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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Yes, Virginia, Zags for real Tense fans agonize over razor-thin win

It hurt until the last second. Zag fans all over Spokane felt the nail-biting agony Friday - the emotional roller coaster of watching the final four minutes. “I could barely breathe,” said a teary-eyed Esco Kazuma, celebrating the Bulldog victory at Gonzaga University’s Crosby Student Center. “I was praying the whole time.” For die-hard Gonzaga fans, the world stood still Friday as the Bulldogs barely won their first-round NCAA tournament game against the University of Virginia. Hearts pounded. Stomachs churned. Some were so nervous they looked away from the giant screen. Others clenched their fists and contorted their faces. “Dickau!” someone called out, screaming instructions to the Bulldog guard. With 1:28 left and the Zags trailing by a point, the pressure built up even more for fans in Spokane. Relief came during the final moments as Casey Calvary put back a blocked shot to give GU an 86-85 victory. Fans at Finnerty’s bar leaped and yelped as if they’d been goosed. Beer was spilled, bellies bumped in hugs. Blake Johns and his fiancee, Melissa Stiles, clutched and kissed, deeply. At the Crosby Student Center, the scene was a cross between a wedding and New Year’s Eve. Zag fans burst into joyous frenzy - whooping, jumping, hugging, crying. High-fives all around. “Oh my God!”a woman screamed. “We won!” Spokane didn’t grind to a halt for the Zags’ game, but people in several pockets of the city suspended their lives to watch it, distracting the rest of town. Irene Snow and her friends met for coffee and each other’s news as usual Friday, in the conference room at Waterford retirement home. She was surprised to find fresh-baked cookies and a huge TV screen. She’s not much into basketball, she said. But as the team’s lead grew, the 78-year-old Snow offered commentary. “They’re really doing well on their rebounds,” she said, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup. The half-dozen seniors were joined by a few Waterford staffers, poking their heads in for news. The group was offered green beer; they wanted cinnamon rolls instead. Bette Westover, dressed all in green, professed to being a big Zag fan. She likes Dan Dickau, the one with “the mess of curly hair,” and loves the coaches. “Oh, they all look young to me,” said Westover, 75. At PriceWaterhouseCoopers, employees were busy with tax time work, but didn’t let that stop them from catching the game. A television in the training room failed to get good reception, so employees had to listen to the game on radios. Salespeople at Dodson’s Jewelers gathered around a small television in a corner office. The volume was low, but the audience enthusiastic. The boss, they said, was watching the game upstairs. “Everybody is watching it,” said Nancy Fleischman. Federal Express delivery man Richard Trejos briefly joined a crowd in front of the big-screen television in Washington Trust Bank’s downtown headquarters. “We’re getting updates on our computers in our trucks. The managers are keeping us informed,” said Trejos, balancing a 2-foot stack of packages. For some, there was no pretense of trying to work. “Why fight it?” asked AT&T Media Services general manager Jeff Johnson. “We’re having a party.” Johnson and his staff arranged an elaborate buffet of goodies and gathered in its Lincoln Building conference room to watch the Zags on a big screen while listening to the play-by-play on the radio. “The TV announcers were so biased against Gonzaga,” explained Johnson. With less than a minute to go in the game and the Zags down by one point, the group grew hushed. “No one better call,” joked Johnson. Those who could - or dared - simply skipped work altogether. About 10 people were already waiting at Jack and Dan’s at 7:45 a.m., forcing the bar to open early. Several drank beer for breakfast. Others drank all the way through lunch. “My picture better not be in the paper,” one man told a photographer. “My boss doesn’t know I’m here.” Based on the bar scene, he wasn’t the only professional to give himself the morning off. Among the hundreds who packed into Spokane taverns were dozens of men wearing ties and carrying jackets. Some things are just more important than work, said Jahn and Joe Schmitz, who also ended up at Jack and Dan’s. Die-hard Zag fans, the two accountants decided to play hookey in the middle of tax season to watch the game. They left voice mail saying they were working at another office. “I just didn’t go to work,” said attorney Ryan Beaudoin, a graduate of GU Law School. Bulldog fans weren’t subtle about their feelings toward the Zags’ firstround opponent. Bartenders at Jack and Dan’s wore T-shirts that said: “I hate Virginia.” At the Foley Center on the Gonzaga campus, another T-shirt that read “Virginia” was stomped and kicked. For once, people wiped their feet before entering the teleconference room.
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