I attended my first Creighton game at the Civic back in 2002. It was Kyle Korver's junior year and the Jays were playing Indiana State. I was impressed immediately by the turnout and the overall atmosphere.
I grew up in Upstate New York, paying very close attention to Big East basketball. Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn and Villanova were always on TV, as they were some of the biggest programs nationally. The crowds, the rivalries and the intensity were unmatched anywhere else, and subsequently set the bar for what I expected from college basketball everywhere.
A couple of years ago, after bouncing around via military assignments, my family and I finally settled permanently in Omaha. By this time, what is now the CenturyLink Center had been standing for a couple of years and the Jays were filling the building against Missouri Valley teams.
Then came Doug and Greg.
Watching Doug McDermott play as a freshmen, I could tell he was going to be special. There were nights when my in-laws would give my wife and me their tickets and we got to sit essentially right behind the Creighton bench. Sitting that close to them and watching the interactions between player and coach, player and teammates and father and son, you could tell something special was brewing.
It was a dream come true, when at the end of Doug's junior season, he decided he would return for one more year. Not only that, Creighton was joining the newly reformed Big East. I considered myself lucky. I had left New York in my early twenties, travelled the world, settled halfway around the country from where I grew up, and now the Big East was coming with me.
There would be no more borrowing and asking the in-laws for tickets. This was Big East basketball. My wife and I were going to be season ticket holders.
That conference opener on New Year's Eve back in 2013 was probably the most fun I've ever had at a sporting event. The building was rocking. The Jays were on fire. We all sang "Sweet Caroline" for a lot longer than we should have and caused a Marquette turnover because of it.
The night was perfect. I remember turning to my wife and telling her something I've said at least five times at Creighton games since then: "Omaha is very lucky to have a Big East basketball team."
Unfortunately, I think that first season may have created a sense of entitlement amongst some of the fringe Creighton fans. It's not every year -- or every decade for that matter -- that your team features a player who scores 12 points before the other team has laced up their sneakers. We had that in Doug, and I remember reminding myself as I watched him to appreciate what I was seeing, because I may not see anything like it again.
Sometimes I feel like I was alone in doing that.
As we all now know, the first post-Doug season was a disappointment. The Jays went from being one of the kings of one of the nation's most historically prestigious conferences to a doormat almost overnight.
That happens when you lose four professional basketball players.
The 2015-2016 season has been a bit different and the team shows promise. Creighton is starting to look more and more like a traditional Big East team. Our big guys are threats at both ends of the floor. Our wings are athletic and more than just spot shooters. And we have a traditional Big East point guard -- a true floor general who isn't afraid to put the team on his shoulders and make a play when nobody else will.
The three home conference games this season have been wars. The three most storied programs in the new Big East have come to Omaha and either lost outright or won a game while keeping one eye on the exits. It was great basketball from start to finish -- even the low scoring, ugly game against Providence.
That's what Big East basketball is about. That's what it has always been about -- schools with urban campuses in blue-collar cities featuring teams full of players from those same cities, battling it out, punching each other in the mouth until the clock hits zero.
And don't forget the fans. The fans are every bit as much a part of what makes Big East basketball great. And that's why I wrote this letter.
I almost wrote this after the Georgetown game, but I wasn't angry enough. Here was Creighton, a season removed from one of the most disappointing campaigns in recent memory, closing in on a win over Georgetown -- arguably the premier program in the conference. Georgetown, one could make the case, is the Nebraska football of the Big East. It doesn't matter how well the Hoyas are playing in any given year, a win over Georgetown is a notch in your belt. Georgetown is a brand, and in beating them, Creighton was about to secure the signature win of the post-Doug era.
But with three minutes to go, instead of a packed house rising to their feet and applauding the Jays on a job well done, thousands started streaming to the exits as if Creighton was on the losing end of a blowout. I was shocked, and I rained down my criticism from my low-hanging balcony seat in Section 210.
"Where are you going? We are about to beat Georgetown! You don't leave! They built this conference!"
I saw a few people look up at me and then continue to walk out the door like they never saw me or heard a word I said.
But they did. I know it and they know it.
Then came the Providence game. Again, it was an ugly contest -- no question. But there was beauty in that beast of a game, as players on both sides struggled to find their shots and never gave up. Providence's Kris Dunn and Creighton's Maurice Watson were hell-bent on willing their team to a victory. It was like watching a Balboa-Creed fight, with both sides throwing haymakers and the other side not backing down. It was beautiful.
But once again, with about three minutes to go, I noticed fans grabbing jackets and heading for the exits. It was a one possession game. This small trickle turned into a waterfall around the one minute mark -- STILL a one possession game. When Creighton tied the game with just over 11 seconds on the clock, only then did some of those heading for the exits stop to watch the finish.
We all know how it ended. One of the best players in the country broke our hearts at the buzzer. That's life. That's basketball. That's Big East basketball. For better or worse, that's what I signed on for. I'm there to the last shot, because this is the Big East. The crowd matters.
I wonder how those who left early would have felt had Kris Dunn's shot not gone in. Would they try to get back in the stadium for the overtime? My guess is no. I say that because anyone who leaves a one possession Big East basketball game with time on the clock never actually cared about the game to begin with. Those are fringe fans -- people who go to the games as a social event to enjoy their cocktails (as I do) and talk to those sitting near them about anything but basketball (which I do not). It happens in my section.
"How's Ricky like law school?" "How does Claire like the new job?" Those aren't things you talk about as one of the best teams in the country is mounting a comeback on the shoulders of a future NBA star. If that's how it's going to be, stay home, invite friends over for cocktails and put the game on as background noise. That's essentially all it is at that point anyhow.
There are some Creighton basketball fans that need to ask themselves who they are, what they want to be and why they are attending Bluejay games. This is not the Valley. These are not untelevised games against Illinois State and Drake. These are games being played on national television against some of the heavyweights of the sport, and the crowds at the games are a reflection of the city of Omaha. Going to a game -- a Big East game -- is more than just showing up. It's about being loud, cheering for your team, questioning bad calls, making the building shake and staying until the end.
There are some Creighton basketball fans who I'm not sure understand what it means to be a Big East fan. Bottom line: You don't leave these games early. You stay. We all have jobs to go to the next day. Tough it out. It's another half hour. If you aren't willing to do that, give away your tickets to someone who is. If you are too tired to go to games and stay for the entirety, it's time to stop going to games.
This is Big East basketball. There aren't going to be many blowout wins. Every game is going to be tough. We are going to win some and lose some and most won't be decided until the last couple of minutes. If you aren't going to hang around to see those last couple of minutes, you aren't cut out to be a Big East basketball fan. It's that simple.
Unfortunately, I don't think most of the people I'm directing this rant at will ever read it. People who leave close games early probably don't care enough to read anything about the team that isn't delivered to their front door wrapped in plastic.
In closing, I just have a suggestion for all Creighton basketball fans. Go to Netflix and search for the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled "Requiem for the Big East." It will help you understand what it means for our city to have a Big East team and what it means to be a Big East fan.
Owner, Editor, KnowItAllFootball.com
Contributor to Athlon Sports & Life
Lifelong Big East basketball fan, die-hard Creighton fan