The powers that be said everything was bigger in Texas. After going to Texas for the Final Four last weekend, I don’t know who the hell the powers that be are, but they’ve clearly never been trapped in a car for 30 hours in pursuit of hoop dreams.
Everything was going swimmingly until the time came to leave for the Lone Star State. It was 4 o’clock last Thursday afternoon, and I was sitting on a futon that’s got a wooden board in the middle and a war zone of springs on either side. Needless to say, it was not the most comfortable piece of furniture, but hey, it’s college, right? So I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for my gallant chauffeur Spencer Smith, sports editor extraordinaire, to show up, but he’s running a little behind schedule with the rental car.
Actually, to rewind a little, everything hadn’t been going swimmingly. The rent-a-car debacle was my fault in the first place. Earlier in the week, I had promised that I could use my Mom’s minivan for the trip but had neglected to actually ask her permission until Tuesday night. Whoops. So naturally she told me I couldn’t use the van and I had to embarrassingly explain the situation to Spencer and the rest of Herald management gang. So, long story short, last minute we had to arrange for a rental car.
But after enough stress to shorten my life by at least 10 years, we were finally on the road. I’ll skip through the brief trips to pick up our photographer Joey and grab some snacks at the grocery store to the most exciting part of the trip: Illinois. Thankfully, we only had to endure the barren wasteland for only two hours of daylight before the dark sky covered up all the disgusting blemishes and terribly flat landscape.
Some 13 and a half hours and no sleep later, we had reached our destination of Arlington, Texas, although perhaps it was just a hallucination. More than anything I wanted to check into our hotel so I could sleep, but after dropping by they told Spencer we could not check in until 3 p.m. That hotel looked like a shit box anyway, so we used that opportunity to back out of the reservation and get a new hotel — well, after we chowed down on a fine All-American breakfast at Denny’s, that is. At Denny’s my intense hope for southern hospitality came true — our waitress was easily the most caring soul I had met so far in Texas. So what if she was the first person I had met?
Since we were stuck in Arlington without a hotel to stay in until the afternoon, our waitress directed us to a local YMCA so that we could shower and at least reclaim a slight sense of dignity. When we entered the YMCA, we were greeted by perhaps the next nicest Texan, who was working the front desk. After filling out a sheet for a day pass, she didn’t even require us to pay a fee, and we went to the locker room where we decided we needed a little physical exercise. To the basketball court we went. I got demolished in a game of 21, and the lone bright spot was that same lovely lady bringing us cold waters unannounced. What a gem.
Having exercised and showered, we made our way to our destination, AT&T Stadium, so Spencer and Joey could cover Friday’s practice. While they did their thing, I tried to break into forbidden sections but was repeatedly denied, so I settled on a spot in the corner on the first level of the humongous heaven where I remained for four hours without food or rest.
Let’s skip ahead to the next day and the Final Four tailgate. I was required to do work, so I put myself on the line and interviewed multiple fans on camera to put on the Herald site. I even interviewed Chancellor Rebecca Blank, but due to technical difficulties, the videos never saw the light of day. Oh man, was I disappointed.
But now it was time to finally be a fan. I soaked up the band’s performance and the rest of the tailgate. Then, because I had dirtied my only Badger shirt doing “exercise,” I went with my two non-Herald friends to their hotel to grab one of their shirts. I was ready to go and show my unwavering school pride. We stopped at In-n-Out Burger. Best decision I’ve ever made. I was ready and raring to go for the game.
After we wound through the droves of fans upon entering Jerry World, we found out we couldn’t take our seats until the first semifinal was over. In the meantime, we congregated with the other Badger fans and erupted into many spontaneous cheers—such school pride, much noise.
When we finally meandered to our seats, I realized why they were so cheap. I couldn’t see anything. But no matter, I was surrounded by my Badger brethren. Throughout the game, although its outcome was devastating, I don’t think I stopped reveling in the big stage for a moment — well, maybe a few to drink some water. Over the course of three hours I high-fived, I jumped with joy, I screamed until I blew a blood vessel in my eye and I probably met the love of my life, although I never found out her name.
Sure, Wisconsin came up short, but to be perfectly sentimental, I don’t know if I have ever experienced a game as exciting as that one, even though I watched most of it on the ludicrously over-sized scoreboard. The loss crushed me more than any I have experienced in 19 years as a Badger fan, maybe because I had emptied my wallet to be in Arlington. I was a heartbroken little boy that night, but I would suffer through the 30-hour drive, lack of sleep and troubling defeat if it means going back to the Final Four. Even if I never get married and have a first dance, at least I went to the Big Dance.
Dan is currently a sophomore at UW but still has yet to declare a major. Do you see a future for him as a travel journalist or do you have a Final Four story you’d like to share? Give Dan the lowdown by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or shooting him a tweet @DanCoco7.