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Vaught’s note: I asked vaughtsviews.com reader and die-hard UK fan Jim Boyers to share what going to New Orleans with his family to watch UK play and win the national title was like and to try and give all of you who could not make the trip a glance at what the overall fan experience was like. Jim did a great job â€” and didn’t even share our secrets from the KISS concert (the only stipulation I gave him). Enjoy this read from a true blue fan who loves his Cats.
By JIM BOYERS
Sometimes the less you planned on doing something, the better it turns out. That was definitely the case with my trip to New Orleans for the Final Four. I have never had as much fun watching a team as I have had this season. From being in Rupp Arena for numerous games, to television, computer and radio, it has been the most thrilling and electric group of kids and some of the greatest performances I have ever witnessed. I had not seriously thought for one second about going to New Orleans. Then along came the absolutely dominating beat down of Baylor and a berth in the Final Four.
As that Sunday wore on, I started getting this nagging, insistent little voice telling me that I should be there. By the time Monday afternoon came along, it had grown into a dead certain feeling that I HAD to be there. Thus began the 24-hour search for the right seats and the right hotel. Plans were finalized by Tuesday evening and there was nothing left to do but wait.
The next two days went by excruciatingly slowly, but departure day finally arrived. My wife Heidi, son Seth, daughter Sage and I began our drive late at night on Thursday. By late Friday morning we were in New Orleans. We got settled into our hotel and then headed on out to see the sights. We had picked a hotel just a few blocks from Bourbon Street because Heidi and Sage were not going to be attending the games, so they wanted to be close to all the other action. And close we were. After a two block walk, we came to Canal Street and my justifications for taking the trip started to materialize. Canal Street and all of the French Quarter were bustling with blue clad fans walking, shopping and talking. Everyone you passed would acknowledge you with a nod, a â€œGo Big Blueâ€ or â€œUKâ€. It was like being in Lexington, on a game day, except 800 miles away in one of the most famous areas in the world. In other words, it was like home. I enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow fans, but seeing the shops, the musicians and the street magician were the favorites of my wife and daughter.
After seeing a few of the sights, it was time to head up to the Superdome and get a look at our Cats holding their open practice. Since it was open to anyone, ticket or not, my daughter Sage went with Seth and me. It was a short 20 minute walk up Poydras Street and we arrived. I got chills as we approached the dome and saw the signs reading â€œTHE ROAD STOPS HEREâ€. It was hard to believe that this had gone from a last minute plan, three days prior, to a reality where I was standing in New Orleans, about to enter the arena where I was absolutely certain UK was going to bring home #8. The exterior of the dome was as magnificent as it appears on TV, but was even more special when seen decked out in UK, Louisville, Kansas and OSU banners. But that was nothing, when compared to the view as I stepped out into the arena. Massive, impressive, incredible, pick an adjective and you wonâ€™t be wrong. The 8 sided scoreboard, which hung over center court, was the brightest, most beautiful piece of electronics I have ever seen. Rupp has GOT to get one of those. We made our way down to seats in the 10th row and settled in as Ohio State held the end of their shoot around. After we got in our seats, I gave Larry Vaught a call and met up with him down at courtside (I had to stay on my side of the rails, of course). We made plans to meet up later and all returned to our seats to await the Cats. There was a rousing ovation when the team entered and it was immediately evident that they were as loose and focused as they needed to be. They didnâ€™t appear to have any problems hitting shots in the domed environment. The whole team and coach Robic stood beyond the three point line and held a little contest. Everyone was drilling them, but none better than Robic. He is one heck of a shooter. When the shootaround ended, I left the arena feeling pretty confident that this team was ready for Saturday night.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening walking around and soaking in the sights. Canal Street and the whole French Quarter were owned by Big Blue fans.
I have to pause here and say that it is beyond my writing ability to express how amazing the atmosphere was. It was like being in a world where everyone wears their heart on their sleeve, because they basically were. You knew why everyone was there and you knew who they were there for. You could tell who was a resident, a worker or a fan. You didnâ€™t need to guess where someoneâ€™s allegiance fell. It was pasted all over them. And blue dominated the scene, by an unbelievable margin. All I can say is it was awesome. It was like a sense of community unlike any I have ever felt before, outside of the interior of Rupp.
There were endless chants of â€œGo Big Blueâ€ and â€œC-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Catsâ€. We were walking on Bourbon Street and saw Terrence Jones walking by, with a small group. I got a call from Larry, saying that he wanted to go to the free Kiss concert, being held in the park near our hotels. We all went to the show and, even though it was raining, we had a great time. Hopefully Larry wonâ€™t be too shy to post the photo I sent him of it. I was sad to have the day end, but I was exhausted and had to pack it in.
Saturday was fun, but there was an underlying tension leading up to the game. We spent the day walking around and again soaking in the atmosphere. By this time, there were plenty of fans present from all the teams, but UK still held the vast majority. And I have to say that everyone was respectful of each other. I spoke with many of those other teamsâ€™ fans and it wasnâ€™t confrontational at all. Everyone seemed to be there for the purpose of rooting their team on, rather than tearing another team down. It was refreshing. I actually gained a new respect, especially for Kansas fans, who were far more humble and likeable than I would have imagined. Heidi and Sage headed off to watch all the concerts in the park, while Seth and I headed off for the game.
Since Larry has already done an incredible job of recapping the Louisville game, I can skip boring you with my take. I will say that it was everything I expected it to be and more. The place was electric. Luckily, my tickets had landed us just four rows up in Section 513. Our seats had a view which was comparable to being midway up the upper deck of Rupp, which is what I am used to anyway. So I was extremely happy with my view. We were also lucky enough to be surrounded by UK fans, with a few of the other teamsâ€™ fans sparingly thrown in. I would also like to give a special shout out to Jack, the UK fan who sat next to us. He was born and raised in Illinois, but thanks to TV, grew up an avid UK fan. He is living proof that members of Big Blue Nation arenâ€™t just born in Kentucky. We also met up with my brother Dave and his girlfriend Amanda at the arena. They had come down for Saturdayâ€™s game, but couldnâ€™t stay for the championship. The game was great. I know it appeared to be close, but I never felt like UK was challenged. They played their game and sent us off happy.
It was back to Bourbon Street and what was an almost impenetrable mass of fans. The UK and Kansas fans were ecstatic and the OSU and Louisville fans were down, but not angry. It was a chore to get each step through the crowd. I bought a victory cigar at a small shop and just soaked it all in. Several of Louisvilleâ€™s players (including Chane Behanan) were walking around taking pictures and greeting their fans. It was nice that there was so much love and respect, even in defeat. As we walked back to our hotel, I saw Mike Pratt on Canal Street. I approached him and thanked him for all of his work. He shook my hand and seemed genuinely happy to meet me. It was a nice way to end the evening.
Sunday was more sightseeing and just soaking in the atmosphere. I know I say that a lot here, but the whole situation was so special and something that Iâ€™m not likely to experience ever again. I was just relishing every minute of it. We were passing by the teamâ€™s hotel on Canal Street and saw the team bus parked in front. We decided to wait and see if the team was leaving. Hotel security put up barricades and we were front row for what turned out to be something special. As we watched, Anthony Davis came out in a suit, followed by his parents and Cal. The bus then departed. I turned to my son and said â€œI think he is on his way to get the Naismith Awardâ€. Sure enough, a few hours later it was announced that he had won. I was glad we had stayed around and even more happy to have gotten it on video. On Sunday evening we went to the free Jimmy Buffett concert in the park. If you have ever been to a Buffett concert, you know what it was like. If you havenâ€™t, you should go and experience it. There were people spilling out of the venue and security had shut the gates off. People were lined up at the barricades and across the adjacent parking lots to listen, even though they couldnâ€™t get in. Itâ€™s always a party at Buffett.
Monday finally arrived and there was nothing left to do but enjoy our last day in New Orleans and then watch UK bring home the trophy. But Monday would also hold many really cool surprises along the way. We went on a walk down to the Mississippi river and, as we were going by one of the restaurants, we passed by Reggie Miller, who was in town for his Hall of Fame ceremony. We went to the RiverWalk, which is a shopping complex along the river, where they also dock cruise ships. We had lunch and then went to sit out on the deck overlooking the river. Iâ€™m going to relay the next few things, not to make anyone think I am some great humanitarian, but rather because they happened and I am a big believer in Karma and â€œDo unto othersâ€. Not everything about this trip was sunshine and rainbows. One of the downsides to New Orleans (or any major city for that matter) is the large homeless population. It always serves to remind me that â€œthere, but for the grace of God, go Iâ€.
That person could just as easily be someone I loved and they are definitely someone elseâ€™s father, mother, son or daughter. There was an indigent young man going through ashtrays and picking out butts to smoke. Heidi offered him a cigarette and we gave him a few dollars. It always feels like I should do more, but I do what I can. We took the trolley, down along the river and stopped near the St. Louis Cathedral. If any of you watched ESPNâ€™s coverage, you will know it as the large, spired building in the background of their GameDay stage. We went up near the stage, but the guys werenâ€™t due back out for another hour, so we took some photos and moved on. As we approached the cathedral, there was another homeless man asking for handouts. Heidi had half of a sandwich left from lunch and decided that it would be better to give it to him, than wait until she was hungry again. That manâ€™s face lit up so much it was amazing. Here we are, spending thousands of dollars on a game and these two men are just happy to get a cigarette and half a sandwich. It really puts things in perspective. We went on and toured the cathedral and then began to walk back to the hotel because game time was approaching.
A few days earlier, I had been listening to an interview with Josh Hopkins (the Lexington born actor who has done the â€œJohn Wall danceâ€ on his show Cougar Town). He had stated that he couldnâ€™t attend the Louisville game, but would definitely be coming down for the championship game on Monday. At the time, I thought â€œMan I would like to run into him on Bourbon Streetâ€. As we walked back from the cathedral, we were stopping in shops and got sidetracked and turned around and ended up heading the wrong way. We eventually got turned back in the right direction and headed up Bourbon Street. As we walked, I saw none other than Josh Hopkins coming straight at me, decked out in UK blue. I stuck out my hand and he immediately shook it. He posed for some photos and we both spoke about the team bringing home #8. He was as nice as I could have ever imagined. He is a UK fan first and a celebrity second. Just the way we like em in BBN. Had we found our proper way back, we would have been long past Bourbon Street. Something intervened to get us jumbled up and at that spot just as Josh was passing by. It made me feel like luck was definitely on my side. I donâ€™t ever count my chickens before they are hatched, but I immediately stopped in the same cigar shop I had stopped in Saturday and bought a hand rolled victory cigar for that evening. We eventually made it back to Canal Street and, as soon as we rounded the corner, there was Governor Beshear getting out of a vehicle. We approached him and he was gracious enough to pose for photos. We finally made it back to the hotel to get a little rest before the game.
The city of New Orleans was experiencing a horrible thunderstorm for our walk to the game. Seth and I donned our disposable ponchos and headed out the door. We were absolutely soaked, from mid-thigh down, but never happier or more excited. We took our same seats next to Jack and settled in for a historic night. Once again words are going to elude me when trying to describe what transpired on Monday night. I am again thankful that Larry has already done that. I will just say that the final minutes of that game, when we knew UK had locked up the win, were some of the most surreal moments of my life. When the final buzzer sounded it was like I was looking through someone elseâ€™s eyes and hearing myself scream from a great distance. It had a dreamlike quality that defies description. Watching the trophy presentation, the net cutting and â€œOne Shining Momentâ€ were every bit as thrilling as you could imagine and had me covered in goosebumps. The walk home, in the pouring rain, was like the largest pep rally on Earth. Everyone was still yelling and chanting all the UK cheers we are accustomed to hearing. We went to Bourbon Street and walked around a little, but then decided to get something to eat. As we were walking by the teamâ€™s hotel, we got word that the team was on their way back. We stayed and cheered as the bus pulled up and the team disembarked. Cheer after cheer went up as each player came through, but none got the screams that were given to Darius Miller, as he stepped off the bus with the net around his neck and the trophy over his head. I had my phone recording the whole thing on video. It is dark and grainy, but I know whatâ€™s going on. After it was over, we went on to Arbyâ€™s and ran into the entire UK cheerleading squad, still in full uniform, eating inside. We had gone from one national championship team to another.
Tuesday morning arrived too soon and it was time to depart for home. We took a final little walk, but it just wasnâ€™t the same. The clock had struck midnight and Cinderella had turned back into a normal girl. New Orleans was, once again, a regular city. People, dressed in business attire with briefcases, instead of fan gear, were walking quickly to their jobs. There were people, here and there, with UK items on, but it was few and far between. It was depressing to experience, after the previous four days. I was still ecstatic over what had happened the night before, but it started to set in that the season was over and life was going to return to normal for all of us.
The drive home was as bittersweet as I could ever have imagined. We were passed by and passed tons of vehicles flying UK flags and sporting UK emblems. I would throw up the â€œ3 gogglesâ€ sign and fans would honk and scream and throw them back. Once again, it was quite a sight to see Kentucky plates dominating a highway so far from home. We ran into UK fans at every gas station and restaurant we stopped at on our 800 mile return trip. It was like the worldâ€™s longest, blue conga line. It was incredible.
While passing through Alabama, I tuned in to WLAP (on iHeart radio) and listened to the banner ceremony at Rupp. It was thrilling to hear the speeches and description of the banner unfurling. It wasnâ€™t as good as being there, but I had been witness to the ultimate event and it was only fair that others got to experience that celebration. I was as swelled with pride and happiness as I had been the previous evening. Then the ceremony was over and it was like a fist was squeezing my heart. It came crashing in on me that this magical, incredible season was over. Our time watching this amazing group of fine young gentlemen in UK blue had come to an end. All the joy just kind of drained out of me for a second. I had been more attached to this team than any before it. I had personally witnessed them reach the top of the college game. I was invested in them as much as any fan can be, but now it was time to let them go and wish them well.
We arrived home and went to bed. I awoke the next morning with many happy memories and a nagging feeling of loss. I know it sounds stupid to be sad, when something so incredible has happened, but it all stems from the totality of the situation. Had I stayed at home, I probably wouldnâ€™t be a fraction as sad, but instead I had just spent four days in a sea of blue, with BBN surrounding me. I had seen players, stars, games, trophies and everything else a UK fan could possibly want to see in one place It was like â€œimmersion therapyâ€ for my Big Blue soul. The experience, this season and this team were like heaven. I will miss it.