day as my pre-marital seminar - and I was stuck in Indy!

I called Julie to inform her of Eastern’s victory – she wasn’t happy. I called Father Burke to inform him of Eastern’s victory – he was happy … that is, until he found out I was in Indy and I couldn’t get back for the seminar on time - then he wasn’t happy.

For three hours I played phone tag with Father Burke from my hotel room pleading with him to let me get married without attending the seminar. He called a higher power (maybe the Pope?) but the church wouldn’t budge. No seminar, no marriage.

This wasn’t good. We had the church booked. We had the reception hall booked. We had the caterer booked. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Eastern was supposed to lose!

I got on the phone with Father Burke one last time to beg some more. He’d known Julie his whole life, but he’d only known me for a few months, still, he seemed to like me, and he certainly felt for my predicament, so he let me strike a bargain. I could stay in Indianapolis and shoot EMU’s second game if I promised that Julie and I would attend the very next pre-marital seminar held at St. Francis in mid-May - a good month and a half after we already were married.

What Father Burke didn’t know (and I wasn't going to tell him) was that Julie was three-months pregnant at the time (hey, give me a break, we already had the wedding planned four months before I got her pregnant). This wasn’t a huge problem, but come mid-May it definitely was a tad awkward strolling into our “pre-marriage” seminar very much “post-marriage” and with the glow of Julie's pregnancy showering down around us.

But a promise is a promise, and I kept my word to Father Burke becoming, perhaps, the only Catholic in the history of Catholicism to be married to a pregnant woman without the benefit of pre-marriage counseling - or the blessing of the church! 

As for Father Burke, he could only scratch his head in confusion when my daughter Olivia was born later that September.



  1. Lon,

    Two interesting facts:
    1. Mary and I were living in Indy then and saw those two EMU games. I had forgotten that it was Duke whom EMU beat on Thursday afternoon. What I do remember, although I wish I could forget it, was Princeton beating the defending NCAA Champs UCLA 43-41 in the night session. I was born at UCLA and grew up in Los Angeles. I don't remember all of Wooden's champion teams (the first two won before I was born) but I remember from Steve Patterson (the center after Alcindor/later Jabbar and before Walton) on. That lost to Princeton has stayed with me for a while.
    2. At the time, you and Julie were about a month away from being married, Mary and I had been married about a month.

    I hope you mother is doing better.

    Take care,