College basketball fans from Connecticut, Wisconsin, Florida and especially Kentucky are flooding into Arlington this weekend for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. KERA’s Stephen Becker spent Friday with thousands of them at AT&T Stadium.
Three of the Final Four teams use blue as a school color. But on Friday, the bulk of that blue was on the backs of Kentucky fans.
“I’m not gonna miss Kentucky playin’. If we’re goin’ to a Final Four, I’m gonna be there if I have to walk.”
That’s Mike Spencer, a horse trainer from Louisville. This is his ninth Final Four. And like other trips, he doesn’t have tickets yet. But…
“I always manage to get ‘em. Always manage to get ‘em,” Spencer said.
Jim Erwin just flew in from Ashland, Ky., and he doesn’t have tickets either. But as a Wildcat fan, he knows his way around a Final Four: This is the school’s third in the last four years. He expects to see a lot of Kentucky blue among the 85,000 fans at the games this weekend.
“I would say probably 60 percent would be Kentucky fans,” Erwin said. “The Florida fans do not travel well.”
Not so, says Gator fan Linda Boyd: “Ask a Kentucky fan if they’ve ever gone to an away football game. Never!”
She and her husband, John, are from Jacksonville, Fla.
“My father graduated from the University of Florida in 1951,” she said. “I’ve been going to the football games since I was 10.”
This is their first Final Four after attending three championship games for the football team. Florida, which has won 30 in a row, is the odds on favorite to cut down the nets Monday.
But don’t count out maybe the most unlikely team to make the trip, UConn. Russell Steinberg just got in with his dad from Farmington, Conn.
“On the way here, almost lost in the first round to St. Joe’s, coulda lost to Villanova, coulda lost to Iowa State, Michigan State,” Steinberg said. “It always helps when you have the best player in the tournament, though, on your team. That would be Shabazz Napier.”
Napier led UConn to an upset of Michigan State last weekend. Steinberg immediately went online to find Final Four tickets.
“Um, got those for a little over $100 each,” he said.
That’s a steal, considering choice seats are going for $2,000 -- and up.
Which might be worth it for the Wisconsin fans who made the trip like Pat and Sue Lakey. The last time their team won it all, FDR was in the White House.
“Well, here’s what happened – at the time, we were in Colorado,” Pat Lakey said. “So as soon as the game was over and we made the Final Four, we picked up the phone and called our friends in Wisconsin and said, ‘We wanna go. It’s in Texas, and it’s only 11 or 13 hour from where we’re at. We wanna go!’ And they said, ‘Well, we’ll get tickets.’ So Wednesday morning, we got in the car and here we are. Go Badgers!”
An easy decision considering their level of basketball fandom.
“We don’t even know how many kids we’ve got our where they live,” Pat Lakey said. “It’s all about basketball.”
And in a couple of days, they might finally get to call their school national champions.
The first game of the Final Four between Florida and UConn tips at 5:09 p.m. Saturday.