PHOENIX – Here are 21 signs that the Final Four is a really, really big deal.
1. They’re playing these games in an enclosed football stadium. Perhaps you have watched the Seattle Seahawks battle the Arizona Cardinals in games televised from the University of Phoenix Stadium. It’s big. Karnowski big.
2. The glossy official Final Four program is 224 pages long, sells for $20 and weighs about as much as a small melon.
3. The media work area at the stadium is about the size of an aircraft assembly building. Well, maybe not that big. But the space might best be measured in terms of acreage.
4. Each of the four schools has a headquarters hotel here. And if you were to wait in the lobby of the Westin – GU’s hotel – you would eventually see a veritable Who’s Who of Gonzaga basketball history pass before your eyes. It’s not polite to drop names, but if you found yourself wondering “Hey, is that …?” the answer would almost always be “Yes, it is.”
5. The reporters asking Mark Few questions about GU and Spokane at his brief press conference Sunday at the stadium were from news outlets such as the Washington Post, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and the Guardian, among others.
6. Money. The multiyear agreement CBS has with the NCAA is valued in billions of dollars. Billions. With a “B.”
7. The Final Four weekend can produce stories like this: An innocent country-mouse columnist from up in the north woods needs to get to downtown Phoenix from Glendale in a hurry. So he asks at the stadium about getting a cab. He is directed to the Renaissance Hotel not too far away. He goes to the hotel and asks one of the bellhops out front to get him a cab. In due course, an affable guy in a black SUV pulls up. And off to downtown they go. On the way over, the driver mentions that even though traffic snarls are delaying them, the price is preset and fixed. So not to worry. Oh, and how much is that? “Eighty dollars. Eight-oh.” The country mouse columnist is so stunned by this he forgets to ask for a receipt when they arrive at his destination.
8. It’s not universal. But in the right crowd, you can have conversations about Final Fours remembered from childhood.
9. I have it from reliable sources that The Final Four Fanfest experience in downtown Phoenix is a family-friendly extravaganza of exhausting activities and diversions. But sensory overload is sort of at the heart of Final Four weekend. So it makes sense.
10. Hotel housekeepers, many of whom speak English as a second language, wear Final Four buttons as they pick up wet towels from bathroom floors.
11. OK, this is probably just me. But organizers refer to certain pregame activities taking place on “Final Four Friday.” That always sounds to me as if it is part of some hoops-oriented liturgical calendar.
12. The numbers of press photographers is mind-boggling. I couldn’t overstate it if I tried.
13. When, during an actual game, there is an inexplicable stoppage in play that seems to last forever, fans need to remember that CBS isn’t broadcasting the Final Four just for laughs.
14. There’s a certain look that comes over people who are not fans of North Carolina (the Tar Heels vibe is more along the lines of entitlement). It’s a combination of happy and dazed. It’s “Is this really happening?”
15. My colleague Gina Boysun asked me to get her a Final Four refrigerator magnet. But I refuse to pay what they’re asking for those things (even though she said she would reimburse me). Sometimes you just have to take a stand.
16. Attending the games in person gives you so much to see and hear that it’s possible to have this thought: Maybe having a TV producer package all this for my easily addled brain isn’t a bad thing.
17. Not having a tan is enough to prompt some Phoenix residents to ask if you are here for the games.
18. The presence of an army of security personnel at the stadium and team hotels is both obvious and not-so-obvious.
19. This event has offered a reminder that no matter how many times they are instructed in the proper pronunciation of “Gonzaga,” some benighted people are either too obstinate to say it properly or perhaps they are simply incapable of learning. I wonder if a national championship would get their attention in an instructive way.
20. The Final Four becomes the Final Two.
21. And if your team wins that last game of the college basketball season, your hometown holds a parade after they get back.
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