Rob Hurtekant has the same seat at every Georgetown home game. It’s his wheelchair.
That seat, with Hurtekant in it, can usually be found along the baseline at the front of the student section. But on really good days for the Hoyas—such as when Georgetown, well, shocked the world by knocking off Duke—it might also be seen at midcourt. Among thousands of delirious fans. By millions of television viewers.
“I guess that did make me pretty popular,” says Hurtekant, a sophomore from Dallas, of the postgame exposure he got on network TV last month and on subsequent highlight reels, exposure that has made him something of a symbol for the upstart Hoyas. “My buddies and their friends are all asking, ‘Who is that crazy guy in the wheelchair rushing the court?’”
By the end of the weekend, Georgetown was threatening to slink back toward mediocrity—or at least the NCAA Tournament bubble—as the team suffered its third straight late-game collapse and Big East loss at Villanova. But even if it turns out God isn’t on these Jesuits’ side just yet—that He’s waiting, like the basketball pundits, for Pat Ewing Jr. to become eligible—the 2005–2006 season won’t ever be remembered as a bust.
No, the Hoyas and their fans will always have the Duke game.
If anybody around here can remember a more thrilling and tense regular-season nonconference basketball game than Georgetown–Duke ’06, he’s keeping it to himself. Duke, long the Evil Empire of college hoops, came into the MCI Center undefeated and ranked No. 1, as the Blue Devils had been since preseason. Georgetown, on the other hand, hadn’t broken the Top 20 in years.
But there was no doubt which team was better that Saturday afternoon. The Hoyas led by as many as 16 points in the second half, and though they gave most of that away in the closing minutes, good teams, like good racehorses, hang on to win after surrendering a big lead. By the time Brandon Bowman fell on a loose ball and let the final seconds expire in the 87-84 win—despite 41 points from J.J. Redick, who was only recently deposed by Dick Cheney as the most reviled shooter in the country—Georgetown had made believers out of fans and poll voters. Before the recent skid, the Hoyas had risen to 15th in the AP rankings. The student section has never seen more blue wigs and body paint, at least not since the team began playing at MCI in 1997.
The highlight of the game that has already made the Hoyas’ season memorable came after the buzzer. And it’s what made Hurtekant something of a celebrity on campus and off. Long before radio announcer Rich Chvotkin had even finished yelling a string of “Hoyas win!”s, the court was consumed by gray and blue and ecstasy. And in the middle of the blissful mayhem was Hurtekant, getting banged around like that boat in The Perfect Storm but smiling like nobody’s business.
“That was great—just a mob mentality taking over and everybody getting out there,” says Hurtekant, 20, of his self-powered and nationally televised jaunt from the baseline to midcourt in nothing flat. “It’s not something you want to do all the time. But they’re the top team in the country; we’re unranked; we beat them at home. That’s definitely an appropriate time to storm the court.”
Hurtekant was the only MCI mobster in a wheelchair, which he uses because of spina bifida, a disease that’s left him a paraplegic since birth. So folks witnessing the once-in-a-generation celebration from inside the arena and out were both stunned by his quickness and concerned about his safety.
“I saw him right in front of me,” says Chvotkin. “I was asking, ‘How did that kid get on the court so fast?’ It was amazing. I remember commenting, ‘Boy, he got there quick!’ That looked dangerous.” (Chvotkin says he was equally surprised to learn that Ted Leonsis, the Capitals’ owner and Georgetown class of ’77, was also among the revelers.)
Hurtekant says his father, from whom he got his sports-nut gene—“I’ve only seen my dad cry three times in my life, and one of them was when Boston College beat Notre Dame [at the end of the 1993 football season] when Notre Dame was No. 1,” says Hurtekant—was all for the court-storming as he watched it on TV back home in Dallas.
Mom, however, was focused on the danger of his deed. But Hurtekant didn’t second her emotion.
“She said, ‘Why did you do that?’” he remembers. “And I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I? That was great!’”
And rolling around campus the day after the game, he realized that his folks weren’t the only ones who caught his act.
“I was getting calls from all over the country, from old friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time. Everybody was saying, ‘I saw you on SportsCenter!’” Hurtekant says. “And at school, all these people who I didn’t know knew who I was, and they were all high-fiving me and talking about being on TV. I guess I was easy to pick out.”
James Williams, a Georgetown sophomore and a friend of Hurtekant’s from Oakland, Calif., says he didn’t see his school chum while both were in the postgame maelstrom at MCI Center. But he got a kick out of seeing Hurtekant’s act that night on TV.
“Everybody here who saw that knew that was Rob,” says Williams. “Seeing the clips, that really looked dangerous for him. But it was a happy mob.”
Hurtekant, who studies international politics when he’s not mulling over the Big East standings, misses Georgetown games only if they fall on the same nights as his sessions tutoring Arlington jail inmates in reading. He knows his own way around a basketball court, too. His wheelchair-hoops team back home won a junior-varsity national championship with him playing point guard, and during the school year he rolls locally with the NRH Blazers, a squad sponsored by the National Rehabilitation Hospital. The week of the Duke game, he sprained his wrist playing for the Blazers in a Baltimore tournament and was prescribed a splint.
He followed doctors’ orders until the day of the Duke game.
“I didn’t want to have a splint on in case something happened, because that would slow me down,” he says. “I know nobody’s going to believe me, but I didn’t wear it because I really felt something special was going to happen that day. And when I’m on the court, I’m slapping everybody I could slap, just high-fiving everybody, and with my bad wrist. I was thinking the whole time, ‘Boy, this is going to hurt tomorrow!’ But it wasn’t hurting me then.”
Hurtekant does have one little regret about his court rush. He recalls how nicely MCI Center staff treated him in the final seconds of the Duke game. With a minute on the clock, the storming buzz had gotten very palpable in the student section and had even reached the courtside security detail. Rather than go Kent State on the students and try to prevent the unpreventable, the guards made the humane and proper decision to help remove as many roadblocks as they could between the student section and the court so that the celebration could be as safe as possible.
After displacing courtside media members, the guards approached Hurtekant, told him they were concerned about him getting run over by a student mob at the buzzer, and asked him to move. He says he complied, but only because he saw that the spot they were directing him to—in the corner of the arena floor directly across from the visitors bench—would cut some travel time to center court.
“They were worried about me, which was really nice, and tried to help,” he says. “But I don’t think they realized how they were helping me. Oh, well.”—Dave McKenna