What a week it was in Buffalo, New York. The Big Dance came. We ate. We drank. We partied. We reveled in the basketball. When all was said and done, it was Connecticut and Dayton who would be leaving Buffalo enroute to the Sweet 16. Did you have that mapped out in your bracket? Didn’t think so.
This is the fifth time that the NCAA mens basketball 2nd/3rd round “subregional” has come to Buffalo. Judging from the media reports, the buzz, the fan reactions, the games themselves, this may have been the best one yet.
On the court
The story of these games will certainly be the heroics of the Dayton Flyers. Their red cladded fans were trying to out yell the Ohio State faithful on Thursday, and then were absolutely swamped by a sea of Syracuse Orange on Saturday. Coming in as an 11 seed, the confidence in their game just grew and grew versus the formidable Ohio State Buckeyes, and they held the lead with their cross state rivals for much of the contest. With 26 seconds left, Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre was fouled while attempting a three point basket. He drained all three free throws and the team took the lead 58-57. The two teams traded buckets, and with Ohio State holding the ball for the last shot, Aaron Craft’s buzzer beater missed, and just like that it was jubilation for the Flyers. And it was more of the same Saturday. Syracuse did not land a single three pointer the entire game. Let that sink in for a moment. The entire game. Tyler Ennis’ three point attempt at the end also missed, and once again, the improbable Dayton Flyers had themselves a dramatic win. For the legions of ‘Cuse fans… devastation. It was kind of like Toronto Maple Leaves fans after yet another loss to the Sabres here in Buffalo, except Syracuse fans are far nicer.
The Buffalo party
Even if you’re one of those types who has never filled a bracket, take no interest in sports, and would rather watch paint dry than succumb to a full day of viewing games on TV on four separate networks, if you were in the city, you couldn’t help but notice that something special was going on. People were everywhere. The streets were teeming with cars, every eating and drinking establishment was packed to the gills, the Metrorail trains to and fro were constantly standing room only, and the hotels throughout downtown had no vacancies. Welcome banners were on full display everywhere. Visitors could easily be spotted, dressed in the gear of their favorite team playing here in Buffalo, but don’t discount the fans of the sport itself, who weren’t supporting any particular school, but were here just for the games and the party. The most common refrain I got from the visitors I spoke with was how Buffalo was a city on the move and on the comeback. The array of construction and work going on downtown left many impressed. And think about this for a moment, for the construction and renovation flash points going on around downtown right now could not be more perfectly placed – On Chippewa, the Delaware Court building is being carted away, to be replaced by a shiny new tower with retail and parking. Over on Main Street work is almost complete on the new roads on the 600 block, and fencing and preliminary work is beginning on the 500 block, right at the Fountain Plaza station. One station down, the Tishman is in full reconstruction mode for a new Hilton Garden Inn. And of course, at Canalside the massive amount of work is a wonder to behold. Each location was destination or embarkation point for our visitors, and they got an eyeful of the awesomeness that is unfolding in downtown’s rebirth.
Guess what. This was much ado about nothing.
If there is one thing we have in downtown Buffalo, it is an abundance of parking. In fact, a ridiculous overabundance. Fans attending Thursday’s sessions had a myriad of options and choices… ramps throughout the downtown core charge $6.50 to park all day. The ramps at One Seneca and at the ballpark, two blocks away, charged $8-$10. Most surface lots under the elevated Thruway and in close proximity, the same. Fans could park anywhere throughout downtown and ride the Metrorail for free. As for street parking? No can do on a weekday as meters are enforced, but they were free on Saturday. And here’s another little secret.. parking in the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino ramp was also FREE, and that’s just a block and a half further away from those infamous $60 lots.
Moral of the story? Customers have choices. If your local pizzeria is charging $50 for a large cheese and pepperoni, your reaction could be “damn that’s one great pie” and fork over the dough, or go to the next corner where the same product can be bought for $10. The marketplace works. Shame on Ch 2 and WBEN for sensationalizing what was essentially a non story. Buffalo did not get a black eye or any other colored eye from this. Ridiculous parking fees are pretty much standard in any big city. Suck it up and pay it, or find cheaper options. They are available in abundance here in the B-lo.
Sports travel and sports road trips are big business, and the industry has grown exponentially in the past decade. (If you have questions on this topic you’ve come to the right place). With the internet – ticket reselling sites, team websites that provide information and access to tickets, and social media which links up ballpark chasers, the romance of hitting the road and seeing games in faraway cities is big. And getting bigger.
Traveling to March Madness venues – from the opening rounds right to the Final Four, is a particularly popular type of road trip. And for good reason. Host venues normally put on a great party. There’s lots of things going on surrounding the games, the host communities steer you to other entertainment diversions, and there are endless opportunities to meet and hang out with other like minded fans. It’s a communal and shared experience and a special one to take part in.
Since the first subregional in 2000, Peter Farrell and I have organized a group of family and friends to take part in this NCAA experience, and it’s been a great gathering each time. On the morning of the first session, we meet up for breakfast (I hosted here at Avant). We all make our picks in a whole mess of fun pools – there are squares, and over/unders and point spread pools. Then we add other silly stuff like “Name the time of the game when the Ohio State marching band breaks into Hang on Sloopy” and “Name the time of the game when Syracuse’ Jim Boeheim removes his jacket”. (For those of you playing at home, the answers were 6:52/2nd half, and Boeheim kept his jacket on the whole game). We hopped the train and did Dinosaur BBQ between sessions. That place is a zoo even on slow nights, yet when we arrived our reservation for 9 was accommodated and we got in and out and missed little of the games. It is all about the games, the fellowship, the food and drink, and we have had a ball hosting this party, now for the fifth time. And just like the larger event, our little group has gotten better with each event.
So a shout out our participants this year who came from far flung places – besides Peter Farrell and myself there were John Farrell Sr from Elmira, John Farrell Jr and, for the first time, 10 year old John Stephen Farrell from Rochester, Ephraim Fiksel and Mike Simons from Toronto, Alan Bossin from Hamilton, Bermuda, and local guys Bill Zilliox from West Seneca and Tim Duffy from Tonawanda. Joining us as well, and sitting right behind us, was Stadium Journey writer Dave Cottenie from Kitchener, Ontario and his dad Jack Cottenie. Our bud Kevin Dale from Elma didn’t go to the games, but brought the hot foods and the bloody marys for the breakfast.
As for the City of Buffalo? You nailed it. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, our two schools Canisius and Niagara, the local organizers, the business community, our civic leaders who robustly supported the tournament, the Buffalo Sabres, the visiting fans, but most of all the people of this area who welcomed everyone with open arms, served as great local ambassadors. You made this event what it was, and yesterday and today thousands of people are heading home with stories of what a terrific time they had in Buffalo.
Later this year the NCAA will announce their sites for the 2016, 2017 and maybe even the 2018 NCAA mens basketball tournaments. We do know that Buffalo has put in its bid to have the event return for a 6th time. Let’s hope that come this time in 2017, we can welcome the world to Buffalo for yet another Big Dance, and show everyone how it is done.
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