Good Times . . . Now and Then

To paraphrase Neil Diamond, the good times never seemed so good as on Sunday in Schoenecker Arena.

A full house showed up to watch the Tommies face archrival Gustavus Adolphus for the MIAC men’s basketball playoff title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

It has been a stressful season for Tommie fans. Oh sure, the team came into the championship game with a 23-3 record and a share of the conference regular season title, but none of those wins seemed easy. Thirteen of them, in fact, came after St. Thomas trailed at halftime and one – a victory over Gustavus in January – occurred only after Tyler Nicolai hit a three-pointer to force overtime.

Sunday’s crowd was, well, excitable. Even casual fans seemed wired – and a little edgy – for the game. Some thought their team was lucky to be playing, having rallied from a 19-point deficit to defeat Hamline in a Friday night semifinal thriller. What drama would Sunday’s game bring?

The Tommies exploded at the outset, hitting 10 of their first 12 shots and sprinting to a 15-point lead. Gustavus reeled but didn’t fall apart, and finished the first half down by 14.

At halftime, “Sweet Caroline” was played over the public address system, as it has been all year. The song written by Diamond more than 40 years ago has become a sports staple around the country, played in places such as during the eighth inning of Boston Red Sox home games and after the third quarter of University of Pittsburgh football games. Why the song has become so popular is a mystery, but one Pitt fan suggested last fall that it bridges the generation gap. “College kids are still singing it at parties,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “and the older crowd knows it from growing up.” Said another Pitt fan: “It just works.”

It worked at halftime on Sunday in Schoenecker. People threw their arms around each other, sang the lyrics and chanted, “So good … so good … so good” after the Diamond line, “Good times never seemed so good.” Fourteen-point leads can have that kind of effect, I guess.

I would argue, as much as I like “Sweet Caroline,” that good times have been just as good in the past. It was just three months ago that our football team was 12-0 and the talk of the town. The men’s basketball team routinely packed old Schoenecker two years ago as it built a 30-0 record. The baseball team grabbed the Division III title in 2009 after winning six elimination games in the regional and national tournaments.

It’s hard, however, to argue with the present – especially success in the present. A euphoric pride engulfed the arena after St. Thomas survived a late Gustavus charge and won 83-77. People got tears in their eyes when Tyler snipped the last strand holding the net on the basket, ran over to Steve Fritz, his coach for 113 games, and draped the net over Steve’s head. Nobody wanted to leave, to walk away from the good times. And then they played “Sweet Caroline” again.

You may need to decide this “good times never seemed so good” issue for yourself. One place to start: Friday night in Schoenecker Arena, when the Tommies will open the NCAA playoffs.

We’ll see you – and hear you – there!