Not just another face in the crowd
HOUSTON -- There were 75,421 people at Reliant Stadium for Saturday's Final Four, and yet I had no problem finding the families of the players about to take the court. On this, the biggest night of their sons' lives, these moms and dads had a special glow of pride -- and an unmistakable look of terror.
"We're overwhelmed," said Joe Rodriguez, the father of VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez. "We dreamed about this when Joey was a kid, but did we ever think this was gonna happen? No."
"Excitement, joy -- definitely nervousness," said Myla Burgess, mom to Rams forward Bradford Burgess.
Myla's husband, Keith, claimed he had no nerves, that he was just ready for tipoff, but then he broke into tears listening to the national anthem. A former college football player, he had trouble expressing why he was so emotional. He simply said of his son, pictured high up on the screen at Reliant, "He's just such a good kid."
Both the Butler and VCU squads seemed to be full of good kids, which made it that much harder to watch one underdog knock out the other in the lowest-seeded Final Four matchup in history.
In the end, Butler earned its second straight national championship appearance after its defense stayed hot and VCU's 3-point shooting went cold, resulting in a 70-62 Bulldogs victory.
"It's more unreal than the first time," said Stan Howard, father to Bulldogs star Matt Howard. "You don't think you can do it the first time, and then it's even more unlikely to do it again."
Stan is proud that his son has been able to accept the starring role on his team despite not being a fan of the limelight. And he's even more proud that Matt's accomplishments have brought some light to their tiny hometown of Connersville, Ind.
"Unemployment's really high there," Stan said. "And [Butler's success has] really been something for the whole city to kind of rally around."
No doubt Monday night will be a big one for the residents of Connersville, as the Bulldogs look to avenge last year's two-point loss to Duke. There won't be any traveling Cameron Crazies this year, though. Instead they'll have to take out another big-name program, the Connecticut Huskies.
In Saturday's late game, UConn outlasted Kentucky 56-55 to advance to its first national championship game since 2004. Former Husky and 15-year NBA pro Donyell Marshall didn't have any kids out on the court, but he said the current players feel like his little brothers. He joined the team Friday night for dinner at Willie G's Seafood & Steaks, but held back any words of advice.
"I didn't wanna have 'em think about anything," he said. "I wanted to just let them come out relaxed and play the way they've been playing over the last 19-20 days and just keep doing what they do."
Marshall was part of a greatly outnumbered UConn fanbase. Even the students didn't show! Of 800 lottery seats, only about a hundred were used by UConn students. One Husky said the cost of transportation and lodging was just too high for most of his classmates. But even though Kentucky blue filled the stands, and each UK bucket was met with deafening cheers, the Huskies managed to silence them in the end.
"We got one more to go," Marshall said. "I'm just glad we beat Kentucky. I don't like Kentucky or Duke -- I'm not too big a fan of theirs. Now we got one more to go."
"One more to go" was the phrase of the night for UConn fans, while the Butler Bulldogs preached "unfinished business." On Monday night, one of the teams will meet its goal, and a bunch of very proud parents will finally be able to relax.