One shining moment. That’s what we were going to see on Monday night. Would UNC win another banner? Or would Gonzaga cement themselves in the annals of history as the little mid major that could? The year before, Villanova had defeated UNC in one of the classic national championship games- buzzer beater to down Goliath. We were hoping for an equally exciting and memorable experience here!
As part of the Final Four Raffle Ticket Package, we got the same seats for both the semifinals and the finals, so we were in the same spot (top section, about six rows up, free throw line extended). However, this time around, I came prepared with a sweater to deal with the cold air blowing on us the whole time. It was a much better experience than the freezing cold the time before.
One cool aspect of the ticket package and having the same seats is that most of the people around us were in the same boat. The guy directly next to us had been to 20 Final Fours, so we enjoyed visiting with him and hearing about his experiences quite a bit. Others were from the Phoenix area, so they told us about their favorite parts of the city. By and large, our section was rooting for Gonzaga, as were we, so we were united in our cheering.
We also ended up being united in our criticism of the refs. I would never be a ref- it’s not an easy job, and I certainly don’t have thick enough skin to do it. I know that basketball especially has a lot of plays that can be interpreted differently, so I try not to be too critical. Teams can overcome a few bad calls here and there. But holy cow was this bad. There was absolutely no rhythm to the game because it stopped every 30 seconds for a foul call. The best players were forced to the bench early and often, which isn’t what anyone wants to see in a National Championship game. With all that being said, though, it was equally bad both ways and UNC established themselves as the better team- their best players made shots when they needed to, while Gonzaga’s struggled. It wasn’t a blowout, but there also weren’t many times where I genuinely felt like Gonzaga was going to win. When the final horn sounded, baby blue and white confetti fell down, and the Tarheels were champs again.
This game, we went very early and planned on eating in the area near the stadium with the selection of sports bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, it seemed a lot of other people had the same idea- every place was an hour or so wait. We finally settled on Buffalo Wild Wings- I hate going somewhere we can go in Billings, but it had the shortest wait and a waiting area where we could watch the Red Sox play the Pirates on in their opening day game. Once we got in, it was pretty good and they did have a few menu variations that we tried out. People were jam packed in there and a group of guys tried to overtake our table by setting their beer glasses on while they stood nearby watching one of the TVs, but our waitress was awesome and shooed them away. It actually ended up being a lot better than I’d anticipated, and we got a good meal in us.
We arrived much earlier than the semifinals games, so got “better” parking. Better being closer to the stadium. That is nicer initially, but you typically have to wait much longer to get out, which was certainly the case here. Sometimes, especially if it’s warm out, it’s better to park farther away. It’s usually cheaper and easier to get out, and you end up saving time, despite the longer walk. Hindsight, we probably should have done that.
The last couple of nights of our trip, we’d stayed at Riley’s parents’ place, which was super nice. Joel got to hit the golf course before we left on Tuesday, which he loved. Overall, we had an awesome trip and squeezed a ton of great memories into a long weekend. Final Four is the perfect time to take in a lot of sports. Here’s to the next one!
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Just a couple of sports fans touring the world, one stadium at a time.