It was a beautiful Saturday in the Midwest with sunshine and high temps well into the mid-60s. As I drank my morning coffee around 9:30 a.m., I could sense the buzz brewing, one that would culminate with the Sunday evening Selection Show on CBS.
It was the beginning of college basketball's NCAA Championship weekend, where improbable teams would find themselves in the "Big Dance."
In my hazy state, I could even make out the the sounds of fans gathering and geared up for the excitement that is March Madness. I wondered if my coffee was a bit too strong because it seemed they were right outside my downtown hotel!
I heard the hustle and bustle of thousands of people, seemingly coming out of hibernation to gather for an annual event in their fair city. It seemed all of St. Louis had been pining for a day like this for months.
But wait! The people weren't gathering in their team's apparel and quibbling about who should be seeded where as I suspected. Instead, they were unified in their team colors and their team was of Irish descent. No, they weren't Notre Dame fans. This was a St. Patrick's Day weekend celebration, and it was quite a festive and carnival-like atmosphere.
As for me, I was on a different mission. I was ready to take in the final battles for the last spots in the NCAA Tournament at a sports bar with enough big screens to follow all of the action at once.
Little did I know, I was about to cross paths with a lesser-known Binghamton team in the process.
I knifed my way through a sea of green-clad revelers in the lobby, some of whom had already gotten quite a start on "celebrating." After searching for sports bars around the new Busch Stadium and asking several bystanders for assistance in locating one, I came up dry.
I later learned why. Even though the merchants association is trying to have some entertainment and restaurant establishments built, they haven't received permission from the city as of yet.
I'm sure the food vendors at the ballpark are pleased with that...
Frustrated, I hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the nearest sports bar. It was nearly game time!
Unfortunately, due to the parade route, the taxi could only get me within three blocks of the nearest bar...and on the opposite side of the parade barriers.
But I had come this far; I wasn't about to give up now!
When I had cleared all obstacles and entered a bar with plenty of TVs, I asked the host to tune one of the TVs to the Tigers game. Seeing a look of exasperation on my face, he said with a smirk: "Which one?"
How was I to know? Auburn, Missouri, Jackson State, LSU and Pacific were all playing the same day as my Memphis Tigers.
I knew I was home when I overheard a table of people next to me cheering as Binghamton secured their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. Yes, tiny Binghamton University, located in New York, had fans glued to their TVs miles away in St. Louis. In fact, two of the guys there were former players when Binghamton was a Division III team (one of them is the school's all-time leading rebounder).
So there we all were: united in cheering on our teams and breaking down the seedings and sleeper picks. I even shared my ordeal in just making it to the sports bar. One of the guys laughed and said my experience was "just like Binghamton making the 'Big Dance': worth the struggle!"
By the way, Binghamton University's team colors are GREEN and white.
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