Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Hawk Never Dies

It was freezing in Buffalo during the first week in the tournament. I stayed at a hotel that was no more than three quarters of a mile from the arena.  But that was a long three quarters of a mile on the first day of Spring in Buffalo.  I overheard a fellow from Dayton, mostly jubilant because his team had defeated Ohio State in a thriller, say to his girlfriend. "How the hell does anybody live here." The wind and the blowing snow prompted the question.

That was three weeks ago. My March Madness odyssey to Buffalo for the first round, then New York for the Sweet Sixteen, and Dallas for the final four is now over.  There is much that I remember. Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, for example, I will never forget the game last night between Kentucky and Wisconsin.

One of the other things I am likely to remember is the first Thursday of the tournament in Buffalo where I nearly froze myself walking to the doubleheader between Connecticut and St. Joes, and then the nightcap of Villanova against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  I wrote about the following yesterday after Connecticut advanced to the championship game. St. Joe's had the first game won.  They really did. Connecticut, now a finalist, should have lost in the very first round.

But as much as the close game, I will recall the St. Joe's fans. I was seated in the student section. Painted kids took up several rows.  Bemused older alums sat nearby, not as decorated, but as passionate.  The students stood for nearly the entire game despite multiple warnings from ushers and complaints from nearby spectators.  I, at one point, had to put my fingers in my ears because the din was almost unbearable and incessant.  A woman to my left had played for the women's team at St. Joe's and she knew every member of the men's team. She and her husband were serious supporters.  A man in front of me, at least 40, must have been an alumnus because the simplest of successes ( a foul shot made) or failures, had him bounce up in the air alternately applauding or shaking his head.

When Connecticut tied the game at the end of regulation the fans sagged some. And when, in overtime, Connecticut clearly went ahead, the fans were sad.  But they did not leave.

The game was over. Literally over. The players were shaking hands.  And up from their seats, the faithful St. Joe's painted rooters, started chanting,

The Hawk Never Dies. The Hawk Never Dies.

The hawk mascot was flying around the court. The game was over. The team was dead, but the chant continued, The Hawk Never Dies. The Hawk Never Dies.

The enthusiasm for this tournament is remarkable for good reason.  Mercer beats Duke in the first round, Albany gives Florida a scare in the same afternoon.  Kentucky wins three games in a row with the same player hitting long threes.  UConn's run.

At my hotel after the game last night, some Wisconsin fans came into the lounge.  They had gone to the game, and were despondent but still said following the team had been wonderful.  A fellow seated to my right was an Arizona fan who had bought airline tickets to Dallas assuming his team would have been in the final four.  Team got knocked out, but he still came.  He and I talked basketball for a while.

The energy in the Sheraton Boston with the tall attendees talking basketball for twelve hours straight was something almost thrilling.  I meet a woman in the lobby who tells me her husband is at the game.  He and she are of normal size. She said that they felt like they were walking through a redwood forest as they tried to navigate the hotel registration lines.

There was great energy in every venue.  Buffalo, New York and Dallas.  That is why the tickets are expensive, the hotel rooms expensive, and the advertisers are boxing each other out to pay for the right to sell their product to the spectating public.

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