Sunday, April 6, 2014

Reporting in from Jerry World

It's Jerry's world and we're all just livin' in it--all 79,444 of us.  Here's my report from yesterday's NCAA Tournament semi-finals at AT&T Stadium and some thoughts on this Final Four from, uh, "north Texas."

- The Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, KS, was in force outside of the stadium promoting their homophobic hate-mongering.  Plenty of police were nearby.

- The north Texas weather was anything but welcoming as cool temps and rain kept fans away from the pre-game tailgate and the block party, featuring Tim McGraw, in downtown Dallas.  Only 10,000 or so hearty souls showed up for McGraw's set which was opened by none other than LL Cool J.  (Interesting mix of artists, huh?)  Cool J later showed up courtside at AT&T Stadium--he was one of probably 5,000 or so who could actually see the game from their vantage point without reliance upon one of the four "small" video screens or the two mega-deluxe "big" screens.

- Kansas did have a presence at this event--photographer Rich Clarkson was in the house with his credential, covering yet another Final Four.  The KU alum first covered the 1952 Final Four--an event that issued six photographer credentials.  This year, there are 129 photo credentials and 1,829 media credentials.

- Let's talk about sight lines, shall we?  AT&T Stadium is Texas-sized excess and is jaw-dropping upon first seeing and then entering the building.  And, that's what the ticket the 79,000 plus held got them--into the building.  For all but a few thousand, the viewing experience stunk with heads constantly turned upward (or down, if one sat in the 300 sections or higher) to see the mega-screen.  It's an expensive way for the common fan to be able to say "I was there."

- Celebrities in the crowd includes Johnny Manziel (suite), Dwight Howard (sitting among the Florida students), Danica Patrick (in a suite along with beau and fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who was not identified alongside Patrick on the big screen), Drake (sitting among Kentucky fans), Troy Aikman (suite), Jerry Jones (his suite, of course), LL Cool J (court side), and CBS' Les Moonves, who sat next to Jones and was not identified on the big screen when the camera showed Jerry in his suite.

- Tubby Smith received a big round of applause from Kentucky fans when he was introduced along with fellow Final Four Coaches Club members Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams and Jim Larranga.

- Is it just me or does everyone in Dallas own a BMW or a truck?

- North Texas is putting its best foot forward for this event but the unfortunate reality is that this metropolitan area is just too spread out to be considered one of the best Final Four cities.  Unlike San Antonio, Indianapolis or Atlanta, events are spread out enough that driving is a necessity and the stadium is stuck in Arlington.  ESPN has its set in Fort Worth, the NABC convention is at the Sheraton downtown, and the concerts are at Reunion Park, which is also downtown.  Traffic has been manageable but it's still been a pain to navigate the area for this weekend.

- The Texas NASCAR race switched from its usual time slot of Saturday night to this afternoon.  Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating as it's rainy, cool and cloudy.

- Fans were warned not to leave AT&T Stadium between games last night due to severe weather in the area.

- Back on the fan experience, parking costs a cool $75 if you want to get near the stadium.  If you're willing to walk about three-quarters of a mile, then your freight drops to $40.

- And, finally, what do we make of this match-up?  Monday night's championship game will feature a seven seed and an eight seed, and two teams who did not win their regular season conference championships or their conference post-season tournaments.  What we do have is an intriguing match-up of UConn quickness and lockdown perimeter defense against a Kentucky team that has obviously figured it out and is using superior athleticism coupled with guys making plays down the stretch.  Let's also credit both coaches for getting their teams to this place--Kevin Ollie kept his guys' heads in the game when they got behind to Florida early and everyone in the building thought the Gators were headed to the championship, and John Calipari's early second half timeout fueled a Kentucky run that was key to their victory over Wisconsin.