I returned Sunday night from having attended the Missouri Valley Conference semi finals and championship games in St. Louis. This championship tournament is called Arch Madness and this year's was the 20th anniversary. It was wild and fun and depicted the crazy, frenzied atmosphere of March Madness.
On the Metro ride in on Saturday I encountered three red shirted fans of Illinois State who were seated across the aisle on the train. Illinois State was to play Wichita State in the second game of Saturday's double header. The first game would be the University of Northern Iowa against Bradley.
The three Illinois State Redbirds (the team's nickname) were remarkably knowledgeable and serious. One of the three of them was checking out his blackberry to obtain the scores of other championship games. I found out that Illinois State had advanced after defeating Indiana State the night before in a thrilling game. The Wichita State "Shockers" had advanced by defeating Missouri State. By the time we arrived at the Scottrade Center I had become knowledgeable thanks to these three young men.
The Arch Madness signage looms in front of me as I exit the train. The scalpers are waving the extra tickets to try to peddle those tossed away by the fans of losing teams in the quarter finals. I get to the ticket window and meet up with a father and daughter who are Bradley supporters. Seems as if there is a deal, four tickets, four cokes, and two popcorns for 50 bucks. Not bad. My buddy Craig will be joining me for the second game so I become partners with the father and daughter. The daughter sees my Boston Red Sox hat and wonders aloud what she is doing speaking to a guy who roots for the Red Sox. Nevertheless we become partners in coke, popcorn, and basketball. I leave a ticket at will call for Craig, and march to the moon in the Scottrade center where our 4 tickets for 50 dollar seats are located. The seats are actually not bad, and I sit through the first game next to the Bradley supporters. All throughout the arena there are sections of red, yellow, and indigo. Two red sections represent Illinois State and Bradley. The yellow represents the Shockers of Wichita State and indigo Northern Iowa.
The daughter, an erstwhile collegiate swimmer who'd attended Bradley, is disappointed in her alma mater's showing. They don't seem to have a clue against Northern Iowa. The father is similarly disappointed. We drink our cokes, consume the popcorn, and I commiserate with my new found friends. Half way into the second half, she and her dad have had it and leave the arena.
In the second game a bunch of rooters for Illinois State are behind me. This must be an unlucky section as Illinois State will not defeat Wichita. The shockers really brought a following. The mascot, who I guess is a shocker--but who knows what a Shocker is-- is dancing around maniacally as Illinois State falls behind. The Illinois State rooters behind me are as glum as the Wichita State people are frenzied.
In the lobby after the game, the big red losers of Bradley and the big red losers of Illinois State look like one big gloomy red convention each person seeming to be muttering, "What the hell did I drive to St. Louis for, anyway."
When I arrive at the stadium on Sunday for the finals, it is a sea of yellow and indigo. I approach a cluster of yellow clad Shockers and ask if anyone has an extra ticket. I am sold one under a single condition. I can not root against the shockers.
These seats are as close as yesterday's were distant. I am five rows from the court. Directly behind me are Illinois State rooters who decided to stick around and watch the finals. Behind me to my right is a professor from Oklahoma who comes to the Missouri Valley tournament annually simply because he loves the energy. In front of me are three very serious fans from the University of Northern Iowa. The section to my right behind the basket is filled with student crazies. These UNI purple clad folks seem to be standing for the whole game. One guy is wearing a tank top, with "sixth man" scrawled on his arms. He has the words, "Fear the Burn" written on the shirt. I ask my neighbors from Iowa why he has the shirt. It seems as if one of the UNI players has sideburns. I look more carefully at the fan and see that he has used eyebrow pencil to draw side burns on his face. And I see three other fanatics similarly attired with "Fear the Burn" shirts and penciled in markings along their cheeks.
The Shockers are ahead at half time, but succumb to UNI in the second half. Just before the game concludes, three diehards from Drake--a team that was eliminated TWO NIGHTS AGO---stand up and chant, "Let's Go Drake, Let's Go Drake. Let's Go Drake" Then they leave despondently. UNI fans in the stands hold up a sign that derides the opponent. It reads, "Wichita is NOT a State!!"
UNI wins the tournament and rushes the court as time expires. The music plays, "We are the champions." The UNI players are jumping around like they have ants in their pants. At one point the camera sees them exulting and then the players really do the dance for the cameras, jumping up and down like they are maniacs. There is an award ceremony and the players now wearing caps and tee shirts get up on a stage. The fans are screaming hosannahs. It is purple wide in the Scottrade center.
I get up to leave, but just as I exit, I hear the theme song from One Shining Moment. One Shining Moment is the song played at the end of the NCAA tournament. Apparently ARCH Madness has its own version. So to the tune of One Shining Moment the players and their supporters swoon. M/Arch madness.