part one here part two here
So, we are in the stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, with 75,000 other fans. I look for my Atlanta friend, but the seats she was in Saturday are empty. I text her, still outside fighting the crowd to get in.
Now we find our seats, in the upper deck, corner, about halfway up.
However, the view through the binoculars is perfect, taking in the whole court. A friend who was there Saturday had told me the sight lines were better than the United Center, where the Bulls play.
I look to my daughter and say I can't believe we made the title game. She says: “I can't believe I'm here!” with a big, parent satisfying grin.
And it is all over twitter that Webber is at the game. Just to continue to make it all about him, though, he does not sit with his four teammates. As my daughter says, whatever.
It seems there are more Louisville fans in the crowd, judging by wearing apparel. Not all of our fans wear maize, of course, but it seems that more than half the throng is wearing red.
The Louisville end zone is in front of us; ours at the opposite end. Our students act as they did at home games, standing througout, crowding to the court, so that the last few rows of seats were empty during the first half.
I am told the half-time performing bands used them for the second half.
Our noise making leads the elderly Kansas fans next to us to note that Michigan fans are really serious.
My great fear, the zebras, appears to materialize as Burke picks up two quick fouls, the second yet to be seen by anyone else. I feel impending doom. Disaster. A Louisville blowout.
Bad calls are made on both teams. When you can see a mid-court foul from my seat, without binoculars, it is impossible to conclude that the officials all missed it. That one would have been on Hardaway.
A friend texts that he does not think that the referees are in good enough shape to keep up with the players, so that they can be in position to actually see the game they are calling.
You could not disprove that theory by what I am seeing.
So, Burke sits. Spike shoots. And scores. And shoots and scores and shoots and scores and, you saw the game.
I raise my hands to the heavens like Ecstasy Guy. Yes, it is our destiny, clearly, nothing can stop us!
The half winds down. I figure we need to be ahead by at least ten.
Woops. The entire lead evaporates in a rain of Louisville threes. We just barely get back on top as the half ends.
The vibes are bad again. I remember leading Indiana in the 76 game at the half, still tied with ten minutes left, and, the end, losing by double digits.
I find my friend at halftime, take a picture, have a short visit. Her son is sitting in a different spot. I am sorry to miss him, a 16 year old survivor of Ewing's sarcoma, a virulent form of cancer.
The second half begins.
It is a battle of two heavyweights, exhanging blows, no quarter asked, none given.
I keep thinking Louisville will pull away, but they do not.
Then the play of the year, the Burke block at the far end of the court. Looked good to me live. Looked better on the replay.
The advantage of attending sporting events live is that you can look where you want. You are not bound by the director mandating shots of players' parents in the crowd.
I watch Burke, wander alone to the corner, looking away from the court.
He is pissed, I tell my daughter.
And rightly so. But he composes himself, and plays out the game, to the best of his ability.
As did all the players, on both teams. And the coaches.
I cannot remember another championship game like this, in any sport. No one ever seized the momentum and ran with it. Neither team was able to work its will on the other.
Disappointing result? Of course. It was meant to be. That is how I handle such things after decades of the ups and, more frequent, downs, cheering on the Maize and Blue.
Bad officiating? Blatantly, but that does not mean a perfectly called game would have mandated a different result.
With 3.9 seconds on the clock, my daughter and I look at each other and get up to leave. She has to punch in at the barn in Lexington in less than 8 hours, and it is 6 hours driving time.
The parking spot works to a charm; we seem to be in the first 15 vehicles leaving the stadium. And the road leads right to the freeway.
Erin is still up front next to me in the passenger seat. I call my friend who texted me to get his impressions from watching on TV.
A magnificent spectacle, he agrees.
The adrenaline is still going, for a while.
I stop for gas and a cappuccino and she takes up residence on the sleeping bags and pillows in the back of the mini-van.
Hmmmm. Maybe I should have pounded some 5 hour energy drinks.
Out of Georgia and back into the curving mountain roads of Tennessee. Which I do not remember. Oh, yeah, I was napping during this part of the trip down.
No lights on these roads either. Usually a semi truck or two is in sight.
Somewhere around 3:30 a.m., I pull off for a power nap.
Erin wakes me up about half an hour later, and off we go again.
After the next gas stop, I have her drive the last hour and a half or so. We are on schedule, and she is fully awake.
I am in the passenger seat and we chat about the hoop programs our our respective alma maters, Kentucky and Michigan.
She says the only player to graduate during Calipari's tenure was a holdover, who had promised his grandmother he would get a degree. He talks at post-game conferences about how some of his guys are not coachable. Well, why the hell should they be? They are just on a one year layover before they go pro. She is familiar with player attendance at classes, and not impressed.
The contrast with our coaching staff could not be more stark.
The team, the team, the team. Michigan Man values. Exposure to these beliefs is the benefit of having taken my girls to UM games since before they could talk.
Sports imitates life. You win some, you lose some. But how do you play the game?
As a parent, how do you get quality time with your kids?
I heartily recommend long road trips to Michigan sporting events.
Having exhausted the topic of basketball, she goes on to tell me her relationship with her bosses, the owners of the huge horse farm, the ladder to advancement, what she wants to do, and how she plans to get there.
This is the reason for my trip. To have that time, to check in on her life, to see how she is really doing.
Her sister lives in Detroit and I am blessed with frequent contact with that wonderful person.
I have not seen Erin since this trip. She will be up here this weekend, August 16.
She pulls in front of her house about 6:15 a.m. I go in to use the bathroom, but my dog allergies drive me back to the van for some sleep. I hear her “Thank you!” as she gets in her car to drive to work.
After some sleep, I drive home, arriving about 3:30 p.m., meaning that, except for 6 hours in Atlanta and pit stops, I have been in the mini-van for about 33 hours.
I would do it again in a heartbeat.