Saturday, December 31–The final day of the calendar year also brought the defending National Champions their final game of 2016, and arguably one of the most challenging games of the current season.
By now you all know that the Wildcats won, 80-70 against Creighton, solidifying an astonishing 38 wins in a calendar year–a NCAA record.
However, at 11 a.m. in Denver, Colo., a group of Villanova faithful were nervously chatting, and ordering mimosas at a small restaurant about 2,000 miles away from the Villanova campus.
A bit over 30 Villanova fans met up that morning to cheer on the men’s team. This might not seem like a lot, but when you consider that the university only graduates about 1,500 students a year, and most all of those live on the East coast (Looking at you, New Jersey), it becomes a bit more impressive.
Those that stepped into a back room of the Mile High restaurant were fortunate enough to walk into a time machine, with Villanova alumni spanning across multiple decades–a scene much more impressive than the state of the art entertainment display of four large flat-screened TVs fixed high above for all to see, each tuned into the Villanova-Creighton game.
Alumni from the 1970s and 80s were sitting elbow-to-elbow with current students, recent grads, and even a baby just a few weeks old wearing as much Villanova gear from head to toe as a seasoned Nationer.
A majority of the bunch crowded around a few tables with an optimal view of the two main television displays. There, a 1984 graduate was reminiscing with a current Villanova sophomore, while chatting with 2002 and 2014 graduates.
It’s become a ritual for about half of the group–baby included–to attend these game watches in their current city of Denver, almost as necessary as Sunday mass. This particular gathering was held at the Tavern at Washington Park, but next time, it may be at a different restaurant, bar, or even someone’s home. The core group never really changes, neither does their sense of hospitality for newcomers.
Like all members of ‘Nova Nation,’ those who attended this game watch feel a special connection to the University, to the campus, and of course, to the basketball team. It’s become a home-away-from-home for many, and that’s no surprise. Almost every one seems to have a handle of the current state of affairs.
Those that reside on campus, have trudged up to the fourth floor of Tolentine or marveled at the high-end classrooms in Bartley, they all know what it feels like to call Villanova ‘home.’ Even 2,000 miles away from campus, throughout the game (mostly during breaks in the play) different generations of Alumni/current students could be heard comparing notes on how the Connelly Center was set up, where the best studying locations were on campus, and what it was like to live in different dormitory buildings throughout the years.
For some, the urge to call ‘Nova home started even before they lived on south campus, or set foot in the student center on campus. Jonathan Kent, a 2013 graduate, remembers the moment that he knew Villanova lived up to its Latin translation, and was truly his ‘new home.’
“I walked on campus and the moment I set foot on it I was like, ‘I can’t be anywhere else,’” Kent reminisced. “After 10 minutes, I’m looking around and I’m like, ‘I found home. This is my next four years.'”
These game watches allow for a reminder of that home, and create an opportunity for a great experience through shared or similar experiences at Villanova, as Colorado has the potential to feel pretty far removed from Radnor Township.
Even with the distance, however, the influence of the Villanova Basketball is strong enough to create a great sense of community, bringing the spirit of ‘Nova Nation to a city that’s over 5,280 feet above sea level and thousands of miles away from the Pavilion. With it, comes a second family for many, with their hearts in Philly and new lives in Colorado.
This spring, with the NCAA tournament, and it’s perfect storybook ending, the Colorado fans came together like never before. The game watches were averaging 30-50 people per game.
While there were less people for the championship game–only about 20–the rest of the pack didn’t miss it at all, they just chose to take the trip down to NRG Stadium.
Colorado’s proximity to Houston, the site of the Final Four, and the end of the NCAA tournament accounts for how few people showed up for that final game watch.
One of the many attendees of the actual game in Houston was Taylor Henderson, a graduate from 2005 who celebrated his birthday the very same day that he got to celebrate the Villanova’s National Championship in April.
Like many Villanova alumni who can share their most hallowed basketball memories, none stuck out more than Henderson’s trip to see Villanova beat then No. 1 ranked Kansas. He drove for three hours in almost three feet of snow to see the ‘Cats do that, and he doesn’t regret it one bit.
“It was just the most pure joy that I had ever seen over a sporting event,” Henderson said. “It was incredible.”
That joy, the pure excitement and happiness is what brings so many people together, and is the reason for the idea of the ‘Nova Nation’ basketball community.
Regardless of the years that have passed since their days on the Main Line and the many miles they have travelled since, the memories have remained ingrained deep within. Just ask Caroline Turpin, a 2014 graduate, who tells the story of Villanova’s week of upsets in the 2012-13 season.
She still tells it with the same giddiness, as if it happened 20 minutes ago–remembering not the date, but that it was a Tuesday night game against then No. 2-ranked Louisville, and she was with two of her best friends. With a few minutes left they realized what they were about to witness, little Villanova defeating the number two team in the country.
“We see all of the security guards lining up, and we’re like, ‘they think we’re gonna storm the court… they’re telling us to storm the court!” Turpin said in excitement. “We have to storm the court! Those two minutes went by in a blink of an eye, and all of a sudden, we hit the shot, we won the game, and we’re like alright we’re going for it, and then, we SPRINTED onto the court.”
Especially as far removed from the home base of Nova Nation as we are, it can be hard for Coloradoans to find fellow Villanovans.
Of course, as usual they all rep their best ‘Nova gear, and ‘throw up’ their V’s up like it’s become muscle memory, but before Villanova won the National championship Villanova wasn’t even a blip on the radar for most locals.
Most Colorado locals couldn’t point to Villanova on a map if their lives depended on it, and the few who can are the diehard college basketball fanatics that are scattered throughout the country.
The game watches and extensive–as well as inclusive–alumni network bring people together, and allow many to relive their college days, catch up with old friends, and meet new people that share a lot in common.
Lori Simmons, a 2002 graduate, has been coming to game watches in Colorado for five years now. She’s a Philadelphia native, and reiterates how important these events are for connecting different Villanova fans to each other.
“Everyone has a common theme–we have a love of Villanova, and our team, and our school, so that’s really nice to have out here when you’re away from home,” she said.
Not all of the attendees were from the East coast, however. Kent was born and raised in Colorado. He is one of the co-presidents of the Club of Colorado, and coordinates all of the events. He spoke to the opportunities these get togethers provide, to meet and grow close to other Villanova faithful.
“If it wasn’t for the love of Villanova you probably never would have met them,” Kent said. “Because of it you go to each others’ houses for dinner, you go out to dinner, you go out to get drinks, and you just become friends with different people that… if they graduated within a year or two of your class you would have known them, but outside of that you would have no idea who they are. That’s the cool part, just knowing these people really well.”
Maybe that offers some sort of explanation for the well known statistic that 60-70 percent of Villanovans marry each other?
Yes, Nova Nation is alive and well, in Colorado and across the entire, well, nation. Villanova is a basketball school, and regardless of if someone who attends the school likes basketball or not, they all share a love for Villanova Basketball.
“You meet a Villanova fan, we went there, or a family member went there, we care about it,” said Kent, “more than anybody else and it’s very difficult to meet a nova fan that does not want to brag about it. “
Among those gathered to cheer on Villanova’s basketball team was a graduate from 1975, years before the Wildcats’ ascension to the national stage.
David May has been in Colorado the past 40 years, and smiled as he remembered his time at the university as a basketball fan, even commenting on the fact that everyone who went there was a Wildcat fan–regardless if they actually liked basketball beforehand.
Basketball has brought students and alumni together, bridging the gap left from age. It’s unifying nature is something May finds beautiful.
“I think that the basketball team is representative of the university, I think it gives it a really nice attraction,” said May. “It’s adding onto the desire of the administration to become a more nationally focused university.”
Regardless of where you are in the country, whether you can see the quad from your window, or have to drive an hour and a half to get to a game watch held thousands of miles away, the Villanova basketball team allows for a family-like atmosphere for ‘Nova Nation.
“It’s all coming together,” said May, “I’m sure somewhere, someplace, somebody’s taking credit for it all, but it really is coming together.”
With the recent success of the Villanova Basketball team comes increased activity in the alumni network, as fans are reminded of their college days. They find the desire to reconnect to what was once their home overwhelming.
Long after their student days of dissecting St. Augustine’s Confessions, and being barred from the student section of home games, the Villanova family continues to be there for each other, and have had a whole lot to celebrate together.