I was on the phone with VCU super fan Chris Crowley Monday afternoon when his cell phone rang. It was his supervisor from work. A few minutes later, Crowley called me back.
“She approved my time off,” he told me. “Looks like I’m going to San Antonio.”
March can tend to be a heavy travel month for college basketball fans, but few of them have ever put together an itinerary quite like Crowley’s. The Rams, you’ll recall, were sent to Dayton for the inaugural First Four games last week. Crowley -- who attended 30 VCU games this season -- works night shifts at the school’s Massey Cancer Center.
Thus, his friend picked him up at work early Wednesday morning. They drove straight to Ohio, ate dinner, freshened up, watched the Rams outlast Southern Cal, celebrated briefly, and then drove more than eight hours through the night, back to Richmond.
That made it 8:30 or so on Thursday morning. Crowley didn’t think he had the cash for a trip to see the Rams’ next game in Chicago. But that night, his sister called and told him she was buying him a round-trip flight to the Windy City.
“Wait, what?” the 28-year old asked.
“This is your birthday present for the next five years,” his sister told him, and so 12 hours later, he was driving to Dulles to catch a plane.
“When you’re a secretary, you don’t get to go to a lot of these without the generosity of others,” he told me. “This whole 10 years has been about the generosity and the family of the VCU Ram Nation.”
VCU won on Friday, and Crowley had to be back to work on Saturday night. Sunday was church -- his wife’s a minister, and the former voice major is a soloist. Then came a brief nap, a trip to Mulligan’s in Richmond to watch VCU clinch its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16, and then another night shift. Monday he found out he was cleared for San Antonio, so he’ll use an anonymous VCU booster’s extra air miles and go to his third venue in a week.
“I’ve pretty much been working, driving, watching basketball or flying somewhere for the last five days, but it’s worth it, it’s totally worth it,” Crowley said. “Between Mulligan’s on Sunday and Dayton on Wednesday and Chicago on Friday, I think I’ve hugged more people than I know.”
So, why does this man care so much? The Fairfax County native (and son of longtime Centreville coach Todd Crowley) managed the Hayfield basketball team during his own high school tenure, and picked VCU after arranging to do the same with then-Rams coach Mack McCarthy. During his freshman year, McCarthy nicknamed Crowley “Pavarotti,” the name by which he’s now universally known.
“I’m a fat bearded tenor,” Crowley said. “I can’t complain. There are worse people to be compared to.”
When he left the bench, he became a leader of the Rowdy Rams supporters group. Somewhere along the way, a friend picked up a horned hat from a costume shot, and it became a staple of Crowley’s game-day attire. He kept going to games and kept leading chants, relying on his volume, his ability to crossover between the student section and the older fans, his dry-erase board, and his unquenchable enthusiasm for VCU basketball. He is, it seems clear, one of the most famous VCU basketball fans in the world. And he’s enjoying himself every bit as much as you’d expect.
“It’s an absolutely exhilarating feeling to watch this group of young guys play,” he said. “How often do you get a chance to watch your team all the way to the Sweet 16? We’re still playing, and we’re beating people. We’re beating them good.”
(Inspired by Homer McFanboy)