OMAHA, Neb. - An 18-wheel NBC production trailer parked outside the CenturyLink Center advertises "Football Night in America," but Tuesday it was "Swimming Night in America."
Or maybe, because the Olympic swimming trials are barely a 400-meter backstroke from the site of Arizona's College World Series baseball triumph, it should've been called "Tucson Night in Omaha, Part II."
Incredibly, 12 of the 88 swimmers in Tuesday's prime-time finals/semifinals were from the prolific UA and Tucson Ford Aquatics program, or, as UA coach Eric Hansen prefers, "our stable."
At one point, in the finals of the men's 100 breast stroke, the PA announcer's introductions seemed to be a recording. In Lane 2 was Flowing Wells grad Marcus Titus, in Lane 7 was UA All-America freshman Kevin Cordes, and in Lane 8 was former Wildcat All-American Clark Burckle.
"It's easy to be star-struck when you get here," said UA senior Nick Hadinger, a Sabino and UA grad who swam in Tuesday's preliminaries. "But when you swim for the nation's No. 1 club team (Ford Aquatics), you see a lot of Big Guys every day."
Tucson's Big Guys (and Girls) continued to be a factor Tuesday night.
Matt Grevers, a 2008 gold medalist, was the No. 1 qualifier in the 100 backstroke; his fiancé, Annie Chandler, is No. 5 entering tonight's finals of the 100 breast stroke; 2008 silver medalist Christine Magnuson was sixth in the 100 butterfly finals (which isn't even her best event), and that group wasn't the most impressive of the 12 Tucson swimmers.
That would've been Cordes, who just completed his freshman season as the American record-holder in the 100 (yard) breast stroke. With a berth in the London Olympics at stake, Cordes burst into the lead over Olympic gold medalists Brendan Hansen and Mark Gangloff.
It was electrifying. As the 18-year-old Cordes, an NCAA champion as a freshman, made the turn for home, he led everyone. Hansen finally caught him at the wire; Cordes was third, missing the Olympic team by .43 of a second.
"People keep telling me I'm the (breast-stroker) of the future in America, and it's finally starting to sink in," said Cordes. "The experience of the people I am swimming against is something I'm not used to yet, but I realize that I'll just have to go faster from now on."
Cordes is already a franchise swimmer at Arizona, and by the time he returns for the 2016 Olympic trials, is the likely replacement for Hansen and Gangloff, both of whom are 30.
Rather than treat his narrow miss as a reason to feel deflated, Cordes spoke optimistically about the 200 breast stroke on Friday. "I took it out fast, and those guys caught me," he said. "It was a learning experience. I've just gotta go faster."
For every upbeat action in the Olympic trials, there is a corresponding not-so-happy reaction. Cordes' emergence as a world-class breast-stroker meant that Titus, at 26, probably missed his last best chance to be an Olympian.
Titus, who is deaf, finished eighth in the finals, but it was just .79 of second from London.
"Marcus got caught up in a really tough field," said Hansen, shaking his head.
That's the reality of world-class swimming. If you're .79 of a second slow one day, it might as well be 79 seconds.
Tonight's most compelling story line is, or at least it could be, the chance for the future Mr. and Mrs. Matt Grevers to make the Olympic team within 30 minutes of one another.
Matt Grevers is a heavy favorite in the 100 backstroke; he was the silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Chandler, one of the leading swimmers in UA history, a member of the USA national team, will be seeded No. 5 in the 100 breast stroke, an imposing race filled with international stars.
The field is so good that Tucson swimmer and multiple Olympic medalist Amanda Beard, did not qualify Tuesday night. She was 11th.
"World swimming continues to amaze me," said Chandler, who was fifth in the same race in 2008. "The competition is just so good; it's a really fast field."
Somebody asked Chandler what it would take to overcome Rebecca Soni and Jessica Hardy, breast-strokers who, like Chandler, are in their athletic prime.
"The perfect swim," she said. "That's what it'll take."
Before Hansen left the CenturyLink Center on Tuesday night, noting that he heads a stable of 56 swimmers here - a daily racing and training schedule that makes him the busiest man in Omaha - he said he couldn't be more pleased.
The Olympic trials continue for another six days. Some of Hansen's top swimmers haven't even got their toes wet yet. Until further notice, sleep is optional.