Mike Murphy

March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament, is behind us. I and nearly 3 million of my close friends in Kentucky are left mourning the loss of another year with no banner to hang in Rupp Arena. No matter that there are seven banners already there today. We want another one.

Kentuckians view it as their birthright to be in the Final Four on an annual basis, and if five years should ever pass without an NCAA basketball championship, we collectively fire the basketball coach. It matters not whether a Kentuckian went to the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University (WKU), Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Louisville, or any college at all - we all bleed Wildcat Blue, we were born that way.

Think I’m kidding?

In 1978, Kentucky had just won the NCAA Championship game against Duke in St. Louis. I was at a house party in Bowling Green, Ky., watching the game on the WKU campus. James Lee dunked the final two points of the game, and four of us piled into a 1972 Ford Capri with a cooler of beer to make the four-hour trip to welcome home the victorious Wildcats at the Lexington airport.

A state trooper pulled us over going 80 mph on the Bluegrass Parkway. He shined a flashlight on our four terrified faces - and the cooler of beer - then asked in a deep state trooper voice, “Where ya’ll boys headed in such a hurry?”

To which we replied nearly in unison, “We’re going to meet the team! UK won the national championship tonight!”

To which the state trooper replied with a big smile on his face, “Yes, they did. Ya’ll be careful, and give ’em our best.”

At 3 o’clock in the morning we hugged everybody we met, and cheered with thousands from the Big Blue Nation as the team hoisted the championship trophy from the top of an airport stairway for all to see.

Almost nothing can match such memories, but occasionally, I witness the same zeal and excitement when I walk through the back lot of some HVAC companies in the summertime. Early in the morning, when trucks are being loaded, the air is still crisp, and the coffee still smells fresh, at least one of the installers or technicians, or a service manager, is excited for another day.

In Del Rio, Texas, someone is slapping guys on the back, with words of encouragement to make it a great day out there. The entire crew is laughing, and cajoling each other in words I don’t always understand - there is a lot of Spanglish going on in Del Rio.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., somebody is doing the same thing, in another dialect I don’t always understand.

It’s like game-day, every day.


When I happen upon an HVAC contracting company or a distributorship, I usually show up early for morning appointments and walk around to the back lot before ever knocking on the front door. The back lot is fun.

Most of the installers and techs, and dock people don’t know me because I’m a lot older and uglier than my picture would indicate. If I leave my sport coat in the car, I can ask questions such as: “What’s it like to work for these guys?” or “How is business lately?” Sleepy people chugging coffee are quite honest at 7 a.m.

The back lot is where the real game plan is drawn up every day, sometimes on the hood of trucks, sometimes at the back bumper. The game plan isn’t always pretty. Some days it’s different than the boss had planned around the table inside. The players improvise. They adjust to the customer and the circumstances of every job, every day.

The people of the back lot have a certain mindset that prepares them for every day, no matter which way the ball bounces. If you’ve ever been in a team locker room preparing for a game, you would notice the same camaraderie present on the back lot. The jokesters, the leaders, the players. The team. Every day.

Keep your eyes peeled for a wiry old guy on the back lot.

Publication date:04/12/2010