My brackets are in shambles, as I take my own advice and for the first time in years, refuse to advance Kansas to the Final Four. Of course, this is the year that the Jayhawks have stopped being Cinderella’s stepping stone, and actually make it to the dance. My husband attempts to cheer me up by pointing out that a first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament will be held in Boston, and we can enter a lottery for the chance to purchase tickets. Since this is the first time in days he’s managed to complete a sentence that does not contain the words “Fear the Turtle,” I perk up. We each send in an entry.
We get tickets! Joe's entry is pulled, and mine is not. Fortunately, we each put in for two seats.
The tickets arrive. They are rather plain -- no silk screened NCAA logo or jazzy computer-generated image, just a plain blue piece of paper. The only thing remarkable about them is the price.
Boston College forgets to send the NCAA their petition to transfer the hosting of the Boston games of the tournament to the Big East. This means that if the Eagles make the Big Dance – which they will; they have to, they’ve been on a winning streak and captured their division – they cannot play in Boston, and I'll miss out on seeing one of my 43 favorite teams in person.
March 18, 2003
My alma mater, GW, loses in the second round of the A-10 Tournament. Since their stunning 12-17 record puts them in absolutely no position to earn an at-large bid, I was hoping that they’d win their way to an automatic one, and perhaps a trip to Boston. Two down, 41 schools left.
March 23, 2003, 5:30 PM
Joe and I jockey for position in front of the television set as the brackets are released. Fourteen teams we like get tournament bids. None of them are sent to Boston.
March 19, 2003, 6 PM
We consider selling a set of tickets. Each one is good for two games, and with teams like Pennsylvania, Manhattan, Alabama, and Wagner competing, we feel like we wouldn’t be missing much.
Reality hits. We’re going to the tournament, baby! Who cares if we can’t even name what state Wagner is in, and scalpers are selling tickets for five times what we paid for them? Four games in twelve hours? What basketball-loving fanatic in their right mind would pass that up?
March 21, 2003, 11:45 AM
We intended to get an early start. It didn't quite work that way. After parking and a train ride, we’re worried we’ll spend the whole first half of the first game getting through the gates, since we heard on TV that security would be tight. Our fears are silly; we’re through “security” in less than a minute.
“Joe, I can’t find letters.” I peer at the seats in loge 8, looking for row J. “I bet we’re up there,” I point to the balcony above us. We trudge up to the usher, who leads us down, down, all the way down, past the 30s and the 20s and the single digits all the way to the – front row.
“Well, almost front row,” he explains. “The band and the cheerleaders are in front of you every other game.”
We are practically on the court. Press row is to our left, the Boston Globe reporters I’ve been reading since childhood a “Hey, Jackie!” away. Directly in front of us is a metal gate, then four rows of chairs to be occupied by the Pennsylvania band during the next game. I’m shaking. Joe’s got the cell phone, calling anyone we know who is home on a Friday watching CBS (OK, which is almost no one). The Syracuse mascot, a big round fluffy orange, high-fives us. If we taunted Carmelo Anthony at the free-throw line, he’d hear us. It’s as if all my years in the last row, obstructed view, or even at home, shut out of tickets, have paid off in one beautiful swoop. Six basketball games stretch ahead of us. All from front-row seats.
The Orange band launches into the Mighty Might Bosstones’ “Knock on Wood,” which takes on a very kicky, brassy sound. I dance a little in my seat.
“Manhattan is like a bad rash – they won’t go away,” Joe says. It’s the end of the first half, and the amazing trio of freshman for the Orangemen – Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Billy Edelin – are being outshone by a guy who can’t be taller than 5’10 whose name I never heard before.
At halftime, the Penn contingency files in. The players have headphones on, and don't even notice the big round Orange turning cartwheels in front of them. A Penn cheerleader chats with her dad and brother, both decked in head to toe in Syracuse attire.
During a timeout, I call Jael to check the scores of the other games in progress. (The one downside of being behind the band is that they tend to drown out the Fleet Center announcer during the breaks -- which is when scores are given.) Jael answers the phone with, "Go 'Cuse!"
The game is close all the way through, with Syracuse and Manhattan trading baskets -- and the lead -- through much of the second half. I always root for the underdog, but the Orangemen are in my Final Four. Since we have absolutely no feeling for seven of the eight teams in Boston (and unbridled hatred for the eighth team, Indiana), Joe and I have decided that we are just going to cheer for everyone. Syracuse wins it, 76-65, but the game was much closer than the final score implies.
It turns out that the guy on our left is a Penn student. After his band completes "Knock on Wood," he explains to us that Oklahoma State is overrated, and the Ivy League champions are ready to knock them off. While the Quakers have a better color scheme -- red and navy versus orange and black -- the Cowboys pregame warm up includes diving across the floor on their bellies. Joe informs me that it's a defensive drill, and does it ever look awesome.
Oklahoma State also has a better mascot than Penn's -- Pistol Pete is this giant Cowboy with a big plastic scruffy face and orange hat. If it came down to it, he could kick Ben Franklin's ass.
During a timeout, the Sooners band performs their rendition of "Knock on Wood." This game is close, too, and we're cheering for good plays. Oklahoma State doesn't have an answer for Ugonna Onyekwe, the two-time Ivy League player of the year. He'll end the game with 30 points.
After a close game, the Sooners pull away, much to the disappointment of the Penn fans around us. The Quaker cheerleader (there's an oxymoron) embraces her dad and brother -- who, between the games, have changed, and are now completely dressed in Penn attire.
Dinner break! Twenty thousand fans are forced to leave the Fleet Center, and most of them converge on the six or so sports bars right across the street. I lead Joe past the lines and on a five-minute walk through the North End, the Italian section of town which is packed with great restaurants. Being a local has its advantages.
My cell phone rings. "I had to leave work before the Utah/Oregon game ended," Jael says. "Who won?"
We're back at the Fleet Center, in time for the start of the Pittsburgh-Wagner game, the one contest of the weekend which is actually a blow out. Pittsburgh's cheerleaders cheer to us. Literally. There's no one between them and us, and all their fans are to our far right. It's almost embarrassing. They shake their pom poms as their band plays, "Knock on Wood."
"You suck!" The Penn boys next to us yell at the Panthers' mascot. The big fuzzy cat makes a gesture to them that endears Pitt to us forever -- or at least through the weekend. The cheerleaders look so needy when they face us, yelling, "We are Pitt!" we decide to cheer back.
"Are you guys from Pittsburgh?" The Pitt cheerleader -- the one who is so tall that he could easily take on Wagner's front court -- comes over to say hello.
The Alabama band files in to their seats in front of us. Unlike all the other bands we've seen today, they are not in tee-shirts or striped Rugbys. No, the Tide wears red blazers over white button down shirts, and ties. They are all male. One of the tuba players points to Joe's "Fear the Turtle" shirt and asks, "Are you from Maryland?" We have a new friend.
We love Alabama. What can we say, we're easily had, fans for hire. The tuba section continues to amuse us with their asides and their SEC commentary. "We shouldn't be here," the Tuba boy tells us. "BC was worse," I reply. We all giggle as the Indiana basketball team takes the court in long red and white striped warmups that look like pajamas.
The tuba section makes fun of our Northern accents as we cheer "Roll Tide!" They pick up on Joe's nickname for Indiana redhead Tom Coverdale, "Opie," and start chanting it loudly when Coverdale takes the free throw line right in front of us. Joe will claim credit when a Globe reporter uses the nickname in the newspaper the next day.
Yup, it's "Knock on Wood" again.
We are never leaving the Fleet Center.
Alabama throws away an 11-point lead, and the hated Hoosiers live another day, thanks to Opie's heroics. We're more upset over the fact that our new buddies won't be back on Sunday than the fact that the Indiana win screws with our brackets.
Sunday, March 23, 12 noon
We're back! This time, we don't rush to the Fleet Center, sleeping late and taking our time. There's only two games today, which we're sure will feel like nothing after the all day Friday experience. I heard "Knock on Wood" in my sleep, so it's only fitting that the Panthers band greets us with the tune.
The tallest cheerleader ever waves to us in the middle of the team's routine. We're happy to cheer for Pitt again today, especially since they are playing the despicable Hoosiers. The Panther comes over to pose for pictures, and grabs my knee in the process.
I hate Indiana with a passion, and Kurt Cobain probably rolled over in his grave when their band launched into "Smells Like Teensprit," but the Hoosiers do earn some affection by sticking to Ozzy, AC/DC, and being the only one of the seven bands not to play the Bosstones.
Pitt wins easily. But our own personal cheerleading squad is replaced by the loud, obnoxious, ridiculously uninformed Oklahoma State band. First, they move all their chairs back, so they are directly in front of us. Second, they insist on jumping up on every play. Third, they play "Knock on Wood."
Syracuse has scored 2 points in ten minutes. My brackets look ready to shatter; before the game, I argued with Joe that of course they'd go to the Final Four, because next weekend, they'll be all but playing on their homecourt in Albany. "They have to get to next weekend in order for that to happen," Joe says as Oklahoma State scores again.
On a rebound, one Cowboy accidentally elbows his teammate, knocking him to the court. As timeout is called and team officials rush onto the court to assist him, the most obnoxious band member stands up and yells, "Why didn't you call the foul, ref?" We laugh as his friend explains, "Uh, that was our guy who hit him."
Syracuse goes on a mini-run to pull within six by the end of the half. Their mascot turns cartwheels across the court as if the team weren't playing like crap.
The Orangemen go on a run to open the second, and McNamara hits a huge three-pointer to give them the lead. Oklahoma State's band is quiet for the first time all afternoon, and we cheer like crazy.
I have no voice. I've lost it on two teams that are my hometown team's hated conference rivals. As we turn up the stairs, leaving what will probably be the best seats we'll ever have, my nemesis for the past two hours, the Cowboys band, strikes up a final song: "Knock on Wood."
Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw
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4.7.03 @ 12:35p
Hey Michelle, guess what song I've got stuck in my head now?
It sounds like you guys had a lot of fun. Question: why do they dive on their bellies for a defensive drill? When do basketball players ever have to hit the floor except by accident?
4.7.03 @ 12:48p
I remember when I lived in Boise and went to the 1994 first round. Saw an awesome Missou/Indiana game that went right down to the wire. Then the next night was Tyus Edney's famous end-to-end scamper for the winning layup. UCLA went on to win it all that year.
4.7.03 @ 1:12p
4.7.03 @ 1:16p
Awesome, Chelle. So, tonite, Cuse AND Kansas in the big game! How excited are you?!
4.7.03 @ 1:34p
Front row. What an awesome experience!
As much as I generally do not follow organized sports, your adventure here is worth envying.
Poor Jael. Too proper to spill the cursing seed onto discussion panels without a Wetnap.
michelle von euw
4.7.03 @ 2:23p
Sarah, I think the diving on the bellies drill is to practice for going after loose balls. Maybe Joe* will clarify it. It looks really, really funny.
I can't believe 'Cuse is still playing -- it's like the best of both worlds for me, with them against Kansas.
4.8.03 @ 8:46a
Sarah -- I've got "Come Dancin'" by the Kinks in my head, if only because I don't know the tune or the words to "Knock On Wood."
4.8.03 @ 9:29a
You might be a happier person because of that.