This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in April 2003.

For one fan, nothing matches Final Four atmosphere

By Ed Odeven

For those folks sitting in the cheap seats, and those fortunate enough to shell out the big bucks to sit where Spike Lee usually does, being at the Final Four is something they’ll never forget.

One of the lucky souls who ventured to New Orleans for this year’s season-ending extravaganza was my buddy Brad Malone. He was one of 54,000-plus hoop junkies enjoying Monday’s title clash between surprising Syracuse and Kansas, along with his dad, Ron, brother, Sean, and friend, Jeff.

Malone was sitting three rows from the top at the Superdome, watching the exploits of Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick and Kueth Duany, as well as Kansas standouts Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich.

The view from the upper deck wasn’t superb, Malone said the other day during a telephone conversation. But the aura of the NCAA men’s championship game was.

“The Final Four atmosphere is great, anywhere you go in New Orleans,” he said. “You go down to the French Quarter or the mall and you see people from everywhere … You just go up to people and start talking them.”

Then you start eating. That’s another reason to be in New Orleans.

“I’ll remember the food,” Malone says.

One of his favorite eating establishments in the Crescent city is a joint called Mother’s Restaurant. It’s a place that serves delicious Po-Boys, which are, Malone explained, “basically sourdough bread (sandwiches) with tomatoes, pickles, mayonnaise and fried shrimp or fried crawfish.” Another delight for many is the muffaletta. “It was OK. I put some hot sauce on it,” Malone said. “That was one thing I learned: How to eat hot sauce down there.”

When he wasn’t eating, Malone was, of course, enjoying being at the Final Four. This was the third time he’s had the opportunity to do so. Malone attended the 1991 Final Four in Indianapolis, featuring Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and UNLV. He also went to San Antonio in ’98 to see Kentucky, Utah, Stanford and UNC.

To get tickets to the Final Four, fans must send a check months in advance and hope they get selected during the random ticket lottery. (“If they don’t draw your name, they send you the check back,” Malone said.)

Malone attended Game 4 of the 1998 World Series between the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres in San Diego and Games 1 and 6 of the 2001 World Series in Phoenix between the Yanks and Arizona Diamondbacks. Comparing the atmosphere at both grand spectacles of Americana, Malone had this to say: “(Based on) the overall level of pure excitement from the crowd, I think, the World Series has to beat it just because it’s a home park. …

“The Final Four, though, is just a totally different atmosphere. … You have a lot of neutral fans who just go to see the games, like me. .. I’m just a fan of college basketball. I just wanted to see good games.”

Malone, a loyal University of Arizona fan, was disappointed Lute Olson’s Cats didn’t advance to the Final Four, but understands how difficult it is to do so.

“In college basketball, you can’t win every year,” he says. “You’ve got to deal with it or you’re not going to have a very fun life.”

As Monday’s title game was winding down, Kansas’ spirited comeback electrified the Superdome crowd.

“The last two minutes were exciting because Kansas was pretty much down the whole game,” Malone says.

The Jayhawks needed to connect on a long-range shot to win the game. Sharpshooter Michael Lee had his shot blocked with 1.5 seconds left by Warrick.

“I thought he got fouled,” says Malone. “From where I was sitting it was so far away I couldn’t see, but I thought he got fouled. But I watched the replay when I got home, and it was a block.”

Then, at the buzzer, Hinrich shot an airball from beyond the arc. Instant pandemonium buzzed throughout the Superdome.

“It was just amazing to see everybody pile on the court,” Malone explains. “And then this huge Syracuse section was just going completely crazy. All of a sudden there’s this roar and then everyone’s flashing light bulbs like when Mark McGwire hit his 70th (home run).”