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NCAA Tourney

March 20, 2004

The house phone at my apartment rang sometime around 8 AM on Friday morning. "I'm in," the voice on the other end told me. It was Scott Massey, letting me know that he had decided to come along with me to go see the NCAA basketball games going on that night in Orlando. I planned to go regardless (as I was meeting up with my friend Gary Graham there), but I knew that having Scott along for the trip would definitely make things more fun.

After leaving work early, we met up at my place, where Scott parked in visitor parking. This was my first chance to take Lou Junior (my Honda Accord) on a road trip, and I was excited about it.

We took I-4, which was fine until we hit Lakeland... at which point traffic became a bumper-to-bumper bear. It wasn't as bad as the wall of cars we saw heading to O-Town this morning, but that's neither here nor there. Point is, time began to become a factor for seeing tip-off of the Mississippi State/Monmouth game.

It didn't help things much that I seemed to miss every turn. Normally I'm pretty sharp with directions, but on this occasion that wasn't the case. Part of the problem was that Exit 72 is no longer marked as the "Bee Line Expressway" (Gary tells me that the powers-that-be are trying to change its name to the "Beach Line Expressway", which is one of those Greenland/Iceland misleading types of things). So naturally I drove past it, and then had to double-back around (which was easier said than done at Exit 74). Then I took the wrong John Young Expressway exit (no excuses available). And the real kicker was that I drove past Gary's apartment complex. See, I was distracted by trying to take a picture of this ridiculous billboard that I misinterpreted as a veterinarian ad... because it said "We Treat Chickens Too!" In a related note, I don't recommend trying to mix photography and driving, though I was stopped at a red light in a turn lane when I was trying to frame up the shot. One of the snapshots actually turned out, so you can at least have some base of understand of what I mean (if you can get past the power pole obstructing part of the view).

Chicken billboard
My driving/photography skills are strong.

It turns out that the billboard is for a dentist (Dr. Paul Szott), and the chicken reference is for people who are afraid of the dentist. It's a clever enough idea, but with billboards being such an at-a-glance thing, sometimes there can be misinterpretations. Like in this case.

By the time we made it to Gary's place, time was ticking. We wolfed down some pizza, then headed out to the TD Waterhouse Centre.

The former "Orlando Arena" is an antiquated building by modern arena standards for one major reason: the skyboxes are located at the very top of the building. Most modern facilities (such as the former Ice Palace in Tampa, now known as the St. Pete Times Forum) have the skyboxes in the middle (separating the courtside/iceside seats with the upper deck), which makes those skyboxes much more appealing to corporations. And yes, I know that it seems to contradict the definition of a skybox to have it at mid-level, but having seen a Lightning game from the Clear Channel skybox at the Forum last year, I must say it's a mighty fine view. Comparing that with the view from Roberts Stadium in Evansville, where I broadcasted Aces/Lady Aces games during my college tenure from up in the rafters in the media area (which is up in the skybox section), I understand the difference completely.

Anyway, if it seems strange that the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team is lobbying for a new arena, this is why. There is major money to be acquired by having better skyboxes.

Scott, Gary and I were fortunate enough to be able to walk up to the ticket booth and buy three tickets together. They were up in the upper section (which was still $35 a ticket), but that was all they had left, as it turned out. It wasn't a sellout, but it was fairly close.

Mississippi State basketball
Mississippi State talked over its gameplan during a first half timeout on Friday night.

By the time we made it in, the first half was nearly to its midway point, and the MSU Bulldogs had a double-digit lead. Surprisingly, there wasn't an overwhelming showing by Mississippi State supporters in Orlando. Or, if they were there, they were being about as quiet as a Japanese pro wrestling crowd in the first five minutes of an undercard match. And it's not as if Monmouth brought a large fan base down from New Jersey (where it is located), but the fans who were there to see the late game (Xavier/Louisville) were almost all cheering for Monmouth -- it's fun to pull for the underdog in that situation.

But no worries, as Mississippi State was just too fast and too strong for the Northeast Conference Champion Hawks. There was a white guy on Monmouth who had a shaved head, and so naturally the joke became that it was *me* (as F.F. Woodycooks would say) out there. When they benched him and State went on a run, I blamed it on me being on the bench. Good times.

Mississippi State Cheerleaders
Bully and the MSU cheerleaders watched the Bulldogs win.

The late game, however, is where we received our money's worth. Xavier vs. Louisville was an intriguing matchup on paper; Scott said it was the best matchup of the first round. Personally I think Southern Illinois/Alabama and Charlotte/Texas Tech were better on-paper matchups (and SIU/Bama lived up to that on the court, as well), but nonetheless it was an intriguing pairing. Geographically, the two schools aren't that far apart (Xavier is in Cincinnati, which is just a couple of hours by interstate from Louisville). I've had friends who went to both schools, and in fact I've partied at both schools, so I had no particular allegiance. I just wanted to see a good game, and as it turned out, I got what I wanted.

Xavier was the higher seed, but Louisville (the 1986 NCAA Champs) had a far stronger fan base that turned out for the game. The funniest part had to be this one guy with a Howard Dean level of enthusiasm in cheering for U of L. It was like having a 45-year-old male cheerleader in the stands (sans the standing backflips). Had my camera's batteries not died on me, I would've snapped his pic and put it on here. High comedy, just trust me.

Louisville controlled the first half, with coach Rick Pitino using his coaching acumen to plan out some very well-designed plays created to utilize his team's superior height and strength advantage. The Cards lead by 14, and looked to be running away with it.

But then Xavier battled back. It was mostly a two man show for Xavier (Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato), but that's all they needed. Louisville's sharp execution got sloppy, the Cards forced shots, and that was that. Xavier got the win, and they'll play MSU tomorrow.

Now this was my first time attending an NCAA tournament game, and there were some disappointing things I noticed. First, they didn't have any instant replays. Apparently the NCAA doesn't approve of such things (they showed the CBS feed of the game, but covered up all replays). At halftime, when they could've been showing games going on around the country on the scoreboard monitor, instead they had up the generic NCAA logo. And finally, they weren't allowed to sell beer. That was very disappointing.

Also, they decided to do everything they could to pretend that the Orlando Magic didn't exist. They put some cheap tarp-looking coverings over the word "Magic" on the baselines, and even went so far as to twist up the Magic banners hanging in the rafters. What's up with that? You don't see that when a WWE show or an Arena Football game takes place there.

But with all that said, the experience was great and well worth my time/money. Good times.

From there the three of us ventured to an Orlando gentleman's club. I won't get into too many details, except to say that Orange County has some pretty ridiculous laws when it comes to regulating adult entertainment. That sort of thing gives Florida a bad name. Remember what I was saying in my last column about how the state needs to take a much more laissez-faire attitude across the board? This is what I'm talking about...

And while I'm at it, here's the one thing I really don't like about strip clubs: the hustle factor. Scott commented that it was like being at a used car lot, and the metaphor is pretty much spot-on when you think about it. No, I don't want to pay $25 for a novelty-sized bottle of champagne and two "table dances" (no touching in Orange County!) If I did, I'd find the girl I want and let her know. They need to have "Do Not Disturb" signs, kind of like they have at hotels. Some guys I'm sure like the attention and the hard selling by the girls, but not me. Especially when the girl gets shitty about it. Here's an actual exchange from Friday night:

Stripper: Hey you, want a bottle of champagne? (Said as she held up the small bottle)
Lou: No thanks.
Stripper: Why not?
Lou: I'm just here to watch.
Stripper: (Walking away, disgusted) That's what HBO and Showtime are for!

See, I didn't need that business. Since I was driving, I only drank a small amount and thus I didn't turn into Drunk Angry Lou. I think if I'm in that scenario again and a stripper asks why, my response will be "Because I said so."

Scott and I crashed out at Gary's place, then came back to Tampa this morning. We stopped at Wendy's at 10 AM, which I mention because it fell in the no-man's land of breakfast/lunch. This particular Wendy's served breakfast (not all of them do), but both Scott and I wanted lunch. For some reason, the manager had to use his special slide-card to convert the register to lunch mode. This struck me as being strange... but the unusual events of the transaction were just beginning.

A cute but young girl was working my register, and unfortunately her English skills were subpar. What I ordered was relatively simple: the #6 combo (Spicy Chicken Sandwich), with no tomato on the sandwich, a Diet Coke to drink, and substituting a baked potato for the fries.

It took three explanations to finally get across what I wanted, but finally the communication was complete. I was polite; I know that fast food work is not easy work, and I try to be courteous to people working the register.

My drink came up right away, as Scott placed his order at the register adjacent to mine. I stepped back and waited. Meanwhile, a family of four came up and placed their order. My chicken sandwich came out, and all I was waiting on was my baked potato. Scott got his meal and headed out to find a table.

I waited. And waited. The girl who took Scott's order asked if I had been helped. I said, "Yes, I'm just waiting on my order." The English language-challenged girl at my register heard this, acknowledged me and said that the potato would be right out. I said okay. And then I waited some more.

Meanwhile, the family of four placed their order... and then got their food. And I was still waiting! I began wondering how long it took to fix a friggin' baked potato.

Finally, I stepped up and demanded answers when the next people in line had ordered and then inadvertently had their french fries placed on my tray. The clueless order taker girl then realized her snafu, and told one of the kitchen worker girls to get me a baked potato. The kitchen girl then reached into some compartment deal... and pulled out the potato. It had been ready all along! You could imagine my agitation at that point. Drunk Angry Lou is no fun, but neither am I when I haven't had anything to eat in a given morning and my food is delayed because of someone's incompetence. Finally the baked potato was readied, and I took my food to the table.

Scott was midway finished with his meal by this point, and of course he laughed long and loud (all in good fun -- the rib was on me). "Should've ordered the french fries," he quipped. Live and learn, eh?

More basketball tonight and tomorrow... what a fun time of the year it is. Gotta love that March Madness.

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