Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What a Great Ride!

I am back from Tampa for a couple of weeks now and it has taken all of this time to have the wonderful experience soak in all the way. What a great ride this team took us all on! As I noted in an earlier blog, my plans meant that we were flying during the Maryland game. My frantic fingers on the iPhone got us all excited upon landing and we had the whole United crew whooping it up with us as we disembarked. Tampa was already in a Final Four mood--even at 1 am on a Tuesday morning.

We spent the week in Orlando, doing the Disney thing. Don't let anyone fool you--the most thrilling ride anywhere is the Parking Lot tram during a lightning storm!

We also made sure to eat the new official team sandwich.

Arriving in Tampa, we headed straight to the Arena to get a peek at what was going on. Along the way we encountered what we considered to be a great omen--Whiting Street!

The Arena looked lovely--especially the Big S!

We did some shopping at a merchandise tent across the street from the Arena. We were surrounded by Orange people and UConn fans. We also noticed the Stanford stuff was scarce. As I was checking out, the lady doing the selling whispered, "You Stanford people are the nicest. We hope you win!"

At the same time, all of the Orange people were on our side, hoping that we would beat UConn. The UConn folks looked at us sideways. The LSU gang commiserated with us and hoped we would meet in the final game.

Hoop City was a great way to pass the time before the first game. It is put on each year at the Final Four to showcase various elements of the Women's game and provide some fun activities--like pictures with the Championship trophy.

I caught up with a familiar face there, not knowing she would be there in person, too!

We ran into the Appels while we were there and it made us especially happy to hear that the team was relaxed and ready. We couldn't say the same for ourselves--we were nervous and excited! Finally it was time to get together with like-minded people for the team sendoff.

The team hotel was a beautiful spot and there was a great sand sculpture in the lobby to greet us.

Let the party begin!

We ran into an old friend, Evon Asforis. For those of you who don't know Evon, she was a great Stanford center in the late 80's. She was over the moon that Tara invited her to speak to the team before they left and was thrilled that anyone remembered her!

Then the team started to trickle towards the bus--in a driving rain storm. The crowd whipped into a frenzy!

I hung back in the lobby area so got to see the team closely as they came downstairs-and even slapped hands with Mel and Candice as they headed out. OK, now I was STOKED!

The rain continued and was monumental--7 inches was measured in parts of Tampa. We had planned a nice walk to the Arena, but managed to hitch a ride on a small bus and stayed dry. As we moved to our seats, we saw the whole team gathered in a circle on their bench--I was struck at how cool it was that they were taking in the moment all together. I later read that Vanessa had reminded them to do that.

The next couple of hours are a blur. One of the most amazing things was that the Stanford Band was selected to play the National Anthem! I didn't know it at the time, but they had won the Battle of the Bands at Hoop City--so they earned the right and did a great job. Then the team intros--

And the game was on! We all know the happy conclusion--the energy in the stands was electric and I hope anyone not there could feel it through the tube. Everytime the lead was threatened, Stanford stepped up. It was great and I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

Now, what to do until the final game? Well, Tampa had done a great thing of designating Channelside Bay Plaza as a meeting place for all of the fans.

Each team was assigned a restaurant and we got the very best one--Tinitapa's. They even renamed the place for the week--TARATAPA's--and put out a great T-shirt in honor of the team. This was THE HARD TO GET item of the tournament--the best I could do was get a picture of the back.

I had to settle for my own Tshirt--note the colors on the one being bitten. Yes, Stanford was once again a Big Dog!

Tinitapa's had great food and margaritas, not that I would know. They also went out of their way to be extra nice to us.

A marquee at the UConn restaurant hyped the big battle--

One thing we noticed as we enjoyed our afternoon--the Orange people were no longer our friends! And let me tell you, there are millions of them and who knew there were so many Orange clothing and accessory options? They all sort of looked at us askance. The UConners, on the other hand, were now our best friends. "Please win tonight, ok?" LSU stayed true to us, wishing us nothing but good luck.

You can imagine how we felt when we saw the Orange people talking to the band that was playing in the square and moments later, they played "Rocky Top". We left.

Another sendoff was in order--this time in glorious sunshine.

We met Vern, our favorite cheerleader--

--and the Tree!

The next few hours were a blur just like the Semi-final night. There was a bunch of stuff going on outside the Arena before the game, including a band that played *gulp* "Rocky Top". I was beginning to see a trend. I had on my Tree hat so was the official explainer of why is the Tree the Stanford mascot. It was wearing me out so we headed to our seats.

Kara and Stacy were in the house--

and Tara got her props--

But the energy was different. The team seemed sluggish and so did we. Just as we started to get going, something bad would happen. Like they played "Rocky Top" again. I swear, if I never hear that song again, it will be too soon! When I saw this fellow at the top of our section, I knew we were doomed.

We know the final outcome--a great opportunity lost, perhaps? It is easy to think that any time a team is so close to a championship. But I cannot look back without remembering all of the pure joy (sorry, Tara) that came out of this season. The great wins (Rutgers, Tennessee, Baylor, Utah, Cal, ASU), the terrific individual performances, the winning team chemistry, two disappointing losses in LA that propelled the team to running the table all the way to the championship game--it was all good. Only one team is happy at the end of the year, so we can be a little sad, but also realize we are happier than everyone else. I don't know about you but I CAN'T WAIT for next year!

No comments:

Post a Comment