Ron Spieker thought it was a joke at first.
It was a bit after Gonzaga University beat UCLA last Saturday to advance to the NCAA Tournament final. Ron watched the game with his wife, Janice, and his son, Patrick, and he recalls the “goofy smiles on their faces” when Patrick told him he had two tickets to the championship Monday night in Indianapolis.
A bit of a known prankster himself, the 72-year-old figured the tables had turned.
“I could then tell from my wife’s face that this was not a prank,” Ron said. “This was the real thing.”
About a day later, Ron and Patrick were on a red-eye flight with an Atlanta layover to see Ron’s alma mater take on the Baylor Bears.
A fan of the Zags since he was a student in Gonzaga’s Class of 1973, Spieker taught middle and high school for 40 years until his retirement. He was also a member of the Jesuits for 14 years until he decided to take back his vows.
While he was a Gonzaga fan before the team became a perennial powerhouse, Spieker said he particularly respects coach Mark Few’s approach.
“I really appreciate his philosophy. His demeanor on the sideline and his ability to get his players, who didn’t know each other about eight or nine months ago, together and do what he did this year is incredible,” he said. “And also, just with the mix of international folks and different races, it’s kind of a model of what could be and should be in America and around the world, I think, just in terms of how people treat each other and work together.”
So when presented with the tickets to Monday’s game, Spieker couldn’t say no, saying it was a “golden opportunity” to spend more time with his son.
“Even though the Zags lost, it was a great experience because my son is a great person,” said Spieker, who lives on Fox Island, in Puget Sound. “It’s just a great bonding experience that I really appreciate getting a chance to do.”
His son said, “For me, this was just a last-minute thing I could do to connect someone I really love and care about to the thing that he loves to follow.”
Patrick Spieker, a Seattle resident who also is a Zags fan (though not as much as his dad, he noted), said he and his father have attended Gonzaga games together when the team has traveled west against schools such as the University of Portland.
Getting him and his father to Indianapolis was a different animal, however.
The 24-year-old said he waited until after the UCLA game to buy tickets to the championship. He booked the flight in advance, however, though Patrick Spieker said he had to reorder for the red-eye since the initial booking would have interfered with the family’s Easter holiday that Sunday.
They nearly missed the connecting flight in Atlanta, Ron said, prompting Patrick to sprint ahead to the gate to try to hold the plane.
“I don’t sprint as well as I used to,” Spieker said, mentioning how he’s gone through knee replacement surgery and an Achilles tear within the last couple of years. “Patrick grabbed a wheelchair and wheeled me the last couple hundred yards down the corridor to the gate. We made it by about three minutes.”
The two eventually arrived around 9:30 a.m. EDT in Indianapolis.
Spieker said he was happy to see Gonzaga traveled well. There were pregame festivities “out and about,” he said, with fans clad in their Bulldogs gear getting into it with the Baylor faithful.
The scene inside Lucas Oil Stadium was “really weird” with the COVID-19 restrictions on attendance, said Spieker, who is vaccinated against the virus, as is his son.
“Inside the stadium, it’s so big. And with COVID on seating, the effect on the Kennel, which is mighty, was really mitigated,” he said. “The same was true for Baylor. … Baylor clearly outplayed the Zags; Mark Few talked about the reasons why and what happened, but I think home-court advantage is incredible when in the Kennel.”
“It was awesome,” Patrick Spieker added. “I’ve never been to a Final Four or an NCAA Tournament game. Even with the reduced capacity, the energy in the building was incredible.”
After the game, Patrick Spieker said fans were cordial about Baylor’s win, as was evident when the Spiekers were on their way home – where Ron said he passed along a message to some Baylor followers.
“I’ve been telling Baylor folks that are on airplanes and nearby,” he said, “that we’ll see them in New Orleans next April.”
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