Jocks Stand Up
Star-crossed Columbine High wins a state title
At the heart of the horror was a cry I from Columbine High killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. "All jocks stand up!" they shouted between bursts of gunfire that killed 12 students and a teacher. "We're going to kill every one of you." Nearly eight months later, wearing slain football player Matt Kechter's number 70 on their helmets, the Columbine High Rebels stood together against powerhouse Cherry Creek in Colorado's Class 5A title game.
Columbine had never won a 5A title (the state's highest classification) and hadn't been to the championship game since 1981, while the Bruins of Cherry Creek had won five Colorado crowns in the 1990s. A crowd of more than 7,500 at Cherry Creek's Stutler Bowl last Saturday saw the home team take a 14-0 first-quarter lead as the fumbling visitors looked bad early—"a bit starry-eyed," in Rebels coach Andy Lowry's words. But then Columbine, which had overcome a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Fairview High in the state quarterfinals, scored twice to tie the game. Chants of "We are Columbine!" rose from the stands late in the third quarter when Rebels safety Garrett Looney intercepted a pass and returned it to the Bruins' eight-yard line. On the second play of the fourth quarter, facing fourth-and-four, Looney (yes, he plays quarterback too) took a snap and dropped back. The running Rebels would throw only three times all day, but Looney's lone completion found Andrew Conant in the end zone.
"When I went to the line my only thought was that I'd better catch it," said Conant. "Considering I had fumbled twice, I was a bit scared." In the leaping, embracing, weeping and praying that followed Columbine's 21-14 victory, Conant sounded dazed: "It's strange, actually unbelievable, that we won."
"To all you guys up mere, we love you," said fullback Landon Jones, pointing skyward. "Our love goes out to their families."
"What we carried in our hearts there aren't words for," Lowry said, adding, "Cherry Creek is a great football team, but I'm so proud of these guys. I'm not surprised by how they stepped up."
The Sexy Eight
The Great Eight tournament in Chicago was launched five years ago by ESPN, which said it would invite teams on the basis of their showing in the previous season's NCAA tournament. "If we can't have all of the top eight, we pick the best teams out there," says ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz. "We try to pick teams that look like contenders this year."
So how come four schools that didn't survive the second round in March—Arizona, Cincinnati, Kansas and North Carolina—got invited to this week's 1999 Great Eight? Maybe because the event isn't just made for TV, it is made by TV, and Oklahoma versus Maryland doesn't make for great ratings. "Based on what happened last March, we should have been invited," says Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, whose Sooners advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Michigan State. "But I guess Kansas is a little bit prettier for this dance."
Great Eight guidelines stipulate that no conference can be represented by more than one team. Since two Big Ten and two Big East schools reached last year's final eight, Sooners athletic director Joe Castiglione knew a couple of spots would be up for grabs. He worked the phones over the summer in hopes of getting Oklahoma invited, but the Sooners didn't get the call. Likewise, when Duke, another Final Four team, declined to participate, its berth went not to Sweet 16 team Maryland but to North Carolina, a first-round loser.