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My March Madness becomes An April Adventure

After the lengthy detail included in my last note I'm not sure if anyone wants to hear about this or not, but for those of you who do, read on:

As you may know, two former roommates from Georgia Tech and I (the same ones featured in my previous note from the St. Louis Regional final) were able to get two tickets each from our Alumni Association to this year's Final Four. As one of my friends said "this is our payoff for the 20+ years of giving to the school's Roll Call and Athletic Fund every year since we graduated!". We had to fax applicable information to Tech last Monday and we found out we "scored" tickets the next day. Additionally, we invited a fourth alumnus, and former roommate, who had joined us (not only on the 1990 Tech-UVA football trip I mentioned in my previous note, but also) on our trip to the 1985 All American Bowl in Birmingham, AL when our team beat Michigan State, 17-14, without our starting QB because Bill Curry, our coach at that time, had suspended him the night before the game.

Getting There

Driving from Atlanta to San Antonio is something a student does; we decided to fly. Since a couple of us had "burned" all our miles the previous weekend, we were interested in the cheapest fare we could find to mid-Texas (San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas, etc.). Fortunately, I also have a brother in Dallas and so the two of us were able to fly in there Friday night and then drive to the game on Saturday. I almost got my plane ticket (indeed my trip;-) for free 'cause I volunteered to take a later flight in return for a $400 voucher from Delta (the flight was oversold). Unfortunately, they told me to get on the plane at the last minute which was probably best since I wouldn't have gotten to see much of my brother and his family, as it turned out.

Saturday, April 3

When I woke up and turned on my cellphone, I noticed I had a voicemail message. It seems my friend from Raleigh wasn't able to board his 7:10 AM flight to San Antonio because it was oversold and none of the other basketball fans on the flight (from the ACC's Tobacco Road and, specifically, Duke) were going to give up their seat voluntarily. So, $800 in flight vouchers, a first class upgrade all-the-way through, and a taxicab voucher later, he was able to get on a flight which arrived just in time for him to get to the game (he was literally walking down the aisle to our seats less than 2 minutes before tipoff!).

After a shower and then breakfast, I went outside to decorate the gold (how did Hertz know?) rental car with Georgia Tech paraphernalia (some of which I picked up at Tech's campus bookstore on my way to the airport on Friday before I left). When I went back inside to borrow some tape, my UT graduate brother said "you need to be careful with OSU's fans, for the most part they're big, dumb, obnoxious rednecks" to which I replied "did you forget who our state rival is?";-)

It's about a 4.5 hour drive to San Antonio from Dallas, and although tipoff of the Tech-OSU game wasn't scheduled till 5:07 PM CST, we wanted to see if we could get to the Westin (where the players were staying) before 1 PM to pickup our tickets in lieu of waiting till (an unknown) 3 PM will call at the ALAMODOME. Turns out we missed making it by about 10 minutes, so we decided to find a parking space (no easy task) and walk around San Antonio for a while.

San Antonio is GREAT!!!

For those of you have never been San Antonio before, you should make it a point to visit this wonderful city before you die. What a terrific place, sporting event or no sporting event. It only took a few minutes for my friend (who knows from experience) to remark "this is just like a World Cup atmosphere!" It's a walking city which feels very safe and is easy to find your way around. It easily handled the big partying crowds, particularly in the areas around the river. Downtown is an area aptly named the Riverwalk - below street level is a canal which winds its way around and through dozens of city blocks with sidewalks on both sides that are lined with bars and street restaurants for throngs of people to drink, dine, and otherwise celebrate an event. You can get "down" to the Riverwalk from virtually every street's bridge which crosses it and there are pedestrian bridges across it in high traffic areas. Also downtown is the Alamo (and it's free to walk around the grounds!) and the Alamodome itself. And, I have to say that I've never felt more welcome in a city; everyone who we encountered that worked in any capacity to serve the attendees of the event was friendly and very helpful (GREAT JOB!).

We sat a bar (Dick's Last Resort) on the Riverwalk which was dominated by orange-clad Oklahoma St. fans, who for the most part didn't live up to their reputation. However, OSU fans (because of their state's proximity) outnumbered all three other schools' combined by a huge margin. We did meet some folks from Maguire University there - - who have made the trip to the Final Four for 40+ consecutive years! After about 1.5 hours of pregame entertainment, we headed for the Alamodome will call to pick up our tickets. There is a walkway from the Southeast corner of the Riverwalk area to the venue. Along this walkway was a huge NCAA Tournament bracket on the side of a building - (friend pictured). At the far end of the pedestrian bridge which crosses I-35 to the Alamodome, there were security personnel with wands scanning for guns, bombs, etc. which caused a minor backup (at that time) of the flow. Having learned from amusement park visits, we went to the left and got through in a few minutes. However, the guy who checked me noticed my videocamera and said "you know, you can't take that inside" (which, of course, I didn't know ... after all, I was able to take it into the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis).

The will call line, however, was much longer. In fact, the OSU will call line wound around and appeared to be at least 150 yards long! Tech's line was the second longest, about 30 yards, Duke's was about 25 feet long and UCONN's was virtually nonexistent (remember, their game wasn't scheduled to start until after 8 PM CT). We finally got our tickets after 4 PM and noticed that, even though we had graduated with different degrees in different years, all six of our tickets were together (two right behind two and the other two one behind the other at the ends of the same aisles as the other four!). Our seats weren't great, in section 302 - - but we knew then that we were part of some kind of magical destiny (well, almost;-)

What to do with my videocamera. Should I take it back to the car (12 blocks away!) or try to sneak it in? Given the consequences of getting caught, and the fact that the only tape I had from the St. Louis regional final (including the net cutting ceremony) was still inside it, I decided to hoof it back to the car. Passing through the now 20 minute security line in reverse was no easy task, and it took me until 4:30 to get to the car (tipoff time was scheduled for 5:07 PM CT). Running back towards the Alamodome I decided to take a downtown bus out of shear exhaustion. When I started to get off the bus at the sea of pedestrians where I had previously gone, the bus driver said "wait a minute, I can drop you closer". It turns out he dropped me at some kind of VIP entrance for buses and taxis and so instead of waiting 25-30 minutes (which I didn't have) to get through security a second time, the line where he dropped me was about 10 people deep! The best 80 cents I ever spent in my life;-) Four guys with no shirts and their chests painted D, U, K & E were in line with me and we exchanged "see you in the finals on Monday" greetings.

The Semi Finals

Of course, y'all know what happened in our game Saturday night and I have no pictures to share with you 'cause of the incident I related above. However, I have to say, it tops the biggest other college season-ending sporting event I've ever attended period (and that includes the 1987 Fiesta Bowl when I saw Penn State upset Miami 14-10). We had our usual balanced attack with Marvin Lewis's 3-pointers providing the first half juice, Luke Schenscher's second half domination, and Will Bynum rescuing us yet again in a game we dominated from the start but unfortunately (as usual;-) made exciting at the end. At least this one, like our game with Kansas, didn't have to go into overtime. BTW, something I was unwilling to say to anyone beforehand for fear of jinxing my team (are you a superstitious fan too?) was that for all the talk about the Cowboys' great defense, I heard very little about our own team's strength in this area, especially given the fact that our impressive stats were earned in this year's ACC. Of course, my thoughts were proved right yet again when we limited them to less than 70 points, and therefore won.

During the second game, my "wheeler dealer" friend (who had previously bartered a deal for the two extra tickets we had) found an OSU fan who had bought a four night package (the only way you could get a decent price on a hotel room downtown during Final Four weekend) on a hotel near the Alamo, but no longer needed it, for a great price. So, we decided we would check out of the overpriced airport hotel we had booked for that night the next morning and, in effect, upgrade our accommodations for Sunday and Monday nights. Throughout the trip, we were determined to spend as little as possible (one room for four guys) on our "place to crash" since we would rather spend our money out on the town, on souvenirs, etc..

After the second game, which Duke too made so exciting near its conclusion that they ended up losing it in the end, we made it to the airport (to get my last minute friend's bag, which he couldn't very well bring to the Alamodome) and then our hotel without running out of gas (we had driven 60 miles after the low fuel light came on when we pushed it to get to the Westin before 1 PM, remember?) and turned in about 3 AM, which was really 4 AM since daylight's savings time kicked in that night.

Sunday, April 4

It was probably 3 PM or so before we got up, showered, got some breakfast, checked out of our hotel, made our way downtown, and checked into our new "digs". We then spent some time walking around the Riverwalk, grabbing a bite to eat before it started to rain. I feel sorry for the city businesses because not only did OSU lose (something I definitely DIDN'T feel sorry about;-) on opening night, taking their huge fan base with them, but it rained off and on Sunday and Monday which surely impacted their revenue from the multi-day event. As destiny would have it, my parents arrived in Austin (70 miles away) for a golf week with friends which had been planned a year ago. So, we drove through the rain to Austin for dinner with them and returned to the Riverwalk for a late night stroll, which included seeing former Tech player and current host of "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" (on Fox Sports Net) John Salley leaving the Hard Rock Cafe area with a blonde in tow as well as an assistant basketball coach at Colgate, who happened to know Jarrett Jack.

Also, for those of you think Duke and its fans are all bad, as we were walking by Dick's Last Resort again on Sunday night (indeed, early Monday AM), I saw that it was loaded with UConn fans save two of the guys I'd met going into Saturday night's game who had had their naked chest's painted with D, U, K or E and before they recognized me, seeing only that we wore Georgia Tech colors, they chanted "let's go Tech" several times in unison. Nothing like sports brings people together.

Monday, April 5

After a great complimentary breakfast in our hotel, we met a guy sitting by the pool who could have been JimZipCode. He was a rabid Maryland fan who also makes the trek every year (like the Maguire University guys) to see the Final Four. Apparently, he has 7 or 8 brothers and sisters who play the NCAA lottery every year and always get at least a few tickets. He said they're usually lousy seats which he ends up selling on the internet to (at least in part) finance his trip and then scalps better seats once he gets there. We had a great time talking ACC basketball with a kindred soul who, of course, wanted us to win. That earned him a free Georgia Tech t-shirt from one of my friends.

We walked around downtown purchasing souvenirs for our kids (Duke & OSU memorabilia was 25 to 50% off) and eventually walked by the Hard Rock Cafe around lunchtime. When we noticed that Dick Vitale would be signing his book there in less than an hour, we decided to eat there. One of my friend's actually bought several of his books and had each one signed and personalized by Dick -

After lunch (and a nap;-) we went to the Westin to see the team off at 6 PM before the 8 o'clock game - - that's Luke in the center of the picture, if you can see him. In that picture, you can't even see the fact that the Ramblin' Wreck itself, a 1930 Ford Cabriolet Sport Coupe - - was in front of the bus. The crowd was tremendous, we filled two lanes of traffic, the sidewalk on the other side of the street was packed as well as the six story parking lot that loomed above them. Once the team boarded the bus, the heavens opened up and the rains came (note the umbrellas in the previous picture) ... the first bad omen.

The next bad omen had to do with the basket configuration for the game. Because it was assumed that OSU would be in the final game with UConn, our tickets were at the same end of the court as the Huskies and they (flip of a coin?), not us, got to have their team shooting at the basket nearest them in the second half. We had had this advantage in St. Louis and for Saturday night's game. Here is a picture I took with a disposable camera I bought of the beginning of the game, the best part for us - - in an otherwise forgettable performance.

Unfortunately, because of the way the game went, there are those who may say we didn't deserve to be there (Naj?), but during the course of the year we beat every team that made it to San Antonio, something no other team can claim. We even beat ourselves, to some degree, against UConn. If only we could have made our free throws in the first half (the third bad omen), who knows? The only other notable thing that happened that evening occurred on the way back to our hotel when we ran into Chris Bosh on our way through the Marriott to our hotel.

Tuesday, April 6

After going to bed after 1 AM with plans to get up for the drive to Dallas by 6 AM for our flight back to Atlanta, I was awakened at 3:15 AM by my collegue who, because he couldn't sleep, had been watching the news and saw that a severe storm was heading for Austin and parts north which might affect our ability to get back in time. So, we got up and left and had a harrowing drive in the heaviest sheets (walls!) of rain I've ever experienced but ended up getting to the airport an hour and a half early anyway. I think we were able to stay awake for the drive because we had to concentrate so hard, first on the slick roads and then in Dallas's rush hour traffic.

Once at my gate at DFW, I decided to catch up on some sleep but when I went to put my GT Final Four hat over my face to block out the fluorescent lighting in the airport, I realized I didn't have it and remembered I'd left it in the backseat of the rental car. I decided to call Hertz to see if they'd help an absent minded Gold member like me get my hat "which has great sentimental value" back. Of course, I did ... they brought it to the curb outside my gate (something that wouldn't have been possible at the Atlanta airport) and a fellow passenger who had listened to my cellphone saga agreed to watch my bags for me so I didn't have to take them back through security. BTW, Mark Price was a couple of rows in front of me on the flight home and, if he hadn't had his son with him, I'd have asked him to sign my hat. It's ironic that I saw him given our woes on Monday night since he holds Tech's highest free throw percentage (.877) record for the '82-'83 season, leading the ACC that year.

Final Notes

WRT to next year's team, we will certainly miss Marvin Lewis's 3-point shooting and Clarence Moore's leadership. However, our returning team should be pretty good with Seniors (center Luke Schenscher, forwards Isma'il Muhammad and Anthony McHenry, guards B.J. Elder and Will Bynum) and Junior point guard Jarrett Jack. Of course, locking up Paul Hewitt was key too & Coach has already signed what many consider to be one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, with 4 players from the top 100 high school seniors according to various rating systems, and another from Georgia on the bubble (between the NBA and college;-)

In a way, it's good we didn't win it all this year ... I want the guys to be hungry. It took our basketball program 70 years to make the Elite 8, 5 more years to make the Final 4, then 14 years to make it to the championship game. How long will it take us to win in the final?
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