Commentary | Win or lose, at trip to watch the Final Four is fabulous

April 9, 2013 

The cost didn't matter, nor did the eight hours it would take to drive to the destination.

When it's a sporting event you've yet to attend, you make the trip.

So when my alma mater Syracuse sealed a Final Four appearance, I immediately scoured the Internet for a ticket into the Georgia Dome on Saturday night for college basketball's marquee event.

A good friend, who I grew up with in the same Sarasota neighborhood, would also join.

He's a Connecticut fan, but we don't argue despite the intense rivalry between our two schools that's developed in the last 20 years.

We left the following Friday at midnight to embark on Interstate 75 toward Atlanta.

We reached as far as Macon before we were exhausted and luckily found a hotel for the next few hours and following night.

The trip in from Macon to Atlanta after our few hours of shuteye was supposed to take roughly 1½ hours, but it turned into double that time because of lots of stop-and-go traffic.

But as soon as we found parking near the Georgia Dome, site of the 2013 Final Four, the experience would soon become unforgettable.

Multiple Louisville fans were tailgating in the lot we chose, and they needed their truck jumped after too much radio listening

caused the battery to die.

So we obliged and started talking hoops, which was a fantastic way to begin the Final Four weekend.

Lunch was next on our mission, so we explored Atlanta before heading inside to take our seats among the plethora of yellow, red and orange that descended the stadium.

Our section was glittered with Michigan and Louisville fans, the latter leaving after the first game where the Cardinals eked out a 72-68 victory over Wichita State.

The Shockers had a pretty decent group that made the trek to Atlanta, and we witnessed an ugly officiated contest.

Still, the second game of the doubleheader is why we were even there to begin with.

And what I saw was an awful first half that doomed the Orange against Michigan.

Some highlighted moments from both games:

n Watching Louisville warm up all wearing No. 5 in support of Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in the Elite Eight victory over Duke.

n Heard a Michigan fan shout during the first national semifinal when Ware was shown and introduced that, "... He only broke his leg, it's not like he's dying from cancer."

n That classless act was only proven later following the second game, which the Wolverines won 61-56, in the way a majority of Michigan supporters berated Syracuse fans.

n Syracuse shot so bad in the first half from 3-point land that a comeback seemed insurmountable, yet the Orange stormed back in the final 3 ½ minutes with a press defense and had a chance to tie the game at the end with a 3-pointer. But the play saw Trevor Cooney drive the lane for a layup in a head-scratching call from our vantage point.

n The Orange Nation travels well, I've seen firsthand the sea of orange outweighing any USF fans in a home game for the Bulls during Big East Conference action. But for the national semifinal, it was pretty sad to see the Syracuse student section not filled out with several empty seats. Meanwhile, Michigan was the rowdiest group among the four schools and got loud on multiple occasions.

Following the game, we found some sleep and headed back to the Suncoast. The drive felt slow, only because Syracuse lost, but in reality it took us six hours.

Despite the result, it was an epic, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I won't soon forget.

Got some Final Four merchandise, too, and since the Orange were making their first Final Four appearance since the Carmelo Anthony-led 2003 national championship team, I knew it might be some time before they make another one.

Hopefully, though, I'll be back supporting them very soon.

Because this sports reporter bleeds orange forever, and if anyone has the opportunity to attend the Final Four, it gets a firm two thumbs up approval (in honor of the late Roger Ebert) from me.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at jdill@bradenton.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Dill.

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