01 April 2008

My Day at the NCAA Men's Basketball Tourney

Yes, that is right sports fans. You can be eating your hearts out right about now because I, non-sports lover and non-UT fan, was in attendance at the Texas/Memphis game in Houston on Sunday. Thanks are due to my good friend Nikki (who also deserves thanks for the lovely purple nails I'm sporting this week), who took me with her on this adventure.

If you saw the game on CBS you already know that it was dismal. Texas was thoroughly outplayed. If that wasn't bad enough, the officiating was downright offensive. By 5 minutes into the second half the Texas fans had stopped even reacting to bad calls. Perhaps the worst and most overtly egregious call came then--a Memphis player very obviously swatted a ball away from a Texas player. The Texas player wasn't even close to actually touching the ball. The ball went out of bounds and the call went to Memphis. Although there was almost no verbal reaction to the call, heads were shaken and eyes were rubbed all around me. The reactions indicated the extreme weariness of the fans.

In spite of the outcome of the game itself, the experience of going to the game is one that I'm awfully glad that I got to have. As we all know, large-scale sporting events can really bring out the crazies, so it is a place for great people-watching. Since you didn't get to see this part on TV, consider this your insider look:

1) As we got out of the car in the parking lot of Reliant Stadium, a huge white SUV-type (you know, Suburban-sized) vehicle pulled in next to us. Inside there were 2 gentlemen who I would guess were both in their late 30s (or early 40s) and were surely frat boys at UT twenty years ago. Before they got out of the car they pulled out a fifth of something (I'll guess vodka) which they then poured mixed with Sprite in their Starbucks coffeemugs. Nikki pointed out the conspicuous carseats in the back. (This is, by the way, the exact moment that I started to get excited about the 2 and a half hour drive back to Austin after the game.)

2) Once inside the stadium, we visited the vendors and then sat at the empty bar (NCAA rules prevent the selling of alcohol at most or all[?] NCAA-sponsored events) to eat and chat. Mid-story Nikki interrupted me and told me to look over my shoulder. About 20 feet away stood a man who must have been 75 dressed in Memphis blue. He was doing some very elaborate calisthenics. He seemed to be counting as he went. After a period of time, he began doing a different routine. This went on almost until the playing of the National Anthem.

3) Since Austin was really, by proximity, the "home team", the stadium was packed with burnt orange. Those of you who are not in Austin, or who have not been in Austin, can only really imagine seas of burnt orange--because they do have to be seen in person to be believed. Sometimes I wonder what the more awe-inspiring perspective on the burnt orange phenomenon is because, in case you don't know, there are two perspectives. The first is the "forest" perspective: when viewed this way, your wonder is piqued by the sheer amount of burnt orange that can be assembled in one place at one time. It's overwhelming. Like standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. The other perspective (and perhaps you have already anticipated it) is the "trees" perspective. If you look at the crowd as a huge group of individuals, you soon become dizzy with the variety of expression of burnt orange possible. Button-downs, polos, tee shirts (representing every sport, every UT logo, every academic discipline, every extracurricular interest), tank tops, sweaters, jackets, shorts, jogging suits, Hawaiian shirts, and skirts with rhinestone longhorns on the back pocket. And flip flops. LOTS of burnt orange flip flops.

4) Since the UT fan base seemed to outnumber the Memphis one about 10-1, it was not surprising that the noise generated by the UT attendees in the first half was considerable. But, by just a couple of minutes into the second half, the crowd had been almost entirely hushed. (Not just in reaction to bad calls, but in reaction to anything that happened during the game.) By the time that the second half was half over, the stadium began bleeding streams of orange. At one point the announcer said, "We invite you to stay seated for the rest of the game. The game is not yet over." The reaction by most Texas fans seemed to be, "We invite you to kiss our burnt orange asses." By the last 2 minutes of the game, the roar of the tiny Memphis team was deafening, while the (loyal and sportsmanlike) remaining Texas fans sat in what can only be described as stunned silence.

5) Lest I leave you on a sad note--let me assure you that the spirit of the Longhorn is one not easily squashed. Losses are easily forgotten, and victories loom large in the imagination of the people of Tejas. As we pulled out of the parking lot, Nikki spotted a truck in front of us about to enter the freeway, a can of Bud Ice perched precariously on the back bumper as if to say, "speed and wind, I defy you." The car had a Texas license plate and a Longhorn medallion.

Hook 'em.

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