Home now after a trip down the Indulgence Strip, I-94 in Michigan. You like chocolate? There's a Chocolate Garden at exit 39. You like booze? Take the I-94 Pub Crawl. Just about every exit for the first 50 miles or so has a winery offering free samples. You'll be hammered by exit 12. Like more, um, adult indulgences? There's plenty of that too. There is even a town called Climax.
Sign seen: "Bad credit? We can help. Go to poopycredit.com" Try entering that into your browser with a straight face. You're on your own though - I'm not going there.
So, with time to reflect, here are the best and worst of my travels.
Best thing about Detroit: The locals. The people I encountered were universally friendly, whether they were there to serve or just hanging out.
Worst thing about Detroit: The layout. Everywhere I wanted to go, it was a pain to get there.
Second worst thing about Detroit: The downtown. There wasn't really enough to do there, unless you like to gamble.
Best meal: Filet at Cool Hand Luke's in Boise. The bartenders were great there too.
Best side: Beer-battered french fries in Canada.
Best facility: Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy. It's a little more intimate than Ford Field. It will be interesting to see how 70,000 sound there.
Biggest problem: Death trap hotel in Detroit. Glad I got out of that early.
Second biggest problem: Internet access. I felt like I was giving off bad vibes everywhere I went, all three weeks. The only place I went throughout my travels that I didn't have internet problems was Lucas Oil Stadium. And that includes my Mother-in-law's house.
Best band: Wisconsin.
Best cheerleaders: Louisville.
Best fans: Utah St. Honorable mention to Michigan St.
Best seat: Mine. In Boise, I was at center court. In Indy, I sat with an official's evaluator. In Detroit, I sat right behind a bench. Hard to pick one of those three as best.
Worst seat: Pick a corner at the top of Ford Field. "Can I see your ticket and passport please?"
April 6 - Detroit
Championship Monday started with the threat of major snowfall, but that never materialized. There were flurries in the air most of the day, but it added little to the inch or two we got the night before. Still, this wasn't what you'd call Chamber of Commerce weather, unless your Chamber of Commerce is sadistic. It was cold. It was windy. Or as we like to say in Chicago, it was Opening Day weather.
I met Denver Post writer John Henderson for lunch at Nemo's, which was one of my favorite places from last year's trip to Detroit. They have the best burgers in town. It's a bit of a dive bar (a term I use with affection) in the shadow of the old Tiger Stadium. It's a little too far from downtown to walk there though.
That's a pretty consistent theme for the week - it's a little too far to walk.
After hanging out with John, I walked over to Hoop City, the NCAA's fan fest. They have a lot of basketball games (around the world, beat the shot clock, pop-a-shots, etc.) and courts set up for some 3-on-3 games. There's actually a 3-on-3 tournament during the weekend, but it was already done by Monday. They have autograph sessions, clinics for kids, a face painting area, and whatnot. In fact, most of the activities are directed at kids. There are also areas for some of the major sponsors to show off their stuff.
I went back to the Marriott and hung out in the lobby/bar (once I found it) for a bit, killing some time and getting some rest before the big night. I ran into someone who compared our situation to being on a cruise ship. You're stuck inside (by the weather) and you don't really know where you're going.
I decided to head to the stadium early, like almost five hours early. I wanted to get set up, then go take in some of the atmosphere outside the stadium.
So, I rode the shuttle, which I only did a few times because they had so much trouble navigating traffic. This time, it was a pretty easy ride.
I made it down to the floor, and while I was waiting to figure out where I was sitting (seats usually change a little from one day to the next at the tournament because some of the local writers coving losing teams go home), I got to listen to the Temptations rehearse the national anthem. Wow, those guys are good. They aren't exactly spring chickens, but they haven't lost much over the years.
After getting set up, I took a walk outside. Parking near the stadium was going for as high as $40, but I overheard someone say that tickets could be had for $70 on the street. That's the lowest price I've heard in several years. I'm not sure what face value was, or how good those seats were.
I ended up in the bar across the street from the stadium, where 9,000 MSU fans and one Carolina fan were hanging out. The Carolina fan looked like a guy who had gotten on the wrong bus somewhere.
There was a local radio station doing a remote there. Pretty much every station in town had MSU stuff, signs, buttons, and so on. The guy handing out stuff for this station sees me in my suit and asks if he can, "partify your uniform. I know you just got off work dude, but you gotta lighten up." and gives me some beads. I was too busy trying to figure out if "partify" was a word to say no. And I didn't feel up to explaining that my work had not yet begun.
Before the game, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had a press conference talking about the 30th anniversary of the 1979 championship game between Indiana St and Michigan St. On top of that, you had Michael Jordan, John Stockton and David Robinson in the gym because they had just been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Those five guys could probably have taken the floor tonight and beaten any five other guys in the gym.
There were some other former players there. MSU alums Steve Smith and Kevin Willis were seated close behind me. Clark Kellogg, of course, did the game on CBS. There were surely some other UNC alums in the house, but I didn't see them.
The game itself was disappointing in terms of competitiveness. North Carolina was just too good. You can read the replay of the blog for more details on that.
After the game, I walked back to the media hotel (no point in sitting on the shuttle to nowhere) with Libby Sander, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. That is a publication that covers the issues facing colleges and universities, including athletic issues. I have a friend who is a professor and a subscriber who forwards me relevant articles once in a while. Libby was writing about the NCAA's negative reaction to the escalation of coaches salaries, even as it prepared for its most lavish event.
We were headed to the postgame media party, which the NCAA throws for us after the championship game every year. We had a hard time navigating the hotel maze, which Libby called "the Death Star," but we did eventually get there. While we were there, we found out about another party in the big suite on the 70th floor that a writer was in because his original room had flooded. That's quite an upgrade.
You know what? Detroit doesn't look to bad from 70 floors up at 3 AM. Maybe I was just in a fog.
I didn't get to bed until around 4:30. I knew I was in trouble when I got back to my hotel and the bellman said, "Good morning."
But the long night, and long season, had finally come to an end.
April 5 - Detroit
I neglected to mention one of the biggest things from Saturday night - I met NY Daily News writer Mike Lupica.
For those of you who don't know the background on this, click here.
I walked up to him and introduced myself, and he rolled his eyes, threw his head back, and said, "OK! Let me have it. Let me have it."
I had no intention of letting him have it. I'm a lover, not a fighter. I said, "I just wanted to say hello, and to show you that I do get out of my basement every once in a while."
He laughed, and then went on to tell me how much heat he got for that. Mike is a very physical talker. He moves around and uses his hands a lot, and the conversation can be a bit one-sided.
He was telling me how all that heat was undeserved because he wasn't the person who said I had something to do with the Harris poll. That's true (it was John Saunders), but he is the guy who took the cheap shot. I chose not to say that.
We also talked quite a bit about the whole BCS/playoff situation ("How do we fix this?" was his question), why there isn't a playoff, why one isn't coming anytime soon, the logistics of creating one, etc. I didn't have good news for him, but I think he knew I was right about how I see it.
Finally, he tells me a story.
"You know what happened there (on the Sports Reporters segment). It's like a father who is sitting with his two sons. The one who is farther away smarts off, and the father reaches up and slaps the closer one on the back of the head. The son who got slapped looks at his father and says, 'What did I do?' The father says, 'Nothing, but I couldn't reach him.' That's what happened to you, Jerry."
Oh, and if you are wondering if he apologized for the cheap shot, no he didn't. I didn't expect that, and that wasn't the point anyway. The point was to make him realize that I'm not some faceless geek and that I understand more than the numbers. I think I did that.
Sunday (Palm Sunday - yes, it's named for me) started with press conferences. Because Ford Field is so massive, they don't have enough room to do the press conferences all in one place, so we have to trek down two floors and walk the maze to the dungeon (which is actually up a level from the court), so we can talk to the coach and starters for each team. Then, after that, the starters go back up two floors to the breakout rooms, where reporters can get individual time with each player. In keeping with the theme, those are made up to look like dungeons too.
The breakout rooms and the media work room are on the same floor, so that's actually pretty convenient. There isn't much convenient about having the media room on the second floor except for that.
Roy Williams has been pretty feisty at the press conferences this year. If you have been reading along so far, you'll remember he complained in his opening remarks at a press conference at the regional about a lack of cookies. Yesterday, he beefed about having to stay an extra half hour for the presser.
"First of all, we're having a slight disagreement up here, because if I'm doing this now, don't expect me to stay around for 30 minutes after they leave. I have more important things to do than stand around here and make fun. Give you 30 minutes, I love doing it, but there's some other things I could be doing. They'll fire him, they won't fire me. Unless they lose and they don't like it, they'll fire me."
Geez, Roy. Act like you've been here before. It's not like we want to listen to another half hour of your whining.
Another thing Williams doesn't like is the raised floor. He thinks it isn't safe (and it isn't). "I don't like the safety. When we played Michigan State here before, we had a guy go off the court, one of Michigan State's players, I don't know if it was Raymar or who, but that scared me. I almost fell off the stupid court. That scared me."
There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of questions about the significance of MSU possibly winning to the city of Detroit. The most interesting of the answers came from MSU G Travis Walton, who said that MSU being here was, "God's deliverance" - an answer to the prayers of many locals. Not that they were praying MSU would win, but that they were praying for something to keep their minds off their troubles. My guess is they're praying for jobs, but maybe he's right.
Michgan St has a chance to beat three #1 seeds to win the title. That has only happened once before (Arizona, 1997).
It wouldn't be a day without internet trouble. Yesterday, the wireless internet in the media work room crashed, much to the dismay of those writing on deadline. Fortunately, I was not among those, but I left anyway, fearing that I am causing some bad internet mojo. Access problems seem to be following me here.
Tyler Hansbrough told us that he's had to change his phone number five times because he gets so many crank calls. Also, he said that the biggest reason he came back for his senior year was that he just likes being in college.
The strange question of the day - Ty Lawson was asked about having had a bad reaction to something he ate the other day, and whether he was worried about being poisoned. Seriously.
After the press conferences, I decided to try my luck with Canada again. This time, I was going on purpose. The traffic trying to get into Canada was very backed up, but I had no trouble at the customs gate this time when I finally arrived. On my way through the tunnel, we saw an ambulance headed back toward the US with its lights flashing. I wonder what would cause a need for an ambulance to go across the border.
I went over to check out the Caesars casino because that's where the coaches were staying. By Sunday though, many of them are usually gone, and that seemed to be the case again.
The casino is huge - at least two floors. It's nicer than the MGM Grand in two ways. Because it's so big, things are spread out a little more, so it doesn't seem so cramped. Also, there's no smoking in the casino.
It's also illegal in Canada to smoke in a car if there are passengers 16 and under.
I walked around downtown looking for a bite to eat after checking out the casino. Because it was Sunday, a lot of places were closed, but I did find a sports bar where they had pitchers of beer that came in a 3-foot tall tube, with a cylinder of ice in the middle (to keep it cold) and a spigot at the bottom. I couldn't get Labatt's though. They were out. How can you be out of Labatt's in Canada? They did have beer-battered french fries, and those were pretty good. They also had a menu of Boilermakers. I've seen martini menus before, but never one for Boilermakers. I might be a Boilermaker, but I rarely drink them. Killer hangovers, so I passed.
The traffic back to the states was light, so the trip was easier, but I got a harder time from the customs guy. "What is your citizenship?" he asks, after I have given him my passport. Did he not read it? He also gave me a hard time about it being expired (although an expired passport is OK for travel between US and Canada until June 1st). I thought I was going to have to assume a position, but he let me go.
Last night, I went to the Runyon's party. That's basically for East coast basketball types, including some coaches and media. I hung out some with one of my roomies from San Antonio last year, Drexel assistant coach Tony Childs (TC), and his boss, Bruiser Flint. I also got to meet Shelley Smith of ESPN and St. John's coach Norm Roberts, as well as Tom O'Connor and Gary Walters, the ADs of George Mason and Princeton, respectively. I also chatted with some of the guys from Maguire U, a Chicago-based society of college hoops junkies that I have always wanted to be a part of. That might happen.
I had to make an early night of it though. Early, meaning I was done a little after 1 AM. I walked back to my car (you might think this is a stupid thing to do in Detroit, but there are a LOT of cops around) and drove back to my hotel. I didn't arrive until after 2 AM though because it was snowing pretty good here. There were snowflakes the size of my head. We ended up with only an inch or so, but the roads weren't so great last night. It's snowing here again today, and they're saying we may get as much as nine inches. yay.
April 4 - Detroit
Saturday was all about the games, but I can't just have a quiet day. So, I decided to change hotels.
The place I was in was a disaster, but it took me a couple of days to figure it out, mostly because I spent very little time in my hotel when I travel. Yesterday morning, I saw a smoke detector disconnected and lying on a shelf. Then, I looked up at the ceiling and saw the outlet box for the smoke detector sitting open with exposed wires in it. Good bye.
I'm now a little further away in a much nicer place thanks to the folks at Hotwire, who will not likely ever send anyone to the first place I was at again.
It's also not a trip to the Final Four for me without internet access issues. Last year, I had a harder time finding internet access in San Antonio than I did getting into Canada without proper documentation. This year hasn't been much different.
I switched rooms in my first hotel because internet access didn't work. I went to a coffee shop downtown with free internet access, but that didn't work either. In the arena last night, the NCAA tradition of spotty, to be generous, internet access continued. My internet, which the NCAA charges us for, by the way, didn't work during the first half of the Villanova-UNC game. In the second half, the woman who runs Ford Field gave me a spot next to her on press row that had a network cable, so I could get wired access. She told me they were going to put cables everywhere for Monday, or at least install as many as they had time to do.
Then, when I got to my new hotel, the internet wasn't working here either, but it got fixed pretty quickly.
Apparently, I give off some bad electrical impulses, because routers fail when I approach.
I was hoping to get to Hoop City yesterday, but the hotel switch ruined that. Instead, I hung out a bit with my agent, Dave Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The media shuttles here have had a difficult time getting to and from the stadium. Walking has invariably been faster, but we rode the shuttle yesterday anyway. After the game, we tried the shuttle, but it got snarled in traffic, so half way there, we all bailed out and walked. Detroit - You Can't Get There From Here.
The games themselves were great. If you read the replay of the blog, you can see what I thought about the games themselves. I had a great seat, behind the UConn and Villanova bench (I guess I jinx more than routers - both teams lost). My original seat was at the back press table behind the far end of the bench. My new seat for the second half of Nova-UNC was right behind the coaches. That is a great place to watch a game. In fact, I found myself watching the bench almost as much as the game.
They had over 72,000 people in the stadium last night, but you would have a hard time believing it. Even at full roar, I never had to raise my voice to speak to someone sitting with me. It sounds like people watching the game off in a distance. Michigan St had many more fans here than the other schools, more than the others combined, but the noise factor is much bigger on their home floor at the Breslin Center than it is here. There's no crowd advantage for the Spartans, or anyone else.
To try to ramp up the atmosphere a bit, the NCAA put microphones in some places. The bands, for example, were miked up, and that helps, because I could barely hear the UConn band, which was across the court from me. The UNC and MSU bands were at the opposite ends, and I would have never heard those at all if they weren't miked.
The NCAA also put microphones on the rim, so every time the ball hit the rim, or a player grabbed it on a dunk, there would be this loud, reverberating clunk. That has to be the silliest thing I've ever heard. And to make matters worse, they turned up the volume on one of the rims in the first half of the UConn-MSU game, so it was much louder than the other one. I have a hard time thinking of anything more pointless than making sure that the sound of the ball hitting the rim echoes across the city of Detroit.
One of the very cool things the NCAA did this year was set up student sections behind each basket. Four hundred students at each school paid $20 for a general admission seat in a special section. That's $20 for the whole weekend, not per session. I talked to a few after the game, and they liked the section, although they thought it was much easier to see near the front than in the back.
Before the UConn game, their students gave the school president a big standing O and chanted his name when he came into the arena. You don't usually see that much love for a school president.
After the games, I was gassed, so all I did was go back to the hotel and crash. On Sunday, I'm getting to Hoop City, some the team press conferences, and - dare I say it? - I might even try to go to Canada. Someone alert Homeland Security!
April 3 - Detroit
Friday was open practice day at the stadium. Michigan St went first, which meant big crowds. It was the largest I've seen at an open practice in the eight Final Fours I have covered. Spartan fans filled the lower deck from baseline to baseline on both sides.
Everything around here is MSU, MSU, MSU. The local paper advertises that this is "Spartytown" on its boxes. They were going to put a MSU jersey on the main statue down here, but it cost too much to do it. There's so much green around here, you'd think it was St. Patrick's Day.
I decided not to fight the crowds, so I drove to the Renaissance Center, where the media hotel is, and took the shuttle the 10 blocks to the stadium. That took roughly forever, and we only made it eight blocks before the driver gave up and said that was a close as he could get us. I'm going to have to get an earlier start on Saturday or I'll never get there.
The bus did have wi-fi internet access on it. That's a pretty unusual feature for a bus. I didn't try it though.
Once you get to the stadium - not inside yet - you have to go through the security bag check. So, we're lined up outside in the cold getting our bags checked and patted down. Last year, they did that inside. Actually, they do it inside here too, so we get to go through it twice. I haven't figured out the point of that yet.
The setup at Ford Field the same as it was last year for the regional. The court is in the center, and temporary seating fills the football field up to the court.
Unlike Indianapolis though, getting to and from the floor is a lot of work. There are no floor-level bathrooms, so they have brought in port-a-potties for the media, etc., but you have to walk up a long ramp to get to them. Last year, at the regional, one of them blew up and left a river of water (and fortunately nothing else) flowing down the ramp all weekend. Hopefully we'll escape that fate this year.
What they need are shuttles or cabs to get people there and back. It's that far away.
As I was entering the floor for open practice, some wheelchair basketball players were trying to go up the ramp. They seemed to be managing OK (it was still close to the bottom), but I thought it would be nice if they had something like a tow rope like they use for skiing to help them up. It's kind of a steep ramp. But, I digress.
The media work room is on the second floor. That's up a ramp, through a maze of hallways (everything around here is laid out like a maze - everywhere I go, I feel like a mouse looking for the cheese), up the elevators, show your passport, go through customs, and there's the work room.
It turns out that my seat on press row is as far away from that ramp as possible. As you face the benches, I'm in the back press row on the right baseline. That's actually a pretty good seat. I was behind the bench here last year too, as well as at the Final Four. I like seeing what goes on there.
I didn't actually watch much of the practice session this year. I did a lot of talking with some other media folks I haven't seen in a while, and I had to be somewhere else in the afternoon, so I couldn't stay for the others.
I did get to say hello to my favorite NCAA staffer, Jeanne Boyd, the Tournament Queen (it says so right there on her business card, so far as I know). Everyone here, of course, has their very official looking credential around their necks. They're laminated, they have photos, they are almost suitable for framing. Jeanne was walking around with a post-it note with her name on it on a string dangling around her neck. Obviously, security felt that was good enough.
I finally made it back to the Marriott, but I had to walk. I couldn't find the shuttle, and they probably couldn't find us. The Marriott and the GM building are part of the same complex, and it's designed like a casino. You can get, but good luck finding a way out. Mazes (there's that word again) of escalators, levels of rings and bridges, none of which seem to connect. I did two laps around one ring trying to find a way up to the next one and never did. Then, when I tried to find my way out, I had trouble with that too and had to ask for help. And that was before I started drinking.
After a quick dinner, it was off to the MGM Grand casino again to do some TV back in Chicago. The show is Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast Sports Net there, which is hosted by David Kaplan. This show was mostly about the Final Four, although there was a little Jay Cutler talk too, but the setup was that there would be three guests in each segment, and they would switch out guests during the commercial break.
It was like watching a youth hockey line change. They had about a minute and a half to get three people unhooked from the microphone (more on that in a minute), out of the chairs, and three more in and miked up.
Now, that sounds easy, but it's not. Sometimes, the guests got distracted talking to each other during the break and weren't really focused on getting on and off the set. At least twice, a light stand got kicked over as people shuffled in and out. The microphones looked like wires with macadamia nuts stuck to the end, that had a reverse eyeglass frame attachment, so it wasn't trivial to get it on and off, and to then attach the wire on the back of the guest so it would be hidden.
The way it works is, you hook the contraption over your ears, like glasses, a wire (like a coat hanger) goes around the back of your head to help hold it on, and the wire with the macadamia nut sticks out close to the side of your mouth.
When I was on, I actually did have a macadamia nut at the end of my wire. Or I might as well have, because whatever it was wasn't working. Fortunately, I'm loud, so I could just yell at Shannon Ryan, who was sitting next to me on the set, and her nut could pick up my voice.
By the end of the show, two of the nuts were gone (I think some of the guests ate them by mistake), and were replaced by hand-held microphones. I'm sure it all looked reasonably smooth on the air.
I walked around the casino a bit afterwards, pondering whether to lose some money (I didn't), and noticed that one of the bars was hosting something called a "Brick Layer's Ball." That does not sound like a basketball-friendly event to me.
The casino makes every effort to make sure people are happy and losing money. If you sit at one of the bars, there's a good chance you can play video poker right there at your seat. They have waitresses in pretty skimpy outfits (at least one left very little to the imagination) walking around the floor hawking shots of whatever. Keep 'em drinking, keep 'em losing.
I ended up doing a little bar hopping last night, thanks to a couple of locals that I met in the first bar I went to. Once they found out I was a writer, they wanted to make sure I had nothing bad to say about Detroit, so they took me around to a couple of places with some live music. One was an Irish bar, with a band playing a mix of classic rock and Irish folk tunes. The other was more of a jazz club. Both places were good times, so mission accomplished. I have nothing bad to say about Detroit from last night.
The weather here has taken a turn for the worse. We had a nice, summery day on Thursday. On Friday, it was winter again. The temperature and wind speed were about the same - 40. They're predicting some snow on Monday and Tuesday.
April 2 - Detroit
Many people approached coming to Detroit for the Final Four with some trepidation. I was here last year for the regional, and I can say there was definitely good reason for that. This is a city that is hurting economically. We all are, of course, but it's worse here.
In fact, in anticipation, we media folks received a note from the NCAA that asked us, in part and in not so many words, to take it easy on Detroit.
So, I'll do my part. It's in better shape than last year. Yesterday was Chamber of Commerce perfect here. Sunny and 68 degrees. That gave me an opportunity to do some walking around. There is still an "under construction" feel to the place, especially in the part of downtown where Ford Field and Comerica Park are. There are a few more bars and restaurants around than last year, but there are still entire blocks with nothing or dilapidated buildings. So, there is still work to do.
There is an area of town here called "Corktown." Ironically, it's where the old Tiger Stadium is. Makes you wonder about the bats they used back then.
The Red Wings had a home game last night, so I walked with the throng over to Joe Louis Arena to take a look. It is quite a circuitous route. You have to go through a gauntlet of beggars (there are a LOT of those here - I suspect a function of the local economy), up a silo, and over a bridge to get there. Nearly everyone - I'd say 80% - of the fans had Red Wings jerseys on. And four poor souls wearing the gear of the St. Louis Blues, yesterday's opponent.
I did spend quite a bit of time in one of the casinos here, the MGM Grand. I had a radio appearance on a show being broadcast back in Chicago. The show was in one of the bars in there called "U Me Drink," which sounds like a caveman pickup line.
I'm not a casino guy. We have them where I live, but I haven't been. There's a lot of smoke (it seems like everyone here smokes), although the smoke isn't as bad as I have heard about. The one thing that stood out to me is that all those people playing the slots - none of them looked like they were having any fun. Lots of long faces. The people at the gaming tables seemed to be enjoying themselves more. Maybe I'll try and lose a dollar or two tomorrow when I go back. We'll see.
The show I was on is usually strictly Final Four talk, with a parade of coaches (and me). But, yesterday, the Bears made a big trade, getting QB Jay Cutler from the Broncos for Kyle Orton (a fellow Boiler) and two first-round draft picks.
I have no doubt this move will be greeted with great joy in Chicago, but I'm not that excited about it. I think they overpaid, and I don't like guys who whine their way out of town.
Cutler is considered a franchise QB, but he hasn't played like one. His QB rating in two years as a full-time starter in Denver is about 87. Kyle Orton's first year as a legitimate starter for the Bears was last year. His rating was 79.6, but he played the second half of the season on a bad ankle. Prior to the injury (which caused him to miss a game and a half), his rating was 90.8. And Cutler had a better supporting cast.
In the most important stat category, Cutler was 15-17 as a starter in two years, no playoffs. Orton didn't make the playoffs last year either.
Now, I'm not saying Orton is better. We never found out how good he could be. He never got a fair chance. Maybe he'll get that in Denver.
What I am saying is that if Cutler is as good as everyone says he is, it doesn't show up on paper, and I'm not so sure the Broncos would have been so itchy to trade him if he were the second coming of Joe Montana.
And the Bears are going to pay him a lot more money than they were paying Orton, and gave up two first round picks (and a third) to get him (and also a fifth round pick).
Of course, the standard at the QB position in Chicago is so low, they'd settle for the second coming of Jim Harbaugh.
Enough football talk. On the show last night were Bo Ryan, Frank Martin, Rob Jeter, Tom Izzo, Bob Huggins NC guard Bobby Frasor, and former coaches Charlie Spoonhour and Dick Versace. I argued a bit with Huggins (about which conference is best) and Versace (about the selection process/RPI). There were no injuries reported.
Well, my day got off to an interesting start. As I wrote before, I am without internet access at my Mother-in-law's, so I am forced to work away from home. That was not the end of my bad luck for the day.
As I arrived at the stadium and was getting ready to go in, I unzipped my coat so I would be able to show the security folks my credential, and as soon as I did that, a big gust of wind (there was a lot of that today) grabbed it, ripped it off my lanyard, and blew it through the parking lot and down the street.
So, I started chasing it with my 95 lb. computer bag on my back. Fortunately, it got caught in a bush, or I would have probably had to chase it to Kokomo.
Then, when I got inside and unpacked my computer, one of the little screws popped out of the back. That's not fatal, but I didn't want to lose it. I used to carry a screwdriver in my bag for just such an occasion, but since airports don't let you carry those on anymore, I took it out.
It took me about a half an hour to find the person who had tools, but eventually I did, and I got my screw back in. I was kind of hoping as I was asking around for a screwdriver, someone would produce vodka and orange juice, but no luck there either.
I had the same seat again, so I was sitting with Reggie Cofer, the officials evaluator again. Things did not go as well for tonight's crew as they did for Friday's. I'll be surprised if any of them are in Detroit.
After Earl Clark shuffled his feet before a drive to the basket (no call), I asked Reggie about why that doesn't seem to get called much, and he said that if the ref doesn't catch it, or didn't notice which foot was pivot, they're taught to let it go. Better to miss a travel than call one that isn't there.
After the game, the clean up crew unplugged my computer while I was down the row talking to Bob Valvano (who does radio for Louisville). It was still on, but my battery life is pretty bad, so it wouldn't last long. I thought they could have given me a few more minutes.
So, with Indy now behind us, here are some of the bests and worsts:
Best fans: Louisville. They turned up in droves. They also took the tough loss as well as could be hoped for.
Best band: Michigan St. Always great, and did not disappoint.
Best food: Pulled pork sandwiches for lunch today. Honorable mention - pretzel rods on the snack table.
Worst food: Diet Coke. Not that Diet Coke is bad - I like it - but they kept running out.
Best cheerleaders: Louisville. And a great dance team too.
Worst cop: The guy who walked up to the media shuttle while we were stuck in traffic and chastised our driver for crossing the double yellow line to go around a car that was stuck trying to merge out of our lane. And the road was closed, so no traffic was coming the other way.
You'll notice not too many worsts. The fans for all four teams were great, really. There wasn't much bad of note off the court. Arizona's on-court performance was an utter disaster.
One thing that needs to get fixed before next year is the traffic flow and parking. I assume the Hoosier Dome space will be used for parking when they get it cleared, but the traffic around the stadium is a nightmare. I can only imagine what it's like when they Colts put twice as many people in the place.
March 28 - Indianapolis
The day started with press conferences for both teams.
We learned that Raymar Morgan did suffer a broken nose the other night. He'll be wearing a mask on Sunday. He can call Purdue's Chris Kramer for advice on that.
During the press conference, MSU freshman Delvon Roe was asked about what is he has learned from his tournament experience.
He said, "Basically that everything is up a notch. Everything in practice is more serious. You can't get away with little things that you can get away with earlier in the season."
As he was saying that, Izzo was trying to stifle a laugh.
Izzo almost lost it again (he had to cover his face) when his players were talking about the War Drill, which is basically no-rules basketball. No fouls. No out-of-bounds.
They also talked about practicing in football pads, which Izzo breaks out once in a while. He made fun of Goran Suton, a Bosnian, still not being able to buckle a chin strap.
Kalin Lucas was asked about which teams they have played already remind him the most of Louisville and he said Purdue and Illinois because of how they pressure the ball. Purdue and Illinois don't full-court press though. Purdue will have a man on the ball all the way up the floor, but there are no traps or anything like that. This will be the first time MSU sees a press like this.
Rick Pitino took a shot at Arizona without mentioning them by name, and I'm sure without intention.
He said, "We realize that it will be a lot more difficult to get open shots tomorrow (than against Arizona). We'll be playing against very intense man-to-man defense."
Terrence Williams is always the most entertaining Louisville player. When asked about freshman Samardo Samuels, he said, "What I like about him is that he's humble. He was one of the best players in high school, but he's still humble. I was nothing in high school and I wasn't humble."
When he was asked about what makes Pitino such a good coach, he said, "It's not Xs and Os. It's that he coaches everyone the same. From 1 to 13 on the team, everyone gets the same coaching."
Williams said he saw Morgan in the mall and, "was surprised how tall he is." He said he didn't talk to him though. "I don't talk to other players."
He also said he smiles a lot so advertisers may like him someday. "McDonald's love people who smile. I'm lovin' it!"
On the big play by Kalin Lucas near the end of the Kansas game: "That was an NBA play. The ref could have let that go."
On what it would mean to win a championship: "It means they'll probably retire my jersey."
Finally, he was asked about the Kentucky coaching situation. The questioner got a quizzical look back, then, "Whatever happens up the road, down the road, wherever they are, don't mean anything to us at all. [big pause] At all."
The best quote of the day did not come from Indy, but Boston. Roy Williams' opening statement at his press conference consisted of, "We'll try to make this quick because we do have to go to practice here in a little bit."
"I think as much money as we're making off this tournament, we ought to be able to afford more than one freakin' cookie back in the room there. I think NCAA can afford more than that. Other than that, we're happy to be here.
"Hey, if we don't have any cookies later on, it's Norm's fault."
I don't know who Norm is. Maybe he's the Cookie Monster.
Downtown Indy was crowded yesterday. The four boys state title games were played at Conseco yesterday, so there were a LOT of HS kids running around. I found it difficult to find a place to watch the games, so I eventually headed out of downtown.
At the place I ended up, I found a chatty bartender, which is always nice, because I don't mind the conversation, but I'm almost always by myself. This guy recognized my site (I was wearing a CollegeRPI.com shirt). Being recognized, either personally or my site, almost never happens. Maybe three or four times ever. But he is a big college hoops fan, so that turned out to be a good place to watch the games.
We had some severe weather in the Indy area on Saturday. Lightning struck very close to my Mother-in-law's house, which is where I am staying this weekend. You can see a picture of what is left of the tree it hit on the picture page.
March 27 - Indianapolis
I hung out for a little while in downtown Indianapolis before the game yesterday. There were a lot of fans about, although not as many from Arizona as the other schools. They had the longest trip, of course. That was true in the arena as well. Louisville had the most, but Michigan St wasn't far behind, and Kansas turned out reasonably well too.
One of the nice things about having this event in Indy is that you can walk the downtown and find things to do. Lucas Oil Stadium is just south of where the Hoosier Dome used to be, so it's a slightly longer walk from downtown than it used to be, but still, not more than four or five blocks. I walked it both to and from the game. The first time, traffic was so bad, walking was faster than taking the shuttle. After the game, we (I was with Marlen Garcia of USA Today and Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune) just missed the shuttle, so walking was faster than waiting.
On Saturday, I'll do a little more walking, but only to find a place to watch the games.
Poor Gregg Doyel. My CBS colleague had a seat right by the Arizona band, and it was a bit too loud for him. You'd think a rocker dude like him could handle the noise, but I guess not. So, he went looking for something to stuff in his ear. He saw a box of kleenex in front of someone else on press row and asked if he could have one. He told me later that he got it, "but he didn't want to give it to me. You would have though I was asking for 20 bucks!"
Feeling sorry for Gregg, I dug my little travel pouch of kleenex out of my bag and brought it to him. I got it at a Purdue alumni event a while ago, so it has the Purdue logo on it. Gregg thanked me, noticed the logo, and said, "Purdue alumni, eh? I'll think of you every time I blow my nose."
It's always nice to be thought of.
I had a good seat on Friday. I was right across from the Arizona and MSU bench at about the free throw line, but that's not why it was a good seat. It was a good seat because I sat next to one of the officials evaluators, Reggie Cofer.
For a former ref like me, that was pretty cool. I have had a seat next to an evaluator before, but I didn't really get to chat him up much.
However, Reggie and I chatted quite a bit during the breaks (I didn't want to interrupt him when he was writing). I learned a lot about his process. He has a monitor in front of him so he can watch replays, and he takes copious notes. He's judges them on everything, mechanics, communication, and the calls themselves, of course. He has a page-and-a-half form where each ref is judged as unsatisfactory, satisfactory or excellent in several categories, including specific rules, like block/charge.
There are ten refs at this region, three for each game, plus one standby, who is the standby for all three games. His evaluations, plus those of the others here (he was not the only one), will help determine who moves on to the Final Four.
Reggie used to work the ACC, SEC and Big East, and told me he misses being out there. He isn't a young guy, but he's not as old as some of the guys still working either. It was fun to sit with him and get his quick takes on certain calls. You would be surprised how much the refs get right, or at least they did last night.
We also shared some officiating stories, made fun of some of the loudmouths behind us who were yelling at the refs, etc.
I'll share one of his stories. He said he wasn't the greatest at the witty one-liner that diffuses situations or calms people down, but one game, a coach was up on the sidelines signaling everything he thought he saw. Traveling, charge, hacks, whatever. After about five minutes of that, Reggie goes up to him and says, "Coach, there are only three people here authorized to use those signals, and you aren't one of them." The coach just busted out laughing, but also stopped with the signals.
I'll probably have a different seat on Sunday. Too bad.
March 26 - Indianapolis
The floor placement here follows the new standard for domes - in the center of the arena with a lot of temporary seating around it, in addition to the arena seating. Because it's a regional, the upper deck is curtained off. Also curtained off are the windows at the north and south ends. Apparently, when the north window is open, people in the right hotel rooms north of the stadium can watch the games on the big screen TVs in the stadium. Kind of like a pseudo-Wrigley rooftop. The NCAA is not using the big screen that is visible from the hotels anyway.
The capacity for this event is 39,000, and at last report, tickets were still available.
The middle deck, or the highest one that will be used on Friday, was closed for the open practice, so I was only able to get a picture from the worst seat on the lower deck. I'm not sure it was still in Marion County, but at least unlike Detroit, you don't need a passport to get there.
I'm not sure about Louisville or Arizona, but both Michigan St and Kansas have played in a dome set up this way before, both in Detroit.
I saw Kansas assistant Danny Manning watching Arizona practice, so I asked him if he was scouting. He laughed and said, "No, just watching."
Former Missouri St coach Barry Hinson is working with Kansas, but he's not a coach. He's the Director of External Relations, which at least in part means keeping the program in touch with it's alumni. He said he still got several calls on Selection Sunday to talk about his disappointments on that day in the past.
Louisville was almost ten minutes late for its open practice session, which lasts 50 minutes, and then left 15 minutes early, although they signed some autographs on the way out.
Speaking of autographs, as I was walking between the stands and the media tables during a dead time, these two hotties asked me for an autograph. Just not my autograph. They asked me to take their programs down to a couple of MSU assistant coaches and ask them to sign them. That doesn't really follow protocol, but open practice day is pretty casual, so I did. When I returned the programs, I joked that I got the autographs, but couldn't get the coaches' phone numbers for them.
I saw Horizon league commissioner Jon LeCrone. His league, along with Butler, is the host here and he is the most recent selection committee alumnus. His term expired last year.
I asked him about the benefits of hosting, especially for a school, because it means not being able to play here. He said that the benefits are in branding and in the experience it gives his staff. For a school like Butler, that may or may not outweigh not being able to play here (note - ASU is in a similar situation in the West region, but Memphis could not play in the South region whether it hosted or not because those games are on its home floor). He thinks you'll see individual schools move away from hosting neutral courts and that conferences will host instead.
Michigan St was the last team to practice, and one of their players had the filthiest mouth. Every time he shot, he'd have some four-letter comment about it. Not one sentence came out of his mouth that didn't have at least one word that was not really suitable for most of the kids there watching (and the audience was definitely family-heavy). Someone needed to pull that kid aside and tell him to consider his audience. Of course, he'd have probably said something like, "very bad word the audience!"
Here are a few quotes from the locker rooms.
Terrence Williams, Louisville, on playing in a dome: "We could play on my high school football field, and I wouldn't care. As long as it has two goals, a regulation court, and a ball that bounces, we'll be all right."
Tom Izzo, Michigan St coach, on having already played Kansas: "We know what they're going to do. They know what we're going to do. It's all about who executes the best, who shoots the best, shoots free throws the best and stays out of foul trouble."
Izzo on being back in Indy, the site of one of his national titles: "I'm sorry they tore that place down (the Hoosier Dome). You can see the pile of dirt where it used to be from my hotel window. I was telling my 9-year-old son that's where Daddy won a national title. I think he cared more about the dirt."
I watched the Purdue-UConn game at Average Joe's in the Broad Ripple neighborhood of Indianapolis, where Boilermaker fans hang out. Among the 100 or so in the old gold-and-black crowd were former Boilermaker Craig Riley, and Pete Lougheed, who was a backup TE on Purdue's Rose Bowl team in 2000.
There are pictures from today's open practice session posted.
March 22 - Boise
We had two pretty good games here yesterday, with Xavier and Missouri advancing. I'll be leaving here now and headed to Indianapolis for the Midwest regional next week.
In the postgame press conference, Xavier players BJ Raymond and Derrick Brown showed up still in uniform, but sporting sparkly little diamond stud earrings in each ear. They were twinsies!
After the Xavier-Wisconsin game, there was an issue with one of the scoreboards where Wisconsin's name still appeared in Marquette's place. The other scoreboard didn't have that problem. I guess they could not get it fixed, so eventually, they just taped a little banner over it that said "Marquette."
Dominic James did play about 17 minutes against Missouri, and while he wasn't much of a threat on offense, he did pretty well otherwise. It was the only time he was held scoreless in his career at Marquette.
The Taco Bell arena has no Taco Bell concessions inside. However, the media was given tacos for lunch. I'm not sure that's the best choice of a pregame meal, but you eat what you're given. I was just glad I didn't end up wearing some of it.
Before the game, I was standing at a TV watching the end of the first half of Syracuse-Arizona St with radio analyst, and former ASU and Michigan coach Bill Frieder. At one point, I said to him, "Not much defense being played, is there?"
He said, rather disdainfully, "Well, they're playing zone."
I also got to chat for five minutes or so with UCLA AD Dan Guerrero, who will be the chairman of the selection committee next year. He's looking forward to that challenge. We talked about some of the difficulties sorting out the bottom of the bracket, but one thing he didn't say - and I know better than to ask - is which team was left out when Mississippi St won.
He did say that as they were talking about those last few teams, everyone has warts on their profiles, so sometimes you just have to step back and ask, "Who's really better?"
After the games, I found a little bar here that offered something called "neo-ameripolitan" Pizza. I chided the bartender for making that word up. She swears that "ameripolitan" pizza is a real thing, and that you have to get certified by some outfit in San Francisco (of course) to use the term, which is why they have to put "neo-" in front of it.
Whatever they call it, it was good, but it was pizza. It's hard to mess that up.
You also have to like a place that quotes Dave Barry on the menu (or at least I have to like it): "Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."
Boise is now headed for my rearview mirror. It seemed like I could hardly talk to anyone about coming here without them saying something like, "Oh, too bad you got stuck in Boise."
Well, stick me here again sometime. It's a nice little city (about the size of Aurora, IL). It has a nice downtown you can walk. The city is clean, the people are friendly, and there are things to do. I didn't get out as much as I might normally because of work, but I'd come back again anytime.
March 21 - Boise
Today was the off day, so I spent a little time walking around downtown Boise. One of the nice things about Boise is that you can pretty much walk the whole downtown. There are a lot of mom-and-pop stores here, little shops, boutiques, and a good half a dozen coffee shops, only one of which is a Starbucks.
There's also a number of bars and restaurants, again, very few chains. Or at least very few that we have in the Midwest anyway. That's been nice for me because I can try someplace different every time I go out and not run out of places to try.
One of the night clubs was advertising a "leather and lace erotic ball." "No cover," it said. That's kind of the point, isn't it?
Fortunately for us, our press conferences were during the bad games of the day. Marquette was the first team to practice and the first to the podium. Nobody said a word about Dominic James working out with them during practice. His name hardly came up during the press conference. Then, about 12 hours later (after I was in bed, so you know it's late), Marquette sent out a press release saying James would suit up and play against Missouri on Sunday.
It rained quite a bit here yesterday afternoon and evening, so I didn't get as many pictures as I would have liked.
March 20, evening session - Boise
The evening session started with Xavier and Portland St. The crowd was kind of light until halftime, when the Wisconsin (mostly), local and FSU fans showed up. The announced attendance was a little higher for the evening session than for the morning one, but both were just short of capacity.
Portland St was warming up in front of the Xavier band, and when one of the players shot an airball, they serenaded him with the airball chant. You know it's a rough crowd when the airball chant goes up in warmups.
During the game, a kicked ball went sailing just over my reach and into the stands. The lucky fan didn't get to keep the ball though.
More name dropping: Former Indiana star Randy Wittman was there watching his son Ryan play for Cornell. After the game, he was coaching him up a bit in the tunnel.
Pro golfer and UW grad Andy North was sitting right behind me in the Badger section. Also, Portland St football coach Jerry Glanville was hanging around.
There was a slight delay in the tip of the second game as the ref had a conversation with Bo Ryan about his players standing during the jump ball. Ryan assured him they would sit after the tap, so they were allowed to stand.
We were told at halftime, while the teams were warming up, that FSU F Xavier Gibson would switch jerseys from 1 to 35 because of blood on the jersey. Apparently that was news to him because he was still wearing #1. He showed it to the ref, a conference ensued, and it was determined that he could still wear it. They gave it a nice cold water soaking at the half and it came out nice and clean. It ended up not mattering because he never went back into the game.
The PA announcer here pronounces Wisconsin "Wesconsin" much to the chagrin of every Midwesterner in the house, including me. I may say something to him tomorrow. Nah, I'll probably resist.
During a FSU free throw in the first half, one of the UW bandjocks yelled out, "how many of your wins did they take away?"
Some bests and worsts from the first day:
Best band: Florida St and Wisconsin - hands down. Too bad they couldn't both stick around for Sunday.
Best cheerleaders: BCS division - Florida St. Non-BCS division - Utah St. Both will be missed.
Best fans: Utah St. They showed up in big numbers, were loud the whole game, and kept it clean.
Worst fans: Well, one anyway. The woman sitting directly behind me, a Wisconsin fan, who cussed a blue streak for pretty much the entire game. And her loud, kind of squealy voice really stuck out.
Best line: Utah St coach Stew Morrill was asked about not getting much production from his bench. He said, "You know, for one thing, the time outs last about 10 to 15 minutes, so the guys can rest. So you're going to keep your players out there longer."
I hate to complain about anything involved with getting paid to watch basketball, but the men's room available to the media here is very small. Two at a time. That can be a problem when 100 guys are covering an event like this.
Saturday's plan includes writing a preview, catching some more hoops in a sports bar somewhere, and maybe a little walking around town. I did a little of that already. I had to walk back downtown after the game last night because the media shuttles had stopped running. I didn't think I was that late, but I guess I was.
March 20, morning session - Boise
We had kind of a late arriving crowd for the morning session, but the attendance was announced at just under 12,000. Capacity here is about 13,000. It was like a home game for Utah St. Probably half the fans were actually theirs, and the other half were rooting for the upset.
I got to chat a little with WAC commissioner Karl Benson, who it turns out is a graduate of Boise St.
My chair collapsed with a loud thud during the national anthem. Fortunately, and obviously, I wasn't in it at the time.
The Utah St mascot returned from a one-game suspension for fighting with the New Mexico St mascot during the WAC tournament.
When the USU fans didn't like a call, instead of the trite and vulgar "BS" chant, they went with "Check his whistle! Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap."
The showed a highlight reel at halftime of a bunch of NCAA buzzer beaters, which did not go over too well with Mizzou fans when they showed Tyus Edney going coast-to-coast.
March 19 - Boise
I flew into Boise today from Chicago in the smallest airplane I have ever been in. I'm 6'1", and the ceiling of the cabin was 6'1-1/4". I could feel the ceiling when I stood up. The seats were pretty cramped too. But at least it was only a four hour flight.
Also on my flight was Tim Odjakian, associate commissioner of the Big East, and all around good guy. He was telling me a little about Boise (it's my first time here), and when he mentioned that this is the home of the Big Sky conference, he pointed out that "the sky really is bigger here." Actually, it is.
One thing missing from my flight was basketball fans. I only saw two, one each from Marquette and Wisconsin.
Like Denver, you can see the mountains from here. The city is tucked up against them, so they actually seem closer here than in Denver. Probably because they are.
So, Boise is scenic, but small. Getting around here is easy. You could probably walk the entire downtown in an hour. Well, I could anyway.
After I arrived and found my hotel, I made my way to Taco Bell Areana, where Boise St plays their home games and where the NCAA games will be. The Boise St campus is nice, but small. Of course, I'm used to places like Purdue, which is much bigger, although not by Big Ten standards.
Open practice was going on, but I didn't care about that. Purdue was playing, and I had to watch. Unfortunately, the TVs in the media work room only get the local CBS affiliate, and they had Maryland-Cal. You would think we could get all the games in the media work room, but that's not the case. Luckily, the Maryland-Cal game went to halftime, so they cut to Purdue-Northern Iowa. The "no cheering in the press area" rule was getting tested. Purdue did win though, so all was right with the world. My world, anyway.
I watched Missouri work out for a bit, collected all the media notes, and then went out to get the lay of the land.
As it turned out, the BSU football team was having a scrimmage today, so I got a chance to go in and see the world famous blue turf in person. And you know what? It's blue. Everything around here is blue.
I ate dinner at a place called Cool Hand Lukes. They have a salsa that will put hair on your chest. That's not necessarily a selling point if you're female.
The water around here needs a filter. It tastes like melted snow.