Wednesday nights in the winter are made for basketball, so who was I to resist? Into the car I piled with my good buddy and out to the Capital Centre we went, to check out Georgetown vs. Pittsburgh.
Georgetown won, which isn't the point. Where Georgetown won is the point.
The Hoyas play in an arena that's outside the Capital Beltway, that's big and drafty and that's accessible only by car. The long and the short of it: Georgetown-Pittsburgh was a suburban experience.
In other eastern cities, college basketball is about as urban as an experience can get. The arena is in the center of town. People take public transportation to and from it. The arena is smallish and charmingly kinky. It reeks (sometimes literally) of past battles. It's the sort of place where you watch Villanova and La Salle play a double overtime thriller and talk about it for the next 30 years.
The Capital Centre on a Wednesday night is not that kind of place.
It's a good place to watch a basketball game, because there are no pillars and because the management has at last outlawed smoking in the grandstand. But it is not intimate the way New York, Philadelphia and Boston college basketoriums define intimate.
The action doesn't seep under your skin and stay there. Even though Georgetown-Pittsburgh was close until the final 30 seconds, even though Pittsburgh was the second-ranked team in the country at the time, I realized three minutes after the game had ended that I couldn't remember the final score.
So I began having flashes of a fantasy I'd had many times before. Why couldn't the Washington Convention Center be our Madison Square Garden, our Palestra, our Boston Garden?
Why does Georgetown have to play in a converted cornfield? Why are the games available only to people who own cars, or can beg rides? Hook up a couple of hoops down at the Convention Center, build a grandstand and open the doors to the real fans -- the kids of Washington. It wouldn't take them long to realize that the Metro Center subway escalators are only two blocks away.
Alas, you can file that fantasy under I for Impractical.
Austin Kenny, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C., Convention & Visitors Association, said that because the Convention Center was built to house conventions, it cannot also house basketball. Architectural considerations make it impossible to "flip back and forth from conventions to sports events because they require different overall plans," Kenny said.
Even if you used fold-up seating for basketball, you would still have the problem of where to store the seats when a convention was under way, Kenny explained.
Say you had four sections, at 5,000 seats each, and you stacked the four sections on top of one another. The stack would be as high as a nine-story building. The Convention Center is only about half that tall.
So there is no immediate hope of downtown hoops, Kenny said. Perhaps a separate coliseum will be built beside the Convention Center some day. But there are no firm plans for such a building -- and there may never be, now that George Washington, American and Catholic universities all have their own on-campus arenas.
So winter Wednesday nights will continue to mean parking lots and Beltway on-ramps. We seem to have missed the chance to keep big-time college basketball downtown, where it grew up.
Reunions, reunions, reunions . . . .
Central '38: Organizing. Call Lew Chapin (983-1688), Emily Crawford Miller (656-7672) or Santa Amatulli Fama (229-1292).
St. Catherine Laboure of Wheaton '58-'78. Organizing. Call Susan Riley (933-8582) or Susan Spivock-Smith (871-1252).
St. Cecilia's Academy '48. Organizing. Write Marie Berard, 11024 Cedar La., Beltsville, Md., 20705.
Falls Church '68. Organizing. Call Judy Samuelson-Shapleigh (532-4305).
Mount Rainier '30-'51. Organizing. Call Cappy Hillyard McGowan (927-6374).
Edison '64, '65 and '66. Organizing for July. Call Kay Fritzinger (759-6176), Joyce Elder (256-5232) or Sheila Kirby (690-3800).
Bladensburg '73. Organizing for the summer. Call Sarah Messier Ward (840-0750).
Surrattsville '78. June 11. Call Lisha Newman (868-9692) or Brenda Lodgen (631-5129).
Pallotti '78. Organizing. Call Lou Florenzo (725-0839) or Bruce Brandon (776-6482).
Bob Orben on the political landscape:
Mario Cuomo would have made a great quarterback. You never know if he's going to run or pass.