I was lucky enough to be able to attend my first NCAA Men’s Final Four with my day job this year! I’ve been a big college basketball fan my whole life, so I was looking forward to the trip from the minute I found out I’d get to go to Minneapolis. I became infinitely more excited when UVA punched their ticket to join me! In college, I made an effort to go to as many college basketball games as I could and Tony Bennett and I were both “first years” at the same time. I hadn’t seen the team play live since I graduated college, so I packed as much orange and blue—and, of course, my signature black—into my suitcase and got ready to cheer on the Hoos at the Big Dance.
Prior to this trip I had never been to Minnesota, so I also got to check a new state off my bucket list. (Number 30!) I didn’t see a ton of Minneapolis outside of the 12 block radius we had business obligations in, so I’d love to get back to Minnesota one day—and prioritize going to one of their many lakes! We did eat a ton of cheese curds though, so I feel like I did Minnesota justice there.
I arrived on Thursday, and the basketball games were held on Saturday and Monday. I did a lot of work on the ground while I was in town that I’m going to keep private (which is how I got to hang out with Ben Higgins!), but luckily, I did have some downtime and was able to watch all the games since my work was pretty much wrapped up before tipoff. I wanted to share a little bit about my experience on the ground at the Final Four though because it was truly so much fun and if you ever get the chance to go, I’d highly recommend it! I’ve been telling people it was the icing on the cake that UVA was there—I had the best time walking around downtown Minneapolis getting to say Wahoowa to all my fellow Cavaliers—I would have loved it even if they weren’t there. The atmosphere is so energetic and there’s a ton of fun stuff going on around the games—think concerts, tip off tailgates, brand activations—that make the experience memorable.
When I stepped off the plane, the first thing that hit me was there was Final Four branding everywhere in Minneapolis! It was so much fun to see Final Four logos with each of the four schools’ logos wrapping hotels, on lamp post flags, as posters in baggage claim—if they could brand it with the Final Four logo, it was branded with the Final Four logo.
At the Final Four, each of the four schools is assigned a team hotel. The players and coaching staff stay there, and then fans who buy packages through the school can also secure rooms at those hotels. Each hotel is also branded, but with the schools’ colors, logos, and pictures of the team. The school hotel also has a gift shop with school-specific Final Four gear you can’t find elsewhere or online. I went to the UVA team hotel a few times and it made me feel so proud! I was also lucky enough to see the team returning to the hotel after practice once—so fun to cheer them all on!
One really cool experience I was able to have through my day job was taking a behind-the-scenes tour of US Bank Stadium, where the Final Four was played. We took our tour on Friday night before any of the games had happened, and were even lucky enough to be able to see UVA’s locker room as part of the tour. I also got to see the National Championship trophy up close—so glad it came home to Cville!
Our guide mentioned that it often takes players a little while to acclimate shooting on the Final Four court since they are playing in a football stadium, which means the basketball floor is farther away from the bleachers than it normally is. As a result, the basket can look like it is floating, which can lead to bad depth perception. We were allowed to dribble around on the court, and I can assure you, whether or not I’m balling in a normal basketball arena or not, my shooting percentage is very low.
Saturday night was the first round of games, and UVA played Auburn in the early game. Though I had a gut feeling it was UVA’s year to win the tournament, in true Cardiac Cavs form, it went down to the wire. Since we were watching the game live, there weren’t any announcers and the viewing angle you’re used to on TV is not your vantage point. So, when Kyle Guy was fouled on his three-point shot during the last few seconds of the game, I thought we had lost the game because I couldn’t see the play and didn’t have any commentary to tell me otherwise. Then, they called a foul on the play over the intercom and he sank all three free throws. It was an AMAZING win! And, since there’s a TV delay at home and I was watching the game live, I accidentally spoiled the winning outcome for a few friends.
Because UVA was in the tournament, I had several friends make the trip to Minneapolis for the game. We met up in the concourse during the second game and celebrated—we couldn’t believe we won and were going to be playing for a National Championship!
On Sunday of the trip, I recovered from our big win Saturday and also had work obligations. But on Monday, I had downtime until the Championship Game, so after getting my work in a good place (the emails don’t stop coming when you’re on a work trip!), I decided to use some of my free time to take a trip to Mall of America. I’ve wanted to go ever since the Olsen Twins went there in one of their VHS specials and sang the all-American classic, Meet You at the Mall.
I’m glad I went so I can check it off my bucket list, but I probably wouldn’t ever have a desire to go back. It’s just like any other mall, except it has a huge amusement park in the middle. I walked around a little while to scope it out, and then ate lunch at Chipotle. You may be thinking, “this girl went all the way to Minneapolis…to eat at Chipotle?!” But, at this point, I had been in Minnesota for five days and was really craving familiar food. I would have killed for a sweetgreen, but those haven’t made their way to Minneapolis yet, so a burrito bowl it was. It was delicious.
On Monday night, April 8, UVA took won the National Championship! This was another nerve wracking game as we threw away a huge lead and had to make some amazing shots to force an OT. I knew as soon as we hit OT though, we were going to win it all. It is seriously something I’ll remember forever—and it was so much fun to sing the Good Old Song, watch the players celebrate, and hear Tony Bennett speak some amazing words of wisdom after the game. It took me a long while to go to sleep after because I couldn’t stop watching replay videos!
I always believe the best is yet to come, but I have to say, this is probably the best work trip I’ll ever go on. Wahoowa!