I was 10 and the year was 1998. Up to that point in my life I knew basketball was something I loved to play and watch. Each year the month of March meant college basketball was on the main stage and I might not have fully grasped how big of a stage it was, but I did know that it was something special. People who didn't care about basketball watched because everyone had March Madness and the basketball enthusiasts were in heaven, 3 straight weekends of the best games of the college season.
My dad wasn't like the casual fan, he had attended the Final Four a few times and had seen some of the greatest final games of all-time. But in 1998 it was my chance to attend my first Final Four. My dad had gotten tickets through the draw so we made plans to attend the 3 games that weekend in San Antonio, TX.
We only had two tickets but my mom and sister came with us for the weekend. I remember our seats weren't great, probably a few rows from the top of the Alamodome, but even up there you could feel the electricity in the building. I don't have much recollection of the actual game play but I do remember rooting for the Kentucky Wildcats and their new coach Tubby Smith, they're still a team I cheer for today. This was before I knew about the great history of Kentucky basketball but I guess I just preferred them over the other 3 teams in the finals.
One memory of the weekend that remains vividly with me is the walk over to the Alamodome before the games. The dome is right outside of downtown San Antonio but it lies on the other side of major highways. In order to allow pedestrian traffic to reach the dome from downtown there's a tunnel that goes beneath the highways and allows fans to get there easily. From our hotel you could see the Alamodome but it was still a ways away. So me and my dad started early on our journey to watch the semifinals Saturday night. I didn't know the way there like I do now, so when we entered the tunnel I was just trying to keep up with my dad in the massive crowd. As we reached the exit and walked back into the open air the Alamodome rose to the sky right before us, lit up as if the whole world were watching. It was such an awesome feeling, even for a ten year old, because of the buzz of the crowd and the energy from each school's fans already cheering for their teams (10 years later we would make the same walk only a few feet behind Coach Roy Williams). I still get chills thinking about it.
The other part of the weekend that stands out in my mind is spending time with my dad on the Riverwalk on Sunday and Monday. The television and radio shows were setup in the mall and we enjoyed watching some of the shows live, of course at the time I didn't really know who the guests were, but it was fun just to be apart of it. The atmosphere on those days is different though because two of the teams have been eliminated so there fans usually leave. It's almost like the area is taking a deep breathe before it starts all over again on Monday.
We've been to 4 Final Fours, and other games in the weeks leading up to the finale but I would say that first visit played a large part in shaping my feelings about March when the tournament rolls back around.
There's truly nothing else in sports quite like college basketball's one shining moment.