Here I am in Atlanta, ready to give you my annual non-sportswriter's take on the NCAA Final Four basketball championship. When it comes to these games, I've compiled quite a record. Every year that I've been to the Final Four, I've also made it to the championship game. Who else in basketball can make that claim?
For a basketball fan like me, being here is like being in heaven — if heaven were very humid and everybody drank Coke.
I'm going to buck the current blogging trend, and actually present the events to you in a logical, and chronological order.
I got here Friday evening, the night before the two semi-final games between Ohio State and Georgetown and between UCLA and Florida.
Not surprisingly, the plane from Los Angeles to Atlanta was filled with UCLA fans. What was surprising was the pilot was somewhat of a UCLA cheerleader. Before we even took off, he congratulated us on how we had taken our seats in a fast and orderly fashion. He went on to say, "I'm sure this would not have been the case if the plane had been filled with U.S.C. fans." He then wished UCLA the best of luck in the tournament. Shortly before we landed in Atlanta, he said that to the best of his knowledge, the latest "line" on the game of UCLA vs. Florida was UCLA plus 3 points. This was definitely the first time I ever heard a pilot, while in the air, give the betting line of a college basketball game. I hoped that he hadn't been playing poker or craps during the flight.
Another thing that helped prepare me for Atlanta was the way the flight attendants acted. They were all from the South, and possibly all from Georgia. I'd never been so overwhelmed by such a flood of politeness before in my life. I heard more "Yes, Sirs," "No, Sirs," and "I'm sorry, Sirs" than anywhere outside of a movie about the Marines.
This politeness continued when I got to the hotel. By the way, I learned something about those hotel room keys that are kind of like credit cards. They only work in the room you're assigned to, not in one that's close but not exactly the right room number.
Once I got to my room, I worried that maybe I was cutting things too close by arriving in town the night before the games. Coaches usually try to get their teams in town at least a couple of days before a game, to adjust to the altitude, humidity, and time zone. I hoped that my athletic clock would not be too much out of kilter before the games started.
I started to prepare. After a typical high protein night-before-the-games dinner, I walked and then stretched. When I returned to my room, I forced myself to go to bed early, knowing that I didn't just have one game on Saturday, but a double header. If there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's that you have to pace yourself.
As I lay in bed, I wondered what the players and coaches were thinking about right then. Were they imagining victory? Were they worried about defeat? Were they just thinking about themselves, or did they realize how much pressure writers covering their games are under?
When I went to breakfast Saturday morning, I was disappointed that I didn't see grits on the menu. Being a Northerner, I've never had grits. I've never even seen a grit. But I know it's an old staple of the South, so I'm determined to try some before I go home.
I went to pick up my official press credentials, and nobody laughed at me or tried to kick me out. So now I know I actually have a seat. I'm definitely going to the games!
But then I had a new worry. There's an old expression in basketball —"You can't teach height." What this means is, you can't teach a player how to be tall. Well, the same thing applies to spectators. I've never been known for my height, and if somebody tall sits in front of me, I'm stuck. I thought about that for a while and then realized, like other short players, I'll just have to use my wits and experience. And then I can beg the guy to switch seats.
Just took the shuttle over to the Atlanta Dome. It must be an important event. The Goodyear Blimp is covering it. So, I'll ask the question I've never gotten an answer to: Since basketball games are indoors, exactly what do those blimps cover?
On to the games!
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.