We left for Ann Arbor on Jan. 29. I chose a seat near the front of the bus, and as each player passed he looked twice and exclaimed: "Look, Rowe's making the trip!" Everything was O.K. I was on a Big Ten basketball team about to play in front of 13,609 people.
Of course, nowhere near that many were left by the time I got in, but it was a start. We lost to Michigan by 37 points and to Michigan State by 28. During one timeout against the Spartans, I looked into the crowd and met the stare of a small boy behind our bench. Despite the score, his eyes were full of admiration. I had to look away before my own filled with tears.
Thanks to Minnesota, which had forfeited its Jan. 26 game with us because of an alleged rape involving players from the Minnesota team (who were later acquitted), our conference record was now 1-8 instead of 0-9. Then we lost seven of eight games, beating only a diminished Minnesota team. Two days before our final game, against Wisconsin. I had a poor practice. Nevertheless, Falk told me to "stick with it."
"I will, coach," I said. I wanted to sink a long jumper and have Falk ask if I would be back. I wanted to run the fast break and hear him clap his hands and say, "That's the way! That's the way!"
But it was too late—for both of us. We lost to Wisconsin by a basket, and five days later, Falk learned his contract wasn't going to be renewed.
In October 1986, the new coach, Bill Foster, held his walk-on tryouts. My heart wasn't in them, but my dream had somehow survived the summer, and I wondered if things might be different under another coach. After the tryout, Foster led a dozen hopefuls into the locker room for some final comments. I was one of them.
Once inside, I sat down and leaned against my old locker. The padlock was gone, and the purple door was closed on an empty cage. My nameplate had been removed, leaving only a rectangle of sticky residue. The cushioned folding chair with CHIP ROWE painted on the back was nowhere to be seen.
The next day I returned to check the list, to see who had made the team. My name wasn't there.