‘Biggest Fan of the Big East’ Experience

A once in a lifetime experience only comes along, well, not very often.  Such was the situation I found myself in over the past five months.  Thanks to the generosity and philanthropy of Volvo US, I was one of 16 people that got to participate in The Biggest Fan of the Big East contest.  The newly redesigned Naughty S60 was the theme of the crusade and provided me one of the most wonderful sports-related memories, as well as a lifetime memory that transcends basketball, sports, and material things.

Everything began with an e-mail in September with an offer to participate in the program.  They were contacting sports bloggers from the various Big East schools looking for participants.  All they needed was some personal info about my social networking venues, Facebook, twitter, Youtube, etc.  After a little skepticism on my part, I followed through on that request. Next was an offer from them to fly me round trip to the Mecca of college basketball, New York City, to attend Big East Media Day, the preliminary festivity to kick off the men’s basketball season.  Thrown in was an accommodation at the beautiful New Yorker Hotel, practically right across the street from Madison Square Garden.  A day observing the coaches, players, and media in MSG topped the day off.  I got to take my first trip to The Big Apple and see some sights, including the Empire State Building and Times Square.  The city was electric because the ALCS was in town.

The next part of the experience was entitled “My Alma Mater Weekend.”  Each digital influencer received two tickets to one regular season game at their respective schools.  We’re not talking about going to watch the Cards play the Southern New Mexico Sisters of the Poor, though.  They hooked me up with a trip to see arguably the biggest rivalry in college basketball, the Cards versus the Cats.

But, wait.  There’s more.

Volvo put my wife and me up in The Brown Hotel – the most extravagant, historic, luxurious hotel in Louisville and chipped in some spending money to boot.  We wined and dined at Ruth Chris Steakhouse on their dime and treated ourselves to the best steak around.  We toured the city and I got to see people and places dear to me the night before the game.

Still more.

As I mentioned earlier, the contest was premised around their redesigned S60.  We dropped by Volvo of Louisville and picked up a brand new, sleek, all-wheel-drive,  300 horsepower chariot for the weekend.  It is absolutely the finest automobile I have ever had the privilege to drive.  And we toured my city in style.

There have been all sorts of goodies arriving in the mailbox and on the front porch throughout the season so far, as well.  Shirts, hats, pins, even a super-deluxe road safety kit assembled by the folks at Volvo, which is appropriate because they are known worldwide for their exemplary record on safety when it comes to automobiles.

I’ve gotten to write about some interesting topics over the course of the season and have had an engaging experience keeping up with the other bloggers and our competition.  The twitter feeds and other blogs have been a blast to keep up with and really have immersed me even more deeply in the college basketball experience, which I never would have thought was possible.  My wife has even become a bigger basketball fan.  She would follow the Cards with me, but now she tries to keep up with the rest of the conference and the unfolding during the season.  Wonderful sports-related memories all season long.

Trips, prizes, spending monies.  Still not enough for you?

Just when you think I’m wrapping up, there’s still more generosity up their sleeve.  Volvo will be donating $10,000 to the school of the winning blogger.  That’s good for a scholarship for some deserving soul or two out there somewhere.  The top blogger gets a trip to the Big East Tournament in March, as well.  And to top everything off, the winning digital influencer will be the recipient of a brand new Naughty S60.  Pretty sweet, eh?

If you’re still with me and not rushing out to your local Volvo dealer to see how to be a contestant in the future, you still haven’t heard the most personal and touching part of the story.

Last April, my family of six was struck with a tragedy almost overnight that has been our primary focus for almost the last year.  My daughter, Mackenzie, was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a debilitating, crippling spinal cord infection that left her paralyzed from the chest down.  She went from a bouncy, bubbly, very independent, energetic 8-year-old little girl to a disheartened, frustrated dependent in a wheelchair.  She has been our focus for the last ten months.  My wife has had to provide round-the-clock care for her since they got home from rehab in May, mixed in with a couple of other trips to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital because of relapses.  With my wife as the primary caretaker for her, I have relegated myself to supporting her/them as best I can.  I work all day and my wife travels back and forth to Mackenzie’s school almost hourly for necessary care during the school day.  All of this has put a strain on our finances because my wife has had to postpone her final semester of college and is not able to start her passion, teaching English, as of yet.  I hadn’t been able to treat myself since Mackenzie got sick and my wife strong-armed me into jumping into this contest and insisted that I got to New York in October.  I almost didn’t go, due to feeling guilty for being so far away.

What touched me the most during this experience were not the bright lights of New York City (although still very impressive), the round trip flights, Madison Square Garden, big rivalry games, the luxury sports car, the extravagant accommodations, or even the little plastic gift cards used for per diems. The consideration for my family volunteered by the good folks at Volvo has been the Godsend.  When they offered to send a driver to pick us up for the UL-UK game, I had to explain that we would probably be more comfortable driving up in my own van, due to all the logistics that are involved in traveling with a special needs child and a one year old.  Volvo countered that with an offer for an extra room at the hotel (remember, the nicest hotel in the city-not cheap) so that we could leave the kids in the hands of trusted family members while we experienced my Alma Mater Weekend in the Naughty S60 (it’s got great trunk space, just not enough for our entourage :)).  We could fully enjoy the lavish weekend without having to worry the whole time about the kids.  My daughter loved staying in the hotel, and it was great to see her smiling and enjoying the taste of luxury and seeing loved ones dear to her that she hadn’t seen in a while.

This whole contest has gotten to be a sort of escape for me, and even my family, at times.  That has been the best and most memorable to me.  If I win the car or not, a lifetime of memories, enjoyments, and smiles have been realized throughout the whole experience and because of the generosity of Volvo, I never look at another Volvo again and not get all warm and fuzzy inside.  “Thank you” is nowhere near sufficient.

Cardinal Caravan checklist

Among the most exciting aspects of cheering for one’s team are the inevitable road trips that diehard fans take at least once a year to support their heroes.  The tunes are already programmed, so the next item on the agenda is prepping the vehicle itself.

First and foremost, the biggest fans don’t need an excuse such as a road trip to keep their vehicle forever showing their team colors.  Personally, I will probably never buy a vehicle that does not fall under the umbrella of the University of Louisville’s team colors:  red, black, or white. And as long as we’re being choosy, make that a Naughty Volvo S60.

If that doesn’t happen, there is still a round-the-clock decoration that can be arranged, the team license plate.  Not the ten or twenty dollar variety that fits on the front.  I’m talking the official state license plate that registers you as an official fan/alumni of your school with the DMV of your state.  That way your car is always decorated through the good times and the bad.  No taking it off after an embarrassing defeat.  Have to stay on that bandwagon!   Now, on to more temporary measures.

The team car flag is the official designation to let the world and fellow motorists know that you are on your way to a big game to support your team.  I love traveling the interstates during football or basketball season and seeing the various team flags ripping through the winds at high speeds and trying to figure out who or where they are going to cheer:   “Oh look!  It’s a West Virginia flag driving north out of Atlanta!  They must be coming from the butt-whooping the Eers just laid on Georgia in the Sugar Bowl! (HONK HONK)  Go Eers!  Go Big East!”  My car flag is so tattered from following the Cards, just can’t seem to throw it out – sentimental like that.  Too many miles, too many car windows, to just abandon to the heap.

Two flags at most, both on the rear windows.  Three or more is too much and if you put them on the front windows you’re liable to lose one by accidentally cracking a window for fresh air on those long trips, not Louisville to Cincy, say Louisville to the Big Apple.   Have you seen the All-State commercial?

I’ve never been a big fan of painting the windows;  it just seems too senior-prom for me.  Subtle, yet classy is the goal.  A few other miscellaneous pieces of flair, such as a front license plate, back window sticker with the mascot head or team letter, or maybe even the noble “UNIVERSITY OF…” sticker does the trick.

Secondly, another very important part of the trip is just getting there.  If your ride can’t get you there, what good are the decorations?  Keep the oil changed, use good gas (cheapest isn’t always the way to go), keep the tires properly inflated (and use Armor All Tire Shine to keep that shiny, wet look), and only use genuine factory parts;   you don’t go to AutoZone to for new discs or pads on a naughty S60!

Volvo of Louisville is the only option for properly maintaining your ride correctly.Things like this will keep you rolling down the highway to cheer on your team and have you looking good all the way to the win column!

Georgetown overcomes Louisville’s expectations

Expectations were getting a little inflated, what with all the recent comebacks and skin-of-the-teeth wins. No matter what Rick Pitino may say about hating to lose.

Louisville’s 62-59 loss at Georgetown providing a touch of reality, putting those frenetic basketball wins in perspective. UofL has been beating teams with better talent, outplaying them, not playing better than them, but somehow beating them.

Came close to doing it again Monday, against a team hitting 74% of its shots in the second half. Playing a top 15 team in its own house a second time in three days.

  • Even with Peyton Siva turning the ball over eight times and almost completely locked out of the lane for anything resembling one of those miraculous layups.
  • And when has Preston Knowles ever missed three straight shots on one possession?  Especially with a game on the line. When was the last time UofL rebounded four straight times on the same possession?

Terrence Jennings, tired of being written off, grabbing seven rebounds while achieving a career-high 18 points. He may not have game, but he’s a gamer lately.

Pitino, however, takes losing personally and his players will feel the pain the rest of the week.

One UofL fan’s late night driving course

By Steve Springer

Watching a Big East basketball game is a great experience, whether in person or on TV. The sights and sounds of a collegiate game day in a huge arena can reward a fan with a lifetime of memories. But why limit oneself to only two senses. There can be more to it than that. Much more.

A diehard fan of Big East Basketball participates in the game day activities inside the arena, but doesn’t limit oneself to just watching one’s team fly up and down the floor, basking in the cheers, chants, whistles, and squeaking of hightops on the hardwood.  There are three other senses that can indulge the fan into making the most out of the experience.

Tailgating is an excellent way to dive into the tastes and smells of college football.  It’s not, however, ideal during basketball season, at least not traditionally.  The majority of the Big East hoops season falls during the cold winter months, with many of the schools located in the bitterly cold Northeast.  We can’t all have home games in sunny Tampa, Florida like the Bulls do.  So the rest of us are forced to find good grub and spirits indoors.  The following is an attempt to narrow the best post game and late-night dining establishments in Louisville into a top five as we slide behind the wheel of a Naughty Volvo S60:

  • Cardinal Hall of Fame Cafe— There’s no other restaurant in the world that represents a team better than the Cardinal Hall of Fame Cafe represents the University of Louisville.  The restaurant resides in the shadow of the nicest on-campus stadium in the country, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.  Stepping into the restaurant you are surrounded by reminders of Cardinal greatness, with your feet traversing the Walk of Fame, consisting of tiles that display the name, sport, years played, and induction year of the finest athletes in the school’s history.  The entryway includes dozens of trophies, jerseys, balls, and all sorts of memorabilia. On one wall is a giant mural featuring the likenesses of Darrell Griffith, Wes Unseld, Pervis Ellison, Howard Schnellenberger, and of course, Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum, amongst many others.  Quite the nostalgic feeling, having a two-time championship coach, Fiesta Bowl winning coach, and hardwood and pigskin giants along with the steaks, pizza, seafood, and everything else on an eclectic menu.  A literal sensory overload of everything Cardinal.
  • Denny’s Restaurant — What collegiate midnight munchies marathon would be complete without the world famous Grand Slam Breakfast from the Denny’s on Eastern Parkway?  After a game’s worth of seven dollar beers at the arena, partying your tail off celebrating a hard-earned Big East victory and yet more brew, you could be celebrating into the wee hours of the morning and quickly approaching the break of dawn. Denny’s would be the destination of choice, as long as all the other breakfast places aren’t open yet.  Pancakes, bacon, eggs, French toast- easy on the wallet, but not the arteries.
  • Papa John’s — A dedicated UofL fan will always find a way to support his school, even when it’s satisfying late night hunger.  What better way to accomplish that than patronizing one of UofL’s largest contributors?  Papa John Schnatter of Louisville started his worldwide pizza chain in Louisville in the closet of his father’s business and it grew into the best pizza chain in the world.  He drops major coinage on UofL whenever possible, contributing to many different athletic facilities/events, scholarships, and to top it off, he donated so much to the construction of the football stadium that he earned the naming rights, thus Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.  He really represents the spirit of generosity and a true Cardinal fan always stops by Papa’s when craving a pizza.
The Granville Inn keeps attracting U of L partisans long after graduation.
  • Granville Inn — A unique local spot on our dining tour would be the Granville Inn on Third Street, just off the campus.  The atmosphere on game day during the season is electric.  The party is always rocking here after a victory and they have the best burger in town.  It combines an historic look (1930’s) with the contemporary sounds of college bands and music, partying the night away after a big win over rival West Virginia, or a blowout of Cincinnati.  Jessica, the day manager, has been a UofL fan her entire life, and her being revolves around keeping them full and happy, after wins and losses.
  • White Castle — Finally, at any time of night after a game, no matter how tired, wasted, hungover, almost broke you are, there’s always White Castle.  The mini hamburgers are available 24 hours a day, which is great because some people’s hunger is available 24 hours a day, or especially after late night celebrations.  The hamburgers aren’t too bad if you can fill up on a couple (not likely).  But after about five or six, they all start to taste the same and really just serve the purpose of filling your gullet instead of pleasing your tastebuds.  One caveat, however.  They do have a drive thru, but the smell and the grease that permeates the bag, your clothes, everything, should not be allowed into the luxurious cabin of the Naughty S60.  Put them in the trunk, on the roof, whatever you have to do to keep from soiling the leather.

We’ve covered four of the five senses, leaving only the sense of touch.  What better way to cap off the full sensory experience than by feeling the quiet rumble of the 300 horsepower engine throw you back in your seat as you race to get that pizza back to your dorm room or wherever you call home before it gets cold, or as you hug the turns with the all wheel drive suspension to make sure you get those burgers out of the trunk before the smell of onions and fries drown out that new car smell.  Combine the Naughty S60 and any (or all if you dare) of these dining experiences to make your late night driving and dining course really special.

Pumped up Providence pastes Pitino

A daunting place the road, even in Providence.

Big name basketball school rolls into town, selling out the Dunkin Donuts Center for the first time this season. The alums wanting to see their old coach Rick Pitino, the basketball knowledgeable excited about the University of Louisville coming to town.

Providence having lost 17 conference games in a row. Louisville exceeding expectations, with the injuries mounting.

Providence needing some of that magic.

Adrenalin pumping stuff.

A break here, another there. Keep it close, take care of the ball, draw the home court fouls, hit a few threes, who knows?

The heady stuff of the past two games, the Miracle on Main and the blowout of St. John’s still dancing around in their heads of UofL players as tip off looms, no denying. The law of averages destined to even out for an injury-riddled, three-point-shooting team winning against difficult odds.

Breaks always seem to go the other way on the road.

Providence 72, Louisville 67.

Box Score