Final Four Recap: Hats off to Atlanta and even the NCAA
I had my doubts about the Final Four. Between the NCAA’s new paperless ticketing system, Atlanta’s reputation as an iffy (at best) sports town and the joint goal of bringing 75,000+ to the Dome for both the semi-finals and the championship game, prospects seemed bleak. I was wrong.
I knew I’d enjoy the basketball-side of the weekend, but the Final Four had “Atlanta can’t handle major sporting events” written all over it. By Tuesday of last week, I had already contrived a sob story of defense for my hometown (well, close enough). When viewers tuned in to watch underdog Wichita State take on top seeded Louisville, they were going to see empty seats – tens of thousands of them. This was not going to be Atlanta’s fault; I wasn’t going to let that happen. The seats were going to be empty because of the NCAA’s new – and slower – entrance process. That was my story, and I was sticking to it.
Did I believe my own story? I absolutely did. I even wrote about it. In the end, I didn’t need a story. Atlanta fans joined the ranks of loyalists from Wichita, Louisville, Syracuse and Ann Arbor and packed out the Dome. Georgia Dome employees hustled fans through the turnstiles with the security detail actually taking longer than the entirety of the NCAA’s new swipe, download, print ticket procedure. It was truly impressive and hardly an inconvenience.
The end result? Three fantastic games and a pleasurable fan experience. A total of 150,000+ fans witnessed three games decided by an average margin of five points, and the games felt that close for their entirety. The atmosphere was electric. At times the Dome rocked the way it did after Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin took a reverse hand-off and raced 80 yards for a TD against Boise State in front of a contingent that heavily favored the Bulldogs back in 2011 (to this day that was the loudest I’ve heard the Dome). At other times the building felt more like a high school gym seating a couple hundred lucky fans whose passion had a greater impact on the game’s play than any coach or referee.
The energy never died, it was just transferred. From Wichita State to Louisville. From Michigan to Syracuse and then back to Michigan. And then finally from Michigan to Louisville for one last jolt.
Hats off to Atlanta, the NCAA and the corporate sponsors who pulled off an event that had everything:
- Incredible basketball
- Celebrities (Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Jason Sudeeikis, even Rahm Emanuel)
- Great music (The Final Four Concert Series featured artists with a total of 25 Grammy Awards)
- Fun for the whole family (My apologies: there’s no way to describe the Fan Fest without sounding cheesy)
Well done. Especially by this guy…
That’s all I got/