Within 38 hours, a giant collective ulcer was forming. It came early Saturday afternoon, less than two days after Virginia Commonwealth University blew out the University of Akron Zips, by 46 points in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. The second-round game was over before afternoon drinking scarcely began. The dogs of war were tired and beaten soundly by Michigan, a 25-point decompression.
Almost immediately, rumors swirled: Will Coach Shaka Smart leave for UCLA — home of 11 titles, Lew Alcindor and those supermodel cheerleaders? And, moreover, what would a university, and a city, do without him?
Havoc, the full-court pressing style of defense that Smart brought to Richmond, now is much more than that. It's an identity. It's the Havoc Bus in New York, crashing the "Today Show" with the Peppas and their swinging tubas. It's on billboards and T-shirts. It's the Sports Illustrated stories, the Siegel Center, film director Spike Lee sitting courtside.
"It seems to fit with the culture of the school, and the fan base," says Darin White, professor and coordinator of the sports marketing program at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. White has the audacity to compare VCU's "intentional branding" to something closer to home. This is going to hurt:
"When Bear Bryant was our coach, he had a certain philosophy. He really stressed work ethic, and character, and he stressed a conservative, defensive style of football," he says. "It was interesting how those tenets became a part of the culture of the state."
Havoc may not yet define Richmond or the state the way Alabama football and coach Bryant did — and still does. But it's starting to, a little. Havoc wouldn't be the best brand for, say, a fast-food chain, a car insurer, or even a style of governing. But there's something about the notion of scrappy, wild and relentless basketball. It's the little guy, the overlooked, the aggressive spirit of a people and a place. On game days you could almost feel the energy bubbling out of West Broad Street.
Rarely has a basketball program been branded so successfully and thoroughly, and meshed with the personality of a school the way havoc and Smart have with VCU. Duke has Coach K, but can anyone sum up the school's identity in a single word?
"You can always rebrand," says Cabell Harris, owner of Work Labs and an associate professor at VCU's Brandcenter. He adds, not-so-reassuringly: "Also, you can't be saying the same thing each year."
White, the marketing professor from Bear Bryant country, concurs.
"I would say, more than likely, it's going to happen eventually," he says of havoc, and perhaps Smart, leaving Richmond. "Nothing lasts forever."