Sam Mellinger

Grandma had moved, but stranger invited him in to watch KU in NCAA Tournament

Jeff Shull, pictured here with his grandmother, knew it would be weird, but he did it anyway: He knocked on the door of the stranger who had moved into his grandma's old house, and the new inhabitant invited him in to watch last weekend's Kansas-Duke game.
Jeff Shull, pictured here with his grandmother, knew it would be weird, but he did it anyway: He knocked on the door of the stranger who had moved into his grandma's old house, and the new inhabitant invited him in to watch last weekend's Kansas-Duke game. Submitted photo

The biggest game of the season plays on the TV in front of them, just these two men and a greater Swiss mountain dog, the men cheering when Kansas scores and cursing when Duke does the same.

They are both comfortable here, in this house. One has a beer and the other a whiskey. They are the same, in this moment, two fans bonded by their passion, and then came the first commercial break.

"Hey, I'm Andy," one said.

"Jeff," the other replied.

Then the game came back on, and there is nothing in this world except sports that would allow this to happen. Maybe that's the wrong way to say it, because there is nothing in this world except sports that would demand this to happen.

Andy Schwartz and Jeff Shull had never met. Schwartz just moved here a few months ago, actually, and doesn't know many people, so when the Kansas-Duke game went into overtime and he saw a car park in front of his house and a man walk to the front door, he thought what anyone would think.

"This is kind of weird," he said.

Shull knew it was weird. Of course it was weird. Who does this? Knocks on a stranger's door? Invites himself in to watch the end of a basketball game?

"I have to go for it," Shull remembered thinking. "He's going to think I'm crazy, which I probably am, a little bit."

OK, the explanation. Or, at least, as close to an explanation as is possible. You almost certainly have to be a sports fan to understand.

ku fan.jpg
Andy Schwartz hadn't lived in Jeff Shull's grandmother's house long, but he didn't hesitate to let Shull in to watch last weekend's Kansas-Duke game. Submitted photo

See, Shull had never met Schwartz, but he knew the house. In some ways, knew it better than Schwartz. That used to be his grandmother's house. He mowed the lawn there, slept there, had Sunday dinners there and, most importantly for our story here, watched Kansas win Elite Eight games in 2008 and 2012 there.

Shull is a KU fan, and not just a KU fan but the kind of superstitious fan who ran from his brother's fraternity house to Allen Fieldhouse with about three minutes left in the 2008 championship game because he thought it might change the luck. If you are a KU fan, you know what happened in those last three minutes.

"I've never seen an Elite Eight loss in that house," he said plainly, the way you might mention you've never seen the sun rise in the west.

He drove by his grandma's old house on the way to his mother-in-law's to watch the game Sunday afternoon. The houses happen to be on the same Overland Park street, less than a mile apart, and when Shull drove by, he noticed the man at his grandma's old house outside in full KU gear: Scot Pollard jersey, shorts, knee-high socks, headband and two wristbands.

He thought about stopping right then, and when he was at his mother-in-law's later, he told his wife what he was thinking. When Grayson Allen's shot rimmed out, Shull grabbed his keys, a couple of beers from the fridge and drove down the street.

"Hey, man, are you superstitious?" he said at the door.

"Not really," Schwartz replied.

"(Shoot)," Shull said back. "But here's the deal."

He told Schwartz about his grandma. About watching the 2012 and 2008 games here. He had beer.

"Dude, get in here," Schwartz said, almost as if he had been expecting the whole thing. "You're good. Let's watch."

KU senior guard Devonte' Graham talked Tuesday about the excitement of going to the NCAA Final Four and talked about the Jayhawks matchup with Villanova. The teams will meet Saturday in the national semifinals.

The game ended their way, of course, and afterward Schwartz gave him the tour. The ceilings were painted, but the walls were the same color. New carpet. Same wood paneling Shull remembered, same furniture layout, and the leather couch even looked similar. Schwartz wondered whether the stove had ever been gas. Shull mentioned he didn't miss mowing the big yard.

The male rituals of friendship can be hilariously complicated, but in other moments, they can be beautifully simple. The next day, Shull dropped off a bottle of bourbon as thanks.

"If there's a sporting event on Monday, we're going to get together for it," Shull said, and that superstition wouldn't allow him to be any more specific.

"Hopefully I'll be celebrating a championship with (the bourbon)," Schwartz said.

See the players on the Kansas men's basketball team celebrate their win against Duke in the Elite Eight. The team will take on Villanova on Saturday.

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