From cheap seats to the press line: SN writer shares his memories of the Final Four Superdome

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NEW ORLEANS – The view from here is different now. There have been renovations to the Caesars Superdome over the years, because that’s what should be done with a building built under the Ford administration. The Final Four still looks and feels the same, even 35 years later.

Where once on the opposite wall there was a small, square playback screen that was high-tech for its time but unable to project discernible images, there is now a massive, high-definition rectangular video card. The seats are more comfortable. There’s a wider variety of concession options, not that food is really the issue during the action at this event. It’s always been about basketball, back in 1987 when I joined three old high school friends to watch my very first Final Four and now covering the 2022 event for The Sporting News.

My seat for Saturday’s semi-final doubles, with Kansas winning first over Villanova and then North Carolina beating Duke in the sensational nightcap, was in the front row of press seats about 10 feet away. inside the center line, only a few chairs between me and the main broadcast team of Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill. I don’t take that view for granted, nor the opportunity to cover 32 Final Four since for three different newspapers and The Sporting News.

I haven’t lost the appreciation, however, of that weekend so many years ago when my friend Ken Willig was one of the ticket lottery winners and he asked me to join him, his brother Robert and Tom Dias on the upper deck of the Superdome for what turned out to be a Final Four of UNLV, Indiana, Syracuse and Providence.

We sat about 20 rows from the top of the dome. I kept the ticket stub from this Final Four for many years, but it was lost along the way in one of many moves, possibly Pittsburgh to Memphis, or Memphis to Cincinnati, probably missing for a long time when my wife and I moved from Cincinnati to Indianapolis.

So I can’t be entirely sure which section was ours, but my memory tells me – the images I can see in my mind of Freddie Banks lighting it up from 3 points for the Runnin’ Rebels or Keith Smart hitting his famous shot to win the title for Indiana at the opposite end – that was section 602, around the 8th or 9th row, near the right aisle.

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It was 10 years before the NCAA started staging the Final Four in domed stadiums in earnest, and there are still those complaining, 25 years later, it’s just a jackpot. money for the organization to play these games somewhere other than a basketball arena. If the 1987 Final Four had been, say, the Spectrum in Philadelphia, the odds of our foursome winning those tickets would have been reduced by 70%.

And I wouldn’t trade this weekend for many.

(I would probably keep my current seat, though.)

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When I walked to Section 602 before Saturday’s Kansas-Villanova game, I was hoping to see a group similar to what we had at the time, guys in their twenties enjoying the ultimate weekend of basketball. Above all, I saw families, supporters of committed teams who made the trip to take advantage of an unforgettable memory with a son or a daughter or both.

Lance Field of Dallas was sitting alone Saturday when I approached. He became a Duke fan around the time my friends and I attended that Final Four and has traveled to many of their NCAA tournament games since, probably 15 times over those years. When he lived in Atlanta, he took advantage of the favorable geography that frequently put the Blue Devils in close proximity for the early rounds: Charlotte, Greensboro, Lexington. He decided to find tickets to this Final Four after the Devils defeated Arkansas in the Western Region title game.

“I went online on Saturday after their win and had a bit of a debate, and then when I came back on Sunday after Carolina won, the price of a lot of the tickets I was looking at had doubled,” he said. Field. “But this one wasn’t too bad. It was around $500.

It was his first opportunity, in all the tournament games he had seen the Devils play, to see them in the Final Four. When the event was held in Dallas in 2014, he attended his first and saw Wisconsin, Kentucky, Florida and eventual champion UConn.

“It’s one of those things on the to-do list,” he said. “In Dallas, I was three places from the top… but it’s all about the atmosphere. Be there.”

I hesitated to tell him how much our three-game package cost in 1987. But I did it anyway: $20. Not $20 for each game, or each day. Just $20.

It was easier to swing than to be available to attend. My boss at The Pittsburgh Press, Russ Brown, had to give me permission not to cover the Pennsylvania State Basketball Championship, which was my responsibility as a high school basketball writer. . He was kind enough to nod. I missed future Syracuse great Billy Owens winning the third of his four straight Class AAAA titles. Which was good. I had seen the first two. And watching Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman play for Orange that year seemed like a great trade.

Without the help of a functional video card, you had to re-educate yourself to watch, to recognize whether or not the ball had entered the basket. I was worried in advance about the quality of my view from up there. When the TV turned off for the first time, I was completely at ease. And I learned a lot, for example, about how Bob Knight’s movement offense works and how he leveraged the talent of All-American Steve Alford. I can still see striker Steve Eyl settling on what would be the left elbow and waiting for Alford to go past a baseline and then curve behind another from Eyl. After a few of these, you knew exactly what was coming when Eyl took this job.

Dias, a dentist in the Pittsburgh area, has remained my closest friend through all these years. While we were together on the trip before games, he mentioned Syracuse’s Howard Triche so many times as “the most underrated player in the Big East” that it became a “meme” to us long before he there is such a thing. When Triche made a great play in the championship game against Indiana, after talking about it so many times over the weekend, he and I stood up and shouted in unison, “The most under -estimated in the Great East!” and high-five as punctuation. We had no investment in any of the four teams, just to enjoy the hoops and have fun.

“I remember thinking how cool it would have been to be down there, but it didn’t really matter,” Dias told me. “The atmosphere was so electric, even where we were, that it didn’t diminish the experience for me.”

On Saturday, there were 50,000 more people who could say they were part of one of the great college basketball games in Final Four history than there would have been if the Final Four was set in a regular basketball arena. Some of them sat in Section 602. They’ll be talking about this night for years – 35, minimum.

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