March Madness indeed

Posted on April 30, 2012

I typically don't use my website to profess my obsession with University of Louisville sports. But the end of the 2012 season is worth documenting, not only for me, but for the ridiculousness (Russdiculous?) involved.

In January, there was some discussion about attending the Big East Tournament. My stepdad, who splits time between Texas and Louisville, would already be there; my mom, who lives in Louisville, was assuredly going; my brother, who lives in Los Angeles, wanted to check it out; and my uncle, who was overseas until March, was considering as well.

I had been to Louisville's only game in the 2010 BET, a loss to Cincinnati. I had also been to the other game in Madison Square Garden that season - a blowout game against St. John's that came between two blizzards in Baltimore. I had to walk two miles to the train station in snow boots because there were few cars on the road.

This year seemed different. The team started with convincing victories in the Bahamas (which I watched with my mom and stepdad in New Hampshire) and was ranked fourth in the country before losses to highly ranked Georgetown and UK. I attended the Georgetown game with most of my family at the Yum Center (my wife and daughter didn't make it, but we went to the women's game earlier in the day instead) and watched the UK game at my dad's house in Louisville. After that, I went to New York to watch the Cards destroy St. John's in MSG. A huge family reunion was brewing.

The next few games, however, were not good. The Cards lost three of their next five, including a 31-point blowout at Providence. We also found out that my brother's wife was pregnant with twins, due in July. My mom was skeptical we could win many games in the tournament, so instead, she booked her flight to Baltimore.

The remaining season games were up and down, and Louisville ended with the seven seed in the BET. All along, I mentioned to my mom that if something crazy happened, and Louisville made it to the championship, we should try to find a way to get to the game. It was somewhat of a joke, though, because of the season-ending losses to USF and Syracuse. But anything could happen, right?

My stepdad was working during the day in downtown New York and planned to attend both Tuesday and Wednesday night sessions, and the Cards played Seton Hall in the latter. My mom flew to Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, so we watched the day games in my office cube and the night games at home.

Even though the Pirates made a game of it, Louisville eventually beat Seton Hall by 6. Next up was a top-10 foe in Marquette. We weren't in New York, but my mom, stepdad, wife, daughter and myself walked to grab pizza, hoping that the superstition would somehow help the Cards pull the upset.

It worked! The Cards made it to the semifinals, where Notre Dame awaited. Right after the Marquette game, we took a look at the possibilities of tickets and travel. We found bus fare for $25 apiece, but had a bit of a dilemma. First, my wife had class all day Saturday and wouldn't be home until 2 p.m. Second, there was no bus at night, so we would either have to spend the night in New York or take the early train (3 a.m. Sunday!) to return to Baltimore.

Oh, did I mention that we were celebrating my daughter's first birthday on Sunday with my wife's parents? And that my brother-in-law had made plans to visit Baltimore on Saturday?

We were of course excited for Friday's semifinal games, but there was another issue - ticket prices. Syracuse was playing Cincinnati, and if the Orange won, tickets would still be pricey. We decided to have dinner during the first half of the SU-UC game, and before returning home, I checked the score. Cincy was up by 15 in the first half. What?

We watched the rest of the game at home, screaming for the Bearcats to win. When they did, online tickets were already reduced to peanuts. Louisville took care of Notre Dame, so we booked travel for my mom, stepdad and myself. I also swept and mopped the house for the party Sunday, knowing we wouldn't be around to help.

By 10 a.m., we decided on third-deck half-court seats for $60 apiece, nearly half off face value. My brother-in-law stopped by to say hello on Saturday, but instead of coming with us, he went to Philly to visit a friend. On his way out, he dropped us off at the bus station for our three-and-a-half hour ride to the Big Apple.

There were more people to visit at the game, too! A recently found a good high school friend online, and as luck would have it, there was an open seat next to ours, so he joined our group. Another cousin and her boyfriend dropped by to say hi before the game.

And of course, the game was awesome. A little close at the end, but the Cards did it!

We celebrated at a pub and Times Square, then headed to the train station, where the train was 40 minutes late. Mental note: Avoid Amtrak on Daylight Savings Day, especially during the hour of the time change! We returned home at about 6:30 a.m. but managed to get a little sleep and have a great party the next day.

But that's only the beginning of this story.

I found out Monday that my grandma and aunt were coming to Baltimore on Thursday to visit my uncle. Of course, this was the same day of Louisville's first-round game against Davidson, so everyone huddled around our TV to watch the game (with pizza, of course). The New Mexico game was late, so my wife and daughter managed to make it through the first half until they went to bed. At least the Cards were still alive!

The following week, I headed to Denver for a computer systems conference. The conference started on Tuesday and ended Friday, but when I made arrangements months before, I didn't think it was fair to abandon baby duties for the entire week. Also, my dad was contemplating a visit, so we figured out a way to meet at the airport on Thursday afternoon. I had warned him in February that we shouldn't fly at night, just in case we were playing then.

Our flights were on time, and we returned home just in time to watch the Cards destroy Michigan State. My stepmom arrived Saturday morning, and we watched the Cards pick up a come-from-behind win against Florida to earn a spot in the Final Four!

We were all giddy on Sunday, especially considering that my wife, daughter and I were preparing for a trip to Houston to see my sister, brother-in-law and daughter the following weekend. As a coincidence, the Final Four was a mere six hours away in New Orleans, so if we could win the first game against Kentucky, we would drive down for the championship game. My mom was considering driving from Louisville, and even my brother, still out in L.A., thought about flying in for it.

Although the Wildcats were the heavy favorite, we held out hope as we arrived in Houston. My stepdad also stopped by, and we held our breath when junior guard Peyton Siva tied the game at 49 late in the second half. Unfortunately Louisville couldn't sustain it and lost after putting up a gallant effort. We were bummed, of course, but it had been a wild ride and a ridiculous March.

And now I'm looking forward to next season's journey as well!