...as far back as I can remember, my birthdays have always been intertwined with March Madness. Through fortuitous circumstances, including lengthy Spring Breaks and timely baseball rainouts in Keller, I was always able to spend my birthday watching or waiting for the insanity of 48 tournament games in four days. In 2006, my 21st birthday wasn't celebrated on 6th Street, as I instead drove home from watching Texas beat Penn in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Two days later, I watched them beat NC State before driving back to Austin amidst horrendous flooding.
Starting in 2003, I additionally started asking my parents to send me to the Big XII Tournament as a birthday present. I wound up watching as we failed gloriously in high-profile games in 2003 (Dallas, Lost to Tech in Quarters), 2004 (Dallas, Lost to OSU in Finals), 2006 (Dallas, Lost to KU in Finals), and 2007 (OKC, Lost to KU in Finals). Due to a different academic calendar and the games being moved up this year, I've been unable to attend the last two Big XII tournaments.
This year, I had once again resigned myself to watching Texas in the NCAA tournament from back home in Keller. I was actually helping live-blog the Selection Show when I got a text from the Longhorn Roadtripper himself, who had purchased tickets. From the second I saw his text, it was ON.
Following the jump, I'll walk the BON through an unforgettable weekend of basketball and a ton of other random scattershots, anecdotes, and pictures. Starting with my 24th birthday, the trip eventually included West Virginia fans, the phenomenon of Alabama radio, comparing Duke/UNC, and, ultimately, heartbreak.
I'm warning you guys in advance that I'm no 54b and that this diary will contain less basketball analysis than it probably should.
Wednesday Night to Thursday Afternoon: On the Road
As soon as Mapquest informed me that we were headed on an overnight 18 hour trip, I was very thankful of the fact that my companions had made even more daunting trips in previous seasons. Not leaving Dallas until after 10:00 PM, we immediately started talking about the team, tournament, and anecdotes about UT basketball that are unfortunately off-the-record. Ryan's car was getting nearly 35 mpg and could go over 400 miles without needing to refill the gas tank. With the exception of a speeding ticket in Marshall, Texas, we made great time.
As we took turns napping in the car, the first real highlight of the trip came when we were driving through Alabama near Talledega Superspeedway listening to a Radio Show led by "Rufus" and "Pace Man." While we might have changed channels--I'm not positive--we listened to the following exchange.
Host: "Hello. How are you today?"
Caller: "I'm ok, I guess. I got divorced."
Host: "I gotta ask...was it your fault or hers?"
Caller: "It was hers. I caught her cheetin'"
Host: "You caught her at your place cheating with another guy?"
Caller: "No, I caught them at his place."
Host: "How did you catch them at his place?"
Caller: "His wife's mom told me that they were over there."
Host: "His wife's mom? How do you know her?"
Caller: "I used to date her when we were teenagers, and her mom really liked me, so she told me about them cheating."
Host: "Well, did you let her keep the house?"
Caller: "No, she moved out. She moved in with him."
On the same day the Alabama newspaper headlines were replete with coverage over their National Guard being duped by Bruno, it seemed pretty apropos. But Alabama did produce Varez Ward, so they're cool with me.
In all honesty, the last 4-5 hours of the trip simply flew by, as we were already listening to the madness unfold over the radio. On a sidenote, did everyone already know that North Carolina only refers to themselves as "Carolina" on their radio broadcasts, commercials, etc. I wondered what happens when they play South Carolina or East Carolina. Does the announcer still refer to the Tar Heels as "Carolina," or does he insert the appropriate directional notation? Someone please clear this up for me...
After a quick stop at our hotel to drop off our gear, we were headed to watch Texas play the Golden Gophers...
Thursday Evening: Texas/Minnesota
When we arrived at the arena, albeit a bit early, we expected a chipper tournament vibe to surround the building. This is what we walked into...
While the decor and banners were nice, the arena was surprisingly empty. Even though we expected the flood of Duke fans to arrive around half-time of our game, I still thought there would be a decent crowd milling around. That could not have been further from the truth. While it wasnt a total ghost town, we were unable to even give away Ryan's extra lower-level tickets for a meager $5 or $10.
Anyways, despite the surprising lack of people, we went inside to find a moderately filled Texas section, a moderate-plus filled Minnesota section, and thousands of empty seats. It was at this point that I started worrying about an invasion of Duke fans storming Greensboro, but it turned out that many of the empty seats belonged to the incoming support squad for the Binghamton University Bearcats.
After some introductions, it was game time...
You guys all watched the game, so I'll avoid analyzing the game in favor of some additional comments on the crowd.
--Make no mistake about it, the Minnesota section wasn't much more well-represented than the UT Section, except for one small difference--they had a student presence. I'm not kidding when I say, in all sincerity, that I think we might have been the only UT students in the entire arena not directly associated with UT Athletics, Texas Cheer, Texas Pom, or the basketball team. Someone, please tell me that I'm wrong, because I only saw one group the entire weekend who I thought might be UT students.
As Ryan mentioned in his interview , the Minnesota students were apparently given the option to buy a travel package to get here. I might address this in a later post, and maybe later in this post, but I'd love to know why none of the $35,000+ dollars of Stampede revenue was used to at least help subsidize a similar opportunity for UT students. It's this type of "We're Texas" attitude towards student basketball fans that prevented the UT Rewards system from reaching its full potential. Minnesota didnt have a ton of fans, but the students they brought made some effort to make noise.
--Everything I said about the Minnesota students doesn't apply to the idiot wearing the pajama pants. I'll never, ever forget watching you demand the refs call a travel for one of our players jumping into the air before passing the ball.
--Here's one last picture from this game, as the Turkish flag (in honor of Dogus)...remember that Dogus hit his only 3-pointer of the entire season against Minnesota.
Thursday Evening: Binghamton/Duke, and "Mo Music"
While I expected the Duke invasion to begin at halftime, it really didnt work out that way. By the time the Duke/BU was ready to kick-off, the Binghamton fans had really whipped themselves into a frenzy. Honestly, that last sentence was just my excuse to introduce BON to the impending cultural icon of "Mo Music."
"Mo Music": Most band directors dress conservatively with a polo and khakis and help orchestrate the band through their song list. "Mo Music" is not like most band directors. Shaped like Dexter Pittman before he met Todd Wright, "Mo Music" is well over 300 pounds. Rockin' a shirt that looked like it belonged on an IM fields (that said "Mo Music" on the back), a backwards hat, and a pair of jeans, "Mo Music" absolutely KILLED the arena during every one of the BU songs. And, when I say he KILLED it, I mean it with every single one of those capital letters. Refusing to do any type of actual conducting, "Mo Music" just danced around during every song and started working the crowd. After one particularly spirited effort, he crossed his arms and nodded for the camera as they went to commercial. If that shot of him doesnt make "One Shining Moment," then it is forever cheapened in my eyes. "Mo Music" is what March Madness is all about.
The "Cameron Crazies": While we were at the hotel dropping off our gear, we turned on the TV to see that the HBO Documentary over the UNC/Duke rivalry was showing. When describing the Cameron Crazies, one student explained how they would know "everything about your life" and "blahblahblah." I'll save my final thoughts about the Duke fans for later, but I'll give them some props for some chants against Binghamton.
One young lady in the BU sign had a section that said "2nd Round = BU vs. Texas." Unfortunately for this young lass, she was holding the sign upside down. Sitting across from her, we noticed her mistake right when the game started, and it wasn't long before it came to the attention of the Duke students. Regaling her with a chant of "Turn it Over...FLIP YOUR SIGN", they all pointed at her and gestured over the correct position of the sign. In another misfortunate event, the feisty Binghamton students decided to respond with a thunderous "WE CANT HEAR YOU!" Naturally, this led for a much, much, much larger contingent of fans to inform the young lady that she needed to turn her sign over.The Duke students had another great line later when they told all the Binghamton fans to "DRIVE HOME SAFELY!"
However, other than those two good lines, I thought they were pretty lame. The free throw chants were a mixed bag, and I could only really shrug my shoulders when they did some of their "traditions." I borrowed this from a random site, but it explains it better than I can. In particular, I thought both of these were really dumb, but you can judge for yourself.
* Another cheer is the "Boink , Boink". When an opponent is dribbling, we yell out "Boink" every time the ball hits the floor. When he picks up the ball to pass, we'll chant "Ahhhhhh", then "PASS!" right as he passes. As you might guess, we'll also yell out "Shoot!" or "Miss!" or "Turnover", whatever happens.
* When an opponent turns over the ball either for traveling or making an errant pass, we'll do the "Frankenstein." This is kinda hard to describe, but basically we extend our arms out in front of us and bob them up and down alternately.
Of course, less I be criticized for casting stones, I absolutely think it's better to have 300+ students looking stupid doing the "Frankenstein" than only having 2 (or maybe 5) students in the entire arena. But I was expecting more out of them, especially fans who know "everything about your life."
Friday: March Madness and West Virginia
We slept well into the afternoon on Friday, then immediately headed up to a local Sports Bar to watch the games. As you know, there were some really good games on Friday, but nothing on Friday was better than watching one particular West Virginia fan cheer for his team.
I really dont know how to provide any real context for this story, so I'll just lay it out there. While we were at the bar, we saw a West Virginia fan cheer during a replay and shout "WOW! HE DID IT AGAIN!" I want to make sure this anecdote gets properly emphasized, so I'll say it again and put it in bold. While we were at the bar, we saw a West Virginia fan cheer during a replay and shout "WOW! HE DID IT AGAIN!"
After the games, we went back to the hotel and watched more basketball. There are some other stories to tell about this night--and the team hotel--but they are also off-the-record. Sorry, everyone...
Saturday: UNC/LSU and Texas/Duke
I dont care what anyone says about Texas, we know how to throw a tailgate for a big event. As we were walking around the arena, the most noteworthy things we saw were a "Make it Wayne" shirt, a "Flavor Flav" lookalike, and an ACC billboard. Each of these are posted below for your enjoyment.
Notice the FSU "mascot"
The pre-game scene was extremely underwhelming. Fortunately, we stumbled into some Texas fans--and U.S. Army Warrant Officers--who were enjoying a legitimate tailgate. They were kind enough to let us stick around and enjoy their food and company.
It is at this point that I have to mention the neverending promises of UNC fans to help make it a "home game" for Texas. We had at least TWENTY FIVE encounters with UNC fans who said one of the following things.
"Every other day, I hate Texas and Mack Brown, but I'm going to be cheering loud for you guys tonight."
"We're gonna help you guys beat Duke. Gonna be a home crowd for y'all tonight, when we add our 12,000+ fans to your side."
"Duke doesnt want to come here anymore because we take away their home court advantage. They all live in New Jersey and wont even make it down here."
"Hook 'em! We're with you tonight, Texas!"
"We're gonna be your secret weapon tonight. Home game, Horns!"
I want to emphasize this point now, because it never happened. Not even after Duke fans spent the entire game harassing the UNC roster and excessively cheering for LSU. I'm not kidding when I say that the primary Duke section made more noise for LSU than the entire UNC fanbase made for Texas, despite perhaps 65-70 percent of the arena being UNC fans. The Duke fans chanted "SHE SAID NO! TWICE" to Wayne Ellington--heard conflicting stories about what it means--and were waving LSU poms during the second half.
I didn't come to Greensboro fully expecting the UNC fans to cheer for us, but the silence of their fans was perplexing after their constant bragging to us over how they were going to be our secret weapon. If the numbers of the fanbase and the opponents had been switched, you would have heard deafening noise for Texas the entire night. Whatever you want to say about Duke, they definitely rooted AGAINST North Carolina, in addition to rooting FOR LSU.
Now whether or not you respect that is an entirely different story, but the fact of the matter is that the UNC fans did *nothing* to help the 'Horns except maybe for the final minute. I just wanted to make that clear, in case any of you still appreciated them...
At some point during the second half, we saw Mack Brown make his way across the court towards our section. Then he made his way into our section. Then I made my way into his path--albeit very briefly--to have one of the million five-second conversations he must have every day with his rabid fanbase. One of my travel partners snagged a picture of Mack after I talked to him.
Saturday Night: Duke-Texas and Heartbreak City
I still haven't been able to stomach watching a replay of the final minute, so I still really dont know if we got screwed by the refs or not. All I can say is that good teams win games like this one, and we lost them all season long. Whatever you want to say about this team--and y'all have said quite a bit these past few days--they never quit on themselves, despite a fanbase that was so eager to dogpile against them.
I want to reiterate this point. Whatever you want to say about Texas this year, they were only blown out of two games the entire season (A&M and OU). Despite being on the ropes in several games, the 'Horns always clawed back and never gave up. The only people who gave up on this Texas team were a sizable contingency of the fanbase, who were "surprised" that Texas "showed up" against Duke. Or acted "shocked" that we "kept it close." Rick Barnes did a phenomenal job rebuilding the psyche of this team from the devastating string of losses in the middle of conference. As a fanbase, we dont deserve him and we didnt deserve the effort the team put forth on Saturday night. They never quit on us, but many, many, many fans quit on them.
When Texas loses, I'm generally mad, upset, and inconsolable. On Saturday night, I was neither. ..
Onto some final observations and notes...
--Once again, I wasnt a big fan of the Cameron Crazies, who "know everything about your life." When they taunted Dexter with "Lose Some Weight!" and "Please Don't Eat Me", I could only roll my eyes. As Ryan Clark told anyone who would listen, Dexter probably has a lower body fat percentage than anyone in their entire section. And, I as would tell anyone who would listen, Dexter couldnt eat any of them without Todd Wright's permission anyways, since Wright has to approve each and every one of his meals. It was weak. What was even weaker was the "HAMMER PANTS!" chant to AJ Abrams.
--I'm not sure I fully get the Duke hatred, but I can assure you that none of them even considered the possibility that we could win that game until the very last minute. Prior to the game being tied, the Duke fans primarily acted like it was our privilege to lose to them in the 2nd round. Furthermore, they often made chide comments such as, "Wow, I didnt know Texans could spell the name of their state" during Grandioso.
--The Kenton Paulino highlight was not shown in the arena during the entire weekend. We saw plenty of Duke, plenty of UNC, plenty of MJ and Laettner, and plenty of other buzzer beaters, but they couldnt even show one replay of KP's dagger against West Virginia? Not even once?
The Big Conclusion
Like many of you did, we rehashed the game over and over and over and over again during the drive home. Unlike many--or any--of you, we had over 20 hours to kill on our drive home. After the game had been thoroughly dissected, Ryan and I talked about ways to improve UT Basketball Marketing for nearly 3 hours. Some of these ideas might be addressed in a future post.
However, the most poignant moment of the entire trip came when I asked Ryan about the best feeling he's ever had during a drive home. In case you still dont know, he's been to 115 consecutive UT games. In many of his longest trips, we've been beaten, including every single one of his trips to the NCAA tournament, Big XII Tournament, College Station, Lawrence, and Columbia. And we wont even bring up the massacre in MSG or the collapse in Knoxville from a few years ago. He's suffered a lot of high-profile losses, but I wanted to ask about his highest point heading home from a roadtrip
I immediately asked if it was after the Paulino shot, but he reminded me that we wound up losing to LSU before he drove home. After thinking, probably about all the crushing tournament losses, he said it had to be when we knocked off UCLA at Pauley Pavillion. I thought this was a satisfying answer, but then he added more.
He said, "You know, the more I think about it, the best feeling I've ever had might have been driving home from the Triple-OT loss in Stillwater. The night when Durant took on Boggan. We lost, but the entire drive home I kept thinking, 'that was some (freaking) amazing basketball."'
And that's where it both starts and stops for any recent fan of Texas basketball. We still haven't won a Big XII Tournament, much less an NCAA Title. Our 2003 trip to the Final Four has been immortalized by a commercial reminding the world that we had "no answer for Carmelo Anthony." With a team that has had so much success, in the big picture, all of the success feels a little hollow with all the high-profile disappointments.
But you can throw all of these disappointments out the window (including Saturday night) when you put them in conjunction with Ryan's epiphany...we lost, but that was some (freaking) amazing basketball."
See you next year? Bet on it.
Especially you, Duke...