When I was about eight or nine, my father's older sister, Judy, and her husband Johnny came and visited from Arizona.
Even though it was twenty years ago, Uncle Johnny was old. Well, older. He was mostly bald, with liver spots crawling up and down his arms and neck and legs that were bare from lower thigh to mid-calf, thanks to the technological advancement of khaki shorts and white tube socks.
He also smiled ... a lot. In a way he looked like Fire Marshall Bill, with the curled upper lip exposing bright white teeth. And he used to tell these wonderful stories about particular things, random things he knew about. Most of them involved Arizona in one way or another.
So when he came to visit he brought me a University of Arizona hat. It was an old mesh-backed hat with a foam front (I'd say "trucker hat", but I don't feel like it), and it had Arizona's old logo on it - an 80s-esque post-modern line-drawn shot of an Arizona sunset with a cactus. Maybe saguaro. Maybe not.
Uncle Johnny loved Arizona, and he loved the Wildcats. I had no real college allegiance at the time - I rooted for Colorado or Air Force or even Colorado State, but I didn't care too much - so rooting for the Wildcats seemed plausible. Good, even.
When Miles Simon hit that three-quarters length shot in 1997 to win a game, and then Arizona went on to beat Kentucky in OT for the national championship, I always wondered what Uncle Johnny did to celebrate. He probably just clapped his hands a couple times and did a Bender-like fist pump or something. He wasn't flashy.
So when I found out recently that Alzheimer's had finally gotten the best of him, and my father told me that it made him a shell of his former self and that I wouldn't even recognize him if I had seen him, I thought of Arizona for some reason, and their recent troubles. I guess they mirrored his in a strange way.
My uncle forgot who he was. Arizona forgot who they were.
I probably only saw him a couple times since that visit twenty or so years ago when he gave me that hat. And that cap is long, long gone. But whenever I watched them play, or rooted for them, or talked about them with another Adam, a friend from college's younger brother who was also a fan, I would think about that white foam-front hat, and my smiling, low-talking, kind-hearted uncle.
They're 17-10 right now, 7-7 in the Pac 10, and definitely on the bubble. There's a good chance they might not even make the dance.
But if they do, here's hoping they find it within themselves, somewhere, to win one. Just one.