The Last Great Day: Dayton Flyers fans grateful for March 7

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Highlights from Dayton's postgame celebration on Senior Night

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

UD’s Neil Sullivan and many others look back on a busy day on campus

Until earlier this fall, Dayton Flyers Athletic Director Neil Sullivan had not watched the broadcast of ESPN’s College GameDay at the Frericks Center.

» MARCH 7 PHOTOS: 100 never-before-scene shots from a great day at UD

One of his three sons had recorded it on the DVR and played it recently, allowing Sullivan to see what he missed on March 7, 2020, when he was in “operating mode” with so much taking place on one day at the University of Dayton.

Like many people who witnessed GameDay in person, Sullivan will never forget what he saw. Seeing it again — on TV for the first time — reinforced what a special event it was for Dayton.

“For our young men and women and teams to be there and kind of tell the Dayton story,” Sullivan said, “and for people to see the type of person coach (Anthony) Grant is and Obi (Toppin), it was a good day for Dayton, Ohio.”

The Dayton Daily News is telling the story of March 7 in a four-part series that begins on Thanksgiving. The last great day of 2020 for Dayton men’s basketball fans also included a victory by the UD women’s team in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament at UD Arena. A Senior Night victory by the men’s team against George Washington that night at the arena capped a memorable day.

» MORE MARCH 7 PHOTOS: Fans share photos from the day

Sullivan’s work that day began weeks earlier when he helped convince ESPN to bring GameDay to campus despite the fact that it wouldn’t be televising the game that night.

“We really told ESPN, ‘I promise you we will deliver,’” Sullivan said.

Thousands of Dayton fans, many of them students, helped UD live up to that promise during the show by creating an electric atmosphere at the Frericks Center. The buzz continued all day on campus and at UD Arena. The day will live with Sullivan forever, and it means even more because of where the rest of the year took him, UD, Ohio and the rest of the country.

» HISTORIC SEASON: Book celebrate’s Dayton’s accomplishments in 2019-20 season

“I can barely think back to everything that happened,” Sullivan said. “Where we’ve come from March 7 to now is sobering and stunning to think about. We try to take the approach to be grateful for what happened and grateful for that opportunity because it was just a week later that everything was shut down and it has been shut down since. We look forward to the opportunity to celebrate both teams but especially the historic nature of the men’s team when we’re able to do that.”

The Dayton Daily News talked to dozens of people — fans, coaches, administrators, etc. — about the events of March 7. Many of the stories are included in the four-part series chronicling the day. Below are some extra stories written by UD fans.

March 7, 2020, at UD: Video highlights

Courtney Deutsch: I watched College GameDay from my basement TV. I really wanted to go, but just assumed I’d never get in ... and I wanted to see it, so I stayed home. I was kicking myself when I realized we could have gotten in. It was so awesome to see Dayton get that publicity.

As a marketing professional myself, I commented to my husband how this one two-hour show was gonna garner more attention for Dayton than a hundred TV commercials could buy. I couldn’t fathom its monetary value. It had to be huge. It felt so big time. And it was awesome. And I knew, with the Selection Show and the tournament coming, that this was just the beginning. Dayton was shining like the gem she is that day.

» PHOTOS: UD celebrates 29th victory | Game action

My husband and I went to the game that night. We brought along my 73-year old mother, my brother, and two of my friends. We were all there celebrating my cousin’s husband’s 40th birthday (Howey Corona). They had (somehow) rounded up like 40 tickets for that game, which is impressive, given what tickets were going for toward the end of the year.

The game started off slow, but ended up awesome. We saw Obi slam a through-the-legs dunk that we immediately knew would become the stuff of legend. We sensed we were witnessing history, and that the next few weeks were about to be insanely fun. We already had hotel rooms booked in Cleveland (and Atlanta, just in case). I was giddy with excitement and almost couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. I even apologized in advance to my non-UD friends on Facebook, noting that I was pretty sure I was about to become insufferable, and hoped they’d keep me as a friend until we could get through March.

I was also on the planning committee for the Big Hoopla event that was to take place the following Sunday in the Oregon District. We were completely swamped at work, as we had worked for months on huge plans for that event. Much of what we were planning was being scheduled around when the A-10 conference final that would have been played that afternoon.

Then the Selection Show would have aired that night. Safe to say there would have been an insane party under the big tent in the parking lot of the Dublin Pub when Dayton’s name had been called with a No. 1 next to it.

Anyway after the game we all went up to the Flight Deck to celebrate the win, the season and the 40th birthday. The excitement in the air about the coming weeks was palpable as we watched the team cut down the nets from above. You just knew that day was etching its place in Dayton basketball lore, and we were thrilled to be a part of it. And then the whole birthday party went to Timothy’s — my 73-year-old mom included.

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Students line up to get into ESPN GameDay

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Andy Nick: My wife isn’t a Flyers fan. She isn’t even a basketball fan. So when my dad, Dayton alumni and lifelong blue-hair, offered his ticket so that she could go to the last game of the season, it honestly seemed like the wrong move to say, ‘Yes.’

But when I asked my wife Christiane, she said she’d like to go. That was that.

I spent the morning watching GameDay, and found my wife continuing to glance at the TV. “That’s happening now?” “That’s right on campus?” What we were seeing on ESPN was electric.

» RELATED: Andy Nick talks about producing viral video

That night, we went to the game — my wife’s first in 2 years. The energy during the intro was ... well, if you know, you know. But once the game got going, we came back down to earth as the Flyers began looking like a college basketball team again rather than the ’92 Bulls.

But then, Obi happened.

Instead of telling the story of a between-the-legs dunk or the explosive scoring spree that defined last season’s Flyers, I’ll just say that I’m forever grateful to my dad for giving my wife much more than a ticket to a game. He let her be a part of a moment in history that Flyers Fans will never forget.

Jon Jeffries: I always loved the Flyers growing up in Dayton, but that game felt like an absolute MUSCLE FLEX of every dream that every Flyer fan had ever wanted to see. Me and (Mike Kidd) went down on the court after the game and hugged and cherished the moment of capping off the perfect conference season.

I always saw UD as my beloved underdogs. But that night I truly understood what it was like to root for a blue blood. We were the bully. We were the contender. We were the MEN playing against the boys. I’ll tell my grandkids about players like Trey Landers, Obi Toppin, and Rodney Chatman that truly made a TEAM atmosphere.

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Highlights: ESPN GameDay films at Dayton

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Greg Dudash: I was there (at the women’s game) with my college-aged son and my high school daughter. We bought seats in that courtside row behind the announcers. It was an incredible experience for all three of us. When coach (Shauna) Green walked up to talk to the TV announcers, she smiled at us and said thanks. She shook hands with people and was very gracious to all there. Watching them cut down the nets was awesome. I loved them making snow angels in the confetti. This was a special team coming together at the right time.

Daniel Miller: I had the privilege to be at the game that night with my son. Best description of the game I can come up with is that it was an Obi dunk highlight show. The between-the-legs dunk was classic.

» PHOTOS: Signs at GameDay

The best part for me was being able to see the team cut down the nets on their home court. Looking back at the way the season abruptly ended, how special was it to win a championship on your home floor in front of your fans on the last game of the season?

A special place and time. Not sure I will experience that again.

Tom Wehrman: My wife and I, along with our son and his friend, attended the men’s game. I remember it being electric in the arena. On the way to the game, my wife, Janelle, said, “I hope Obi does a between-the-legs dunk, again.”

I told her that it would never happen. So happy to be wrong. We all had Toppin/Crutcher ’20 t-shirts on. I got separated from them, and when I caught up, Janelle asked me where I was. I told her everyone is stopping me to talk about my shirt. She unzipped her sweatshirt and said that no one was stopping her. When I told her the last guy rubbed my chest, she zipped her sweatshirt back up. Lol.

I have been to many great Flyer games. Both last-second DePaul wins, the victory over the Dwayne Wade-led Marquette team, and a couple wins over Notre Dame. I’ve also attended a few big road wins. But nothing compares to March 7, 2020. So sad and angry it all ended the way it did.

PJ Hemmelgarn: I’m based out of Columbus and had no other means of seeing the game and went to my local bar and asked to have the game put on, even though there was live music going on that night.

Thankfully the bartender was able to put it on, and I was able to see the game. At a certain point in the first half, I had called out something along the lines of, “Obi Toppin is the greatest basketball player of my generation,” which got someone next to me interested in what I was watching as opposed to the live music.

Pretty soon watching the game became the trend for the bar to the point the band stopped playing because most everyone was huddled around the corner cheering for UD. It was easily one of my favorite moments as a Flyer fan, converting that bar into an unofficial viewing party and sharing in the joy of Dayton with people who wouldn’t have otherwise.

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Highlights: Dayton dominates second half vs. GW

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Eric Braun: I bid on tickets in the gold level the week before at the Whitney Strong Foundation benefit. I went with a couple guys I graduated with. It was the greatest game I’ve ever attended. I can say that game made the cancellation bearable. It gave me some finality. That and Sully’s (Dan Sullivan, of Talking Out Lowd podcast) interview with Scott Van Pelt. I took his advice and didn’t stress. Just enjoyed the ride.

Steve Fyfe: I originally planned to go to UD for Gameday and the game that night. I ended up getting roped off to do an emergency production for our company near Rochester, NY, so I found myself driving back to Cleveland as the festivities were televised.

» ARCHDEACON: Hometown hero Landers leaves legacy at UD

Looking back, I should have kept on driving through to Dayton to see my friends and celebrate such an incredible season, but like the rest of us, I thought we had more time and settled for a local watch party in Willoughby. I’m thankful for the folks I met that night, but I learned the hard way just how one-of-a-kind this team was and the kind of opportunity I was forced to pass up just to get some brownie points for my company.

Amy Bishop: My husband and I are long-term ticket holders. We were at the men’s game March 7. As all season, the arena was electric all night! The atmosphere after the game was almost surreal. I told my husband: “Savor this night, breathe in this energy. It doesn’t get any better than this!” We already had our flight and tickets to the A-10 tourney and intended to follow our Flyers all the way!! It truly was a MAGICAL season!!!!!!!