So, one of my really good friends had an extra ticket to the Men's South Regional semifinals last night (and of course he had an extra ticket for the finals occurring tomorrow) and I ended up being the lucky guy to come into possession of the ticket. Needless to say, it was quite an interesting experience.
Now I have been to Final Fours before, but this was the first time that I have ever gone to any other round of the tournament. First of all, the seats that I had for the two games last night were much better than the seats that I have ever had for other games. But the dynamics of this game were far different (with one possible exception) from any of the other games I had seen. The matchups last night were between Stanford/University of Texas and then Michigan State/Memphis. With the games taking place in Houston and with the overwhelming amount of Texas fans who were clearly in the building, things definitely took on the feel of being in a UT home environment. This made the experience absolutely sickening.
Anyone who knows me well knows how much I hate the University of Texas. Being immersed in that environment was essentially torture for me. Stanford did play well for much of the game last night, but in the last ten minutes or so, when the Cardinal was in complete collapse mode, the UT fans were at their most annoying. The stupid cheering for the team was incessant. The stupid hand salute that UT fans do was being done by virtually everyone in the stadium who was wearing burnt orange. And it seemed that virtually everyone in the stadium was wearing burnt orange. Yuck. What made matters worse was that I had perhaps the most annoying UT fan on the planet sitting directly in front of me. Okay, you may be wondering how I could possibly come to the conclusion that he was the most annoying UT fan on the planet when there are countless nominees for that particular award. And also, to be fair, this particular UT fan did not do a whole lot of sitting in front of me since he was standing up, doing that stupid UT salute, high-fiving people for what seems like the entire game. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I probably saw more of the game by the big screen over the court than the actual game on the court. Even when Texas got a defensive rebound, for example, this guy was standing up saluting, high-fiving. I felt like at many times saying, "Really guy? The entire game?"
Luckily the annoying UT guy did not seem to be there to cheer for Memphis as well. Let me assure everyone who was watching that game on television, Memphis is every bit better than Michigan State that seemed to be indicated on television. They were quite impressive. And there are not enough good things that I can possibly say about Derrick Rose. He is stunningly good. When he was on the court, Memphis looked unbeatable. He was so steady with the ball; Michigan State could get virtually no pressure on him while he dribbled. Any sort of pressure that they would try to apply, and Rose would just blow by the defender with ease. The only time that Michigan State seemed to have any success is when Rose was off the court for a prolonged period in the second half getting a cut over his eye stiched. However, once he was back in the game, any hopes that Michigan State might have had were completely killed. I'm crossing my fingers that Sunday could be a very good day for me and a very bad day for the annoying UT guy. I'm thinking that I may get to see much more of the regional final on the court.
But the coolest thing about last night, and something that is cool about the Final Four as well, was seeing the big name alumni players of the school in the arena. They did show Magic Johnson on the big screen at one point, but he was just sitting there being Magic Johnson. What was really cool, however, was while I was standing up at one point, I think during halftime of the second game, just kind of looking out down in the crowd, all of a sudden I see Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. It was much cooler seeing Hardaway since I do remember seeing him when he played for the then Memphis State team. I do remember seeing him make his own run deep in the tournament about sixteen years ago. But what made the Penny sighting even better than the Magic Johnson sighting was that Penny was actually walking up the stairway in the section that I was sitting in.
As he walked up the stairs, he seemed to take the time to shake the hands of anyone who wanted to shake hands with him, he took several photos, and seemed to stop for a bit to talk with a number of people. There was no sort of big name star attitude, and he never seemed to be in the least bit frustrated that it was taking him so long to get out of their to get to the concession stand. There was a definite coolness about him. So the bottom line is this; if you ever have the chance to die and come back in a next life as anything, choose to come back as a big time college basketball player at a big time state school. You will live on as a legend forever in the fans' minds.