The Reporter (Vacaville)
Crossing off another item on the `bucket' list
I've been mad for years, absolute years.
The saying isn't just a great opening for Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon,” it's also how I feel about college basketball in March.
Ever since I first sat down on the couch with my dad and watched Danny Manning and the University of Kansas win the 1988 NCAA championship, I've been hooked on filling out brackets and absorbing everything that is the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament.
I like the women's tournament as well, but not quite as much as the men's, possibly because the women's winner for years seemed to be Connecticut or Tennessee. So much for surprises.
For years, I've had a lot of things on my sports bucket list. I'm currently trying to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. I want to watch a game from the rooftops near Wrigley Field. I want to visit Iowa and the Field of Dreams facility and slowly walk into the cornfield with a notepad while laughing. I want to visit the Hall of Fame for each major sport.
For basketball one item has always topped them all — Spending a day at an arena watching four games in the first round of the men's tournament.
This past weekend, I finally hit that bucket item — and the result was nothing but net.
Tickets at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento were surprisingly cheap — at least when compared to other events (Pixies tickets are $200!). Soon after the brackets were announced on March 12, I went online and bought Session 1 for $45 plus fees, and Session 2 for about $60 plus fees. In total each game came out to around $35 after all of Ticketmaster's service charges.
Not bad. One hundred thirty bucks, for 11 hours in an arena watching eight teams in four games. That's madness.
Although I was bummed I wouldn't be seeing Vallejo native Chance McMillian play — he was in Denver with Grand Canyon taking on Gonzaga the next day — I was still getting to see some good games. Two matchups of a 7 seed against a 10, as well as Arizona and my personal favorite — UCLA. My school (San Francisco State) isn't Division 1 and since I was a fan for the day and not in the pressbox, I felt it was OK to cheer for the Bruins.
Now, my tickets weren't exactly … good. Two weeks ago I covered a game on the floor for the high school section championships. First row.
My ticket for March Madness as a fan? Last row. My seat was higher than Snoop Dogg on April 20.
However, the location of the seat didn't really matter. It was all about the atmosphere. There were UCLA fans, Arizona fans, Northwestern fans, Missouri fans, and Princeton fans. Even though the team wasn't playing in the building that day, there were even Duke fans.
Instead of loud blaring music, there were instead eight college marching bands playing some great tunes. The UCLA band played the Kinks, one band played Green Day and another played “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.
The day — and the good-natured heckling — started at 10 in the morning. Sacramento's downtown is on a grid with letters of the alphabet and numbers, so it's pretty easy to find your way around. But not for everyone — one fan joked with his friend who was on his phone with Google Maps by saying, “Leave it to a Utah State student to not know the letter H comes after G.”
Utah State played Missouri in a game that was close for most of the first half. However, in the second half, Kobe Brown of
Missouri decided to take over — producing NBA Jams-type hot from beyond the 3-point arc. In the end, Missouri ended up winning easily.
In between games, many fans made their way to the concourse and watched as Furman upset Virginia. When Furman got a steal and a 3-pointer by JP Pegues to go up a point, the entire arena screamed.
That was a big upset. It wouldn't be the last.
In the day's second game, Princeton seemed on paper — especially my bracket — to be no match for Arizona. After all, Arizona won the Pac-12 tournament just a week earlier.
Arizona led most of the way, but like gum, Princeton stuck around. In the last two minutes, the Tigers
made their push and finally took a lead. When Ryan Langborg hit a jumper to put the Tigers up 56-55, you could feel the crowd come alive and almost hear what felt like Hanz Zimmer score music blaring to signal a turn of the tides. In the end, Arizona didn't score in the last 4:43 of the game and Princeton pulled off the huge upset.
Golden 1 Center made fans exit the stadium following the second game, but it was worth it. Upon leaving the arena I walked into a huge crowd of overjoyed Princeton fans. Most of them frantically began looking up hotel prices for the next two days, while Arizona fans began selling their Saturday tickets while searching for the next airline flights.
After the upset, the Northwestern game against Boise State was like a local garage band trying to follow Bruce Springsteen, but the Wildcat fans were thrilled with their win. One man nearby saw another Northwestern fan after the win, proclaiming his love for her after just three seconds. That's it. That's all it took — a Northwestern win.
Well, that and maybe a half dozen beers.
Finally, UCLA played in the nightcap and wasted no time proving it was for real by going up two touchdowns with a 14-0 lead. Sensing a blowout — which it was — many fans started heading to the exits. UCLA's faithful stuck around and basked in the win, which seemed even better coupled with rival Arizona's loss.
By the time the fourth game ended, it was nearly 9:30 p.m. and the arena had to “light the beam” to show off that the Sacramento Kings had won on the road (think the Cubs' blue “W”). Fans gazed up at the purple light and claimed the spectacle was for their team — whether it was Missouri, Princeton, UCLA or Northwestern — that won that day.
Anyone like myself who was finishing up nearly 12 hours of watching hoops, we all knew that day itself was the real winner. Anyone who thinks otherwise, well, they've just gone mad.