The first thing I saw as I stepped off the plane at the St. Louis airport was a souvenir stand where you could buy all kinds of clothes and accessories that commemorate this weekend. Everything was selling, even though it's hard to imagine that the buyers will get much use out of things like necklaces with beads and little basketballs once they get home. The airport was decorated with Final Four banners. People wore their school colors and talked excitedly about the games they would soon be seeing. As we drove from the airport to the hotel, billboards acknowledged the tournament and restaurants welcomed basketball fans. Rock bands played near the hotels, vendors sold food, and people danced in the streets. Both joy and tension filled the air. As is my habit, I experienced the tension more than the joy. But then I realized that it was just pre-game jitters.
My pre-finals anxiety wasn't exactly the same as the kind of jitters that the players and coaches are probably having. They worry if they are properly prepared. They ask themselves the questions, "Will I choke under the pressure? Will I sink the important free throws? Will my adrenaline make me overshoot the ball? Will I make stupid mistakes?" I'm worried about other things: Will they have my press credential when I go for it tomorrow, or is this trip a prank perpetrated by my boss? Will the games be great, with storybook finishes? Will I be able to resist cheering like an ordinary fan whenever there's a spectacular play instead of acting blasé like a real sportswriter? Will I be able to change my digital watch to Central Time without my kids' help?