Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Recap

March was a busy blur; it came in like a lion and stayed that way. There was also a major bump in the road along the way.  Rather than write six different blog entries, I've decided to do a recap of the mad month of March.

Piscataway, New Jersey - March 2
My cross-country flight on March 1 landed at Newark a couple of hours before a major snowstorm moved in from the south.   (The south? Snowstorms don't move up from the south!  Well, this one did, and Richmond, Virginia, received eight inches of snow).  My next game was the next day, women's hoops in Piscataway, New Jersey, on the campus - or one of them, at least - of Rutgers University.  Luckily, I didn't have to worry about flying, but I did have to worry about driving.  Since I don't like to drive when it's 80 degrees and sunny, I decided to forgo my rental car and take the train from Penn Station to New Brunswick.  That was the easy part.  Catching a cab for the five-minute ride to the arena is what proved difficult.  After waiting in the smelly waiting room of a taxi dispatch office, I had to share a ride with two strangers (one who was in the waiting room with me; the other who was picked up at her apartment later) and arrived at work thirty minutes late.  I hate that!  Some of my co-workers were a couple of hours late, so I was fine, but still . . . 

The game went well, from what I recall.  One of the aforementioned late co-workers was operating the other graphics machine and was en route from his home in Florida after being delayed at the airport, of course.  My AP (associate producer, font coordinator) and I worked our butts off to build graphics on both machines, and we were ready for the game by the time our travelling graphics operator arrived at 6:00pm, ninety minutes before tip.  We had everything we needed for the Connecticut women's 69-59 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.  With the win, UConn finished the regular season undefeated. (They stayed undefeated and won the NCAA title last night.)  

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - March 3-5
The problem with all this work is there is little time to do errands and relax, but I shouldn't complain because I'm happy to have a job.  The afternoon after the UConn/Rutgers game I flew to Pittsburgh.  There was no snow, but it was bitterly cold.  A friend of mine on the crew lives north of Pittsburgh, and she picked me up at the hotel and took me to dinner, her husband's hockey game, and to their home to meet their dog, an adorable Boxer named Max (below).

Isn't he great?  He's such a sweet dog.  

Here is Pittsburgh from my hotel room.  Apparently, Pittsburgh is known as "the city of bridges."  Not sure of the name of the bridge in this photo.

On March 4, I worked the Marquette/Pittsburgh men's basketball game at the Petersen Events Center.  I would rather have watched Carolina play (they were at Virginia Tech), but since I was getting paid to be in Pittsburgh, I had to make do.  The game I worked was a good one, back and forth for much of the way.  Marquette battled despite not having star Dominic James, who was out due to a broken foot that ended his season.  The Golden Eagles couldn't hang on, and Pittsburgh won handily, 90-75.  (By the way, Carolina was triumphant as well, holding off the Hokies 86-78.)

Morgantown, West Virginia - March 6-8
After one night at home, I flew back to Pittsburgh, from where I drove 90 minutes to Morgantown, West Virginia.  I shared the ride with one of my co-workers, and after winding our way through the hills for a little while, we stopped to have breakfast at Cracker Barrel.  It's not where I would choose to eat every day, but I was pleased to have grits.  Back on the road, I saw cows dotting the landscape.  When we checked into the hotel - called a "golf resort and spa" - I was once again reminded of those cows as the hotel hosted the Appalachian Grazing Conference.  Nice.  Here's a peak at the grounds of the "golf resort and spa."

The game, a contest between the Louisville Cardinals and the West Virginia Mountaineers, was the final tune-up before the Big East Tournament. Louisville was expected to walk all over head coach Bob Huggins's alma mater, but West Virginia kept it tight before finally losing 62-59.  The victory gave Louisville the outright regular season Big East title.  

March 10-12: New York City
A rare occurrence in winter:  working at home!  It's nice to walk to a venue instead of getting on a plane.  It was the Big East Tournament, and I did the day games.  Before my set day on March 10, I met my Pittsburgh buddy at The Half King, a really great pub.  The mac 'n' cheese is the best in the City.  (I've probably mentioned that once or twice.)  

Because the Big East has nine million teams - okay, it's sixteen - the top four teams were rewarded with not one, but two byes.  We didn't televise the first two games of the tournament because it featured the conference's bottom feeders.  So, Day Two of the tournament was actually Day One for ESPN.  I worked the DePaul/Providence and St. John's/Marquette games.  The next day during the quarterfinals, the slate for me was Providence/Louisville and Marquette/Villanova.  

Even though the Marquette/Nova game was good, I was ready for it to end because I had to head to the airport to fly to . . .

Tampa, Florida - March 12-15
for the SEC Semifinals.  I was gripping a bit because I stood in the taxi line for a while, but I made it to LaGuardia with plenty of time.  Since I'm a segment whore, I flew United to Tampa and had to connect rather than take a direct flight on Delta.  When I checked the Big East scores when I connected at Dulles, I thought the Syracuse/Connecticut game was a final in three overtimes.  It wasn't until I checked into my hotel in Tampa's South Harbour Island - at approximately 1:30am - that I discovered that the game actually went to six overtimes before Syracuse finally won.  In a way, I wish I'd done that game.  That would have been something to experience.

But I was sent to Tampa instead.  Our set day consisted of sitting around watching the quarterfinals so that we would know what teams were going to play in the semis.  We were at the trucks until around 10pm and back at 7am. Ugh.  My double header had Mississippi State defeating LSU 67-57, and Tennessee over a tenacious Auburn team (coached by former Tar Heel player Jeff Lebo) 94-85.

What I liked about the SEC Tourament was the festival atmosphere.  There were basketball courts set up for the fans, banners were everywhere, and there were SEC stickers all over the sidewalks.  It seemed to be more fun than the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden.  Maybe because there are so many things happening in New York at once, it's easy for the city to overlook a college basketball tournament.

Tampa from my hotel room

I went to Minneapolis for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  It was to be my first "Big Dance" with CBS.  I flew out there on March 18 and spent a couple of hours at the trucks.  During the day my husband called me.  His dad, who had been in the hospital for almost three weeks at that point, was going downhill.  My husband, who had just arrived in Montreal for work, booked a flight down to Richmond.  He called me at 5 o'clock the next morning, and I was soon on my way to join him.  My father-in-law passed away two hours after my plane landed.  

It all happened so quickly, and we're still reeling from it, still in disbelief.  We miss you, Big Bill!

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