Road Trip to Final Four signals end of my youthful escapades

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Alvin Richardson

Alvin Richardson

By Alvin Richardson, Columnist

In prior episodes I have mentioned my waning desire for participating in adventurous exploits. I think that trend is caused by a diminishing fervor for excitement plus an accelerating tendency toward cowardice.

As I look back on the foolish things I’ve done I can pinpoint exactly when this inclination toward a more benign lifestyle began. It was 1983 I was 28 years old and newly married. At that precise moment the flame of ignorance burned brightly inside me and I confirmed that fact once more when I made a decision to willingly participate in a road trip that would set my life on a new path. At the time it seemed not only like a good idea but an outstanding one.

The University of Georgia’s men’s basketball team had cruised through the NCAA tournament. For the first (and only) time in their history were going to the Final Four and I, being a bleeder of Red and Black, was hysterical with joy. That joy took on a dream-like quality upon discovering that there was a ticket available to me. I felt like I’d been blessed by the Pope.

There was only one slight problem. That game would be played in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I did not possess the requisite cash to buy an airplane ticket. Undeterred, a plan evolved to take the overland route.

At that juncture in history there was no such thing as Mapquest, just regular maps and those maps didn’t clearly tell you how far it was to a particular destination (without going to a lot of trouble with a ruler), just how to get there. I learned much later on that it was 1,527 miles – one way – to my target. Not that it would have mattered.

I didn’t really have a grasp of how far 1500 miles was in a car and didn’t care. Like I said the flame of ignorance was ablaze in my body. I did not take on this grand endeavor alone so I now introduce you to my road trip colleagues. The lead dog (so to speak) for the expedition was Gino Gianfrancesco. Now if you are a true Bulldog basketball fan you recognize that name.

Think hard. Gino’s name is still in the UGA record books. He holds the record for assists in a game (15 vs Georgia Tech in 1972). I followed Gino as the boys basketball coach at Lincoln County High School after he went into a much more lucrative business selling insurance. I’d played a lot of pickup basketball with him over the years and would have never known he held any kind of assist record because by that time he was tired of passing the ball to others and was enamored with his shooting ability.

His role in this trip was important because he secured the tickets and had the only car even remotely capable of going the required distance. Another member of our party was Big Al. Big Al’s claims to fame were that he was the best post player you never heard of and he was skilled at catching lots of big bass. Additionally he was the most efficient person in the group at driving long distances without the benefit of sleep which, as it turned out, was of considerable importance.

The final individual of our merry little band was my dad. As the elder statesman of the gang he was just shy of his 50th birthday and his desire for adventure still burned as brightly as ever. I sincerely believe, however, that this trip marked the beginning of the end for him because I can’t even get him to travel outside of Morgan County anymore.

Dad’s claim to fame is that he became a charter member of the Rutledge Basketball Hall of Fame. He played in 3527 consecutive pickup basketball games and retired at age 57 only when the Rutledge Municipal Gymnasium burned down and the wooden floor was replace with one made of concrete. To make a long story short, we passed through Birmingham, Memphis, Fort Smith, Oklahoma City, Amarillo and seemingly dozens of other towns on our ultimate road trip.

We stopped once somewhere in west Texas to fill up Gino’s car with gas and oil because both were empty. When I got out of the car a gust of wind hit me like a Sherman tank and my Bulldog hat was gone, never to be seen again. I then tried to put oil in the car and the oil blew out onto I-40.

Back in the car I calculated that we had driven over 1200 miles in about twenty three hours and still had 300 miles to go. They got some big states out there. Albuquerque, New Mexico was a welcome sight. We got there just in time to unload our stuff at the motel and go to the game.

Georgia lost 67-60 to eventual national champ N.C. State. Bummed out and butt worn, we retreated to a Mexican restaurant where we enjoyed some of the authentic local cuisine and pondered our future. We decided to sell our tickets and go home. Unfortunately the Mexican chow we had eaten gave me an acute case of either the green apple quickstep or Montezuma’s revenge.

It was never officially diagnosed but my partners generally conceded that the symptoms were akin to those dreaded diseases and the effects lingered until somewhere east of Dallas (we took the southern route going home) on the return trip. All told we spent nearly 60 hours in the car and five hours in Albuquerque. It was the last of the red hot road trips for me and my spirit of adventure has been on the decline ever since.

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