NCAA Final Four – New Orleans, LA
Every person’s sports fandom is shaped by their experiences, which turn into memories, and those memories serve as a foundation for future sports enthusiasm. Fond childhood memories for a great game, player, or team will undoubtedly influence your sports fandom as an adult. Often times it’s an experience with a winning team/player that leave the biggest and best memories. Everyone remembers their first experience being a part of a winning fanbase.
For Jackie it was the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings. For me, the first time that I remember my team winning was the 1995 UCLA Bruins. I was too young for the Dodgers and Lakers championships of the late 80s, and I had just turned 8 when Magic Johnson retired for the first time. Both of my parents went to UCLA, so the amount of football games attended combined with hats and t-shirts owned over the years had already shaped me into a UCLA sports fan. But 1995 was the first time that I really felt included in a team’s victory. It was the first time that MY team was the BEST.
The fact that it also included two of my bourgeoning passions, sports montages and basketball, didn’t hurt either. The pregame montages from that game are seared onto my brain, the first one being set to Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” (The Final Four was in Seattle that year) and the second one using “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from The Lion King (perfect for a 10 year old, right?). Those along with the famous “One Shining Moment” montage to close the game laid the groundwork for my current infatuation with sports clips set to music.
My parents videotaped the entire thing, a tape that I watched no less than twice a year until I graduated high school. I watched old “One Shining Moment” videos constantly, and was enamored with anything and everything March Madness. From brackets, to Cinderella stories and Finals Fours, I couldn’t and still can’t get enough of it. Anything can happen in a one-and-done situation, especially with the way that the college game is set up (only 40 minutes, 5 fouls, and a 35 second shot clock). Limited possessions means closer, more exciting games with possibly fantastic finishes.
March Madness has grown steadily in popularity over the last 10 years, placing it on par with the larger sporting events in the country like the Super Bowl and the World Series. Over 6 million people filled out a bracket this year for ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge, not to mention the countless undocumented office and family pools that get people excited to fill out brackets each year. It’s estimated that the amount gambled on the event in the country reaches north of $2.5 billion. But at its core it is still the tournament where everyone has a chance, where the little guy can shock the world.
Unfortunately, this year the Cinderellas were at a minimum. Although this year’s tournament hit its average number of upsets with 9 in the first round, five of them were a 9, 10, or 11 seed. Despite two HUGE upsets (Lehigh over Duke and Norfolk St. over Missouri), the Cinderella schools failed to reach further than the second round and the storied basketball programs were mostly left at the end. The Final Four this year had no first time entrants, and each team had at least one NCAA Championship in its history. The recent trend of small schools making a big splash came to an abrupt halt this year, with the Final Four seeds totaling only 9 points, the lowest total in 4 years.
Now, that doesn’t make it any less exciting of course. As we saw on Saturday both games were highly competitive, close games with some exceptional basketball on display. The fact that each school was a traditional powerhouse also meant that the basketball-game-in-a-football-stadium had a great atmosphere, as well as being the second highest attended Final Four ever. The first game saw a Bluegrass State rivalry as Kentucky institutions Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats faced off. After trailing for most of the game, the underdog Cardinals made a second half charge, trying the game up with 9:30 minutes to play and keeping within one scoring possession with as little as 6:30 left in the game. Kentucky’s superior talent and athleticism saw them start to pull away yet again, before one last ditch effort saw Louisville pull the game to within 5 point with 1:23 remaining. A frenzied play led to a Kentucky alley-oop dunk, cementing the Wildcats victory that evening. The second game proved just as exciting as the first game, as the Ohio State Buckeyes took on the perennial basketball power Kansas Jayhawks. Ohio State led nearly the entire game before a late surge by the Jayhawks saw the game tied up with 2:30 minutes remaining. Critical defensive plays and timely inside scoring saw Kansas pull off a thrilling victory that could have gone either way down the stretch.
So the tournament without a real Cinderella and searching for an overall identity finally found one with the Final Four. But as it turned out, it wasn’t any of the participating teams that were the star, it was the host city of New Orleans. We were apprehensive choosing a roving event like the Final Four for a state like Louisiana, that has its own rich sporting traditions. But as we came to find out, hosting large sporting events is precisely the sports tradition that makes the city of New Orleans great. This year alone, the Mercedes Benz Superdome will host the New Orleans Bowl, Sugar Bowl, BCS National Championship Game, NCAA Final Four, New Orleans Saints games, and it will host the Super Bowl in 2013. Only a few years removed from famously housing New Orleans residents as a ”shelter of last resort” during and after Hurricane Katrina, the Superdome will be the center of the sporting world for the foreseeable future.
Combined with year round events such as Mardi Gras, Jazz Festival, and various food festivals, it might become the new “city that never sleeps”. New Orleans is like Las Vegas in that sense, but with much more history, culture, and traditions. Tourism is definitely a year round enterprise, but the locals know how to keep the essence of New Orleans alive. Hospitality is definitely at the core of that essence, which allows the city to host so many different events with people and fans coming in from all over the country. That means that tons of young children will be experiencing great sports moments in the city of New Orleans, and turn those experiences into long lasting sports memories.
Here’s the 2012 CBS/NCAA One Shining Moment: