Other games not half as special


The Florida Gators run onto the court before the game against the Georgetown Hoyas aboard the USS Bataan at Mayport Harbor on Friday in Jacksonville. The game was cancelled at halftime because of condensation on the court causing slippery conditions.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 12:52 a.m.

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT — It's very rare that you can attend a sporting event where the game plays second fiddle, where the score is an afterthought, where the statistics are waved off as unimportant.

It's even more rare to show up for a basketball game and only get half of one.

Friday night was both.

A special night was tarnished by Mother Nature, who remains undefeated. The fans who were there will still never forget not because of the basketball they saw but where they saw it.

Florida and Georgetown played 20 minutes of basketball on an amphibious assault ship. The Gators dressed in a triage room and ran to the court past a large sign on the bridge that read, “Beware of Blasts and Rotors.” There were 3,800 people there, but it was standing room only and a lot of people were standing.

There were fireworks at halftime. How many times do you see that at a basketball game?

Unfortunately, there was no second half. There was nobody to blame unless you wanted to blame TV for scheduling a game outdoors at 9:15 p.m. in Florida, but we all know TV rules the world of athletics and there's nothing that can be done about it.

“It's disappointing,” said Florida's Erik Murphy. “But it was still one of the best experiences of my life.”

After the game, Murphy gave a sailor on the ship his jersey and the sailor responded by giving Murphy his uniform shirt. That was what this night was about, not a game that ended with no winner nor a loser.

And in a way, maybe that was appropriate.

To put this scene into words what it was like, well, that's supposed to be my job. But it's like Augusta National. I could spend weeks writing about it, but the first time you walked onto the course would be the first time you got it.

There will come a day soon where this is passe, where every season will open with a half-dozen games on the decks of these machines (or perhaps not since the condensation also canceled the Ohio State-Marquette game). But this was a first, a night so intoxicating I'd have been all-in if the ship had suddenly headed out to sea.

Every once in awhile, you'd lose yourself in the action and it would feel like an NCAA Tournament game in an unfamiliar arena, but all you had to do was take a few steps over the edge and realize how high above the ground and grin once again about how special this was.

And when seven Naval cadets were sworn into the Navy at center court by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus during the second media timeout, well, yes, there was cheering in the press box. Not to mention goosebumps.

Even with the disappointing way it ended, it was still a night to remember. And they really had no choice. After giving halftime an extra seven minutes and people feverishly working to dry the court, it eventually became a lost cause.

And 10 minutes after the game was called and everyone had left it, you could see a film of moisture covering it. This was an unplayable situation.

“I didn't know it when we were warming up for the second half until a manager said something about it,” Murphy said. “You can look at it now, there's no way we could have played.”

Murphy was still on the court a half hour later posing with sailors and signing autographs. These guys got it, and while I feel fortunate to have been one of the lucky ones to be aboard the USS Bataan, I wish you could all have been there. Not because of the amazing environment or the sheer magnitude of a basketball game on the deck of a ship, but because of all of the servicemen we talked to throughout the night.

This isn't their playground. It's their home. This is where they risk their lives. This is where they keep us safe.

You could look into the eyes of the young men and women in their dress whites and see a combination of amusement as we stared at the guns and a sense of relief that the fear of floor condensation was the biggest worry on this night.

Certainly, it would have been nice to have finished this terrific night off. Instead, we had what may have been the coolest exhibition game Florida has ever played.

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