Editor's Note: Steve92 was kind enough to share his experience when he took his son on a midwest road trip to Omaha's CenturyLink Arena. He's aptly given the name of this piece "My Trip to Enemy Territory" which I hope inspires future FanPosts to this community about similar experiences. Enjoy, and thanks Steve!
Fortunately/Unfortunately, I was at the "CLink" for the game on Sunday afternoon. I want to share some of the highlights and observations of my first foray into attending a game as a "visitor."
Must ReadsFilm Room: Breaking down Nova's loss to Creighton
First, a huge THANK YOU to Jeremy Wang for setting us up with team seats right behind the bench. I asked about how one gets those seats back in October, and Jeremy came through. A nice donation to the Athletic Fund will be forthcoming.
My 11 year old and I took the three hour drive to Omaha from Kansas City and attended the Pre-Game brunch at Creighton University. This was a really nice event put on by a group of Creighton Alumni. For their inaugural season in the Big East, this Alumni group put together a breakfast/lunch for the opposing teams’ area alumni to gather/meet prior to the game. They had guest speakers representing each school – Ryan Fannon (voice of Villanova radio) represented Villanova and Bruce Rasmussen, Creighton's Athletic Director, spoke at the event.
Bruce is on the Men’s Basketball committee and just returned from the selection exercise and had some interesting insight, especially around the importance of total bids for the Big East teams to "legitimize" the conference. During Q&A, I asked Bruce about the difference in fan bases of the Big East versus what he experienced in the Missouri Valley Conference. His biggest surprise was that the fans were much more knowledgeable about the game (foreshadowing...)
After the brunch we headed over the CenturyLink Arena/Convention Center. They were having a massive, 400 team girls volleyball tournament at the convention center, so it was quite busy in the area. The "CLink" is about a half-a-mile from the main campus. While waiting, for our tickets, we met Josh Hart’s two cousins, Aunt and Grandfather who also made the drive up from Kansas City. I asked them how Josh was liking it and they said he loves the team but is frustrated by his lack of production as of late. We talked about hitting that "freshman wall" and they said Josh told them that Big East conference play takes a lot more out of you, physically and mentally, than the non-conference opponents.
We finally got our tickets about 1 hour prior to the tip and headed into the arena. Let me start off by saying that the CLink is pretty awesome – 18,000 seats, sold-out for every game. It’s state of the art and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The students are allowed in 2 hours before game-time, so the student section was full and raring to go. We were escorted to our seats right behind the team beach (we were a bit on the far end of the bench, right behind Father Rob and the trainers).
The teams were going through pregame shoot around and stretching out. I got to walk around behind the benches and met Austin Chatman’s dad and had a nice conversation with him. I stood about 5 feet from Doug McDermott and he is all of 6’8" – much bigger than I thought he’d be. He is not as broad as he looks on TV and he’ll need to add some bulk before going to battle with PFs in the NBA. He spent a lot of time during the warm-ups on that off the block fade-away. I don’t think he missed once. In what I thought would be the highlight of my son’s trip, he stood next to the bench and got high-five’s from every Villanova player when they left the court and headed to the locker room to suit up.
Now it was game time….. The team came out of the tunnel, followed a few minutes later by Jay Wright. There was a Class of 1958 alumni (Dennis Keenan) who was sitting in the first seat and Jay stopped on the way by, shook his hand and said a few nice things to the alum. Right before the National Anthem, the arena went dark and they proceeded to have a 60 second commercial for Budweiser. It was a catchy tune with a video showing highlights of the season. All the students and fans were singing along. I was sitting next to a handful of NCAA attorneys and they just looked at the person sitting next to me (who I’m fairly sure was Larry Eustachy who was there with is assistant coach Steve Barnes) and asked if he’d ever have something like that at "his place."
Student section is LOUD. They really gave it to Jay Wright from the second he walked out of the tunnel - everything from his choice of clothes to his (in)ability to coach defense. It pretty much was not personal in nature, but it didn’t stop. Nothing outside the box from my days at Nova when we were giving JTII or Lou Carnesecca the business.
One fan sitting mid-court about four rows up, rode Henry Lowe the entire game. Every time the bench mob stood up, this guy was calling out Lowe, non-stop - "Hey, Henry sit down" "Henry, you should go in and play defense" or just chanting "Henry… Henry." It was actually pretty funny and I was amazed that fan paid enough attention to get the name of one of our walk-ons right.
These fans are not used to the physicality of Big East basketball. They were apoplectic every time a defender put their hand on a Bluejay. They wanted a foul called on every single play. This is not like the grab ass play in the MVC and they need to get used to it.
There is a definite feeling in the air that they need to get something done this year. I think they realize that next year, minus McDermott, Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge, they are going to struggle, big time. Their star recruit, Ronnie Harrell, was at the game. They showed him on the jumbotron, and announced he was there. The crowd went nuts. Can Ronnie replace those other three?
The fans hate Jim Burr as much as we do… so we have that in common. One funny comment that came from the crowd was "Jim, how’d you make that call? You look like an old, tired owl!" He does.
I don’t know if it mattered, but Jay Wright did have a pull on the back of his suit jacket. I’m blaming that for the game.
Game sucked. Enough said.
After the game was mercifully over, we were about to head up the stairs and face the taunting of the crowd, but the usher told us we can head down the tunnel and meet the team. About a dozen of us waited around for about 30 minutes until the team started coming out. They all came out, one by one, and stopped to talk to me and my son and to sign his Villanova hat. Despite the very tough game, every single player was respectful and thanked us for coming to the game. Dylan Ennis was on his cell phone and he told the person on the other end to hold while he stopped and had a few minute conversation with my son and I. Not one had a "holier than thou" attitude and were excellent representatives of Villanova University. The smile on my son’s face when he was meeting the players was worth every second driving up there and suffering through that game.
After the team boarded the bus, Jason Donnelly and Jay Wright came out to talk to the fans still there. Again, despite the tough game, Jay spent a few minutes with my son and I and he thanked us for being there and wearing our Villanova gear. We talked about the game and it was just one of those "what can you do when the team shoots 67% from the field" discussions.
Then we drove three hours home, grateful for the experience and look forward to next year when the result should be different.