the below post is a recap of eli’s first trip to the final four and NCAA championship. this was such a meaningful experience for pk and it was made even more memorable by having his son by his side. it was an amazing trip. without further ado…
NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPION LOUISVILLE CARDINALS!
Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it. Well that was made all the more special by the presence of my family being there with me. We started our journey Saturday morning. I made rounds at an intern-early hour. The car was largely loaded from the night before and mom, dad, and eli loaded the final things and got on the way 30 minutes early. This begs the question as to why dad felt he had to drive so fast to get a 77mph in a 55mph zone speeding ticket. All the time save by leaving early, driving fast and going the back roads was now lost. Worse yet, sleeping baby eli was now stirring baby eli and we were not yet to the first “stop.”
We made it to Atlanta really without further incident. Then we hit paces ferry road. The last 5 miles of our trip took longer than the previous 400 in my mind. Screaming baby. Screaming bladder. Phone blowing up with friends wondering where we were and why we weren’t already at some local watering hole with them. What a shock they were in for to see our small passenger that would be making his first appearance at a final four much earlier than his dad did.
Small history lesson. For those who don’t know (and if you are reading this, you know us well enough to know this already), I am arguably the most passionate UofL fan ever. We aren’t talking name my kid gorgui peyton or only buy red cars passionate, but I did name my bulldog griff. All of this comes from watching games with my dad, my mom, my grandparents and knowing that it hasn’t always been easy to be a cards fan. When I was 6, I traveled to Indianapolis to watch Darrell Griffith lead the cards to their first title. I was at the REAL dream game in Knoxville in 1983. It killed me to miss the opening of PJCS even though uk and tim couch pasted us. I rearrange call schedules, make commitments, and (kind of) scheduled a wedding around UofL sports. So the joy of being able to take my son, who will never remember this event, to the final four was not something to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, a very wet blanket was about to be thrown on all of this.
Through some very good and very special friends, our tickets were waiting at the will call window in Atlanta. 2 tickets in the club level waiting for Patrick Klapheke, but there was a catch. ALL entrants required a ticket for entry. And by ALL, they mean 10 month-old little boys sitting in their dad’s laps. Luckily for us, the ticket manager for UofL was at the window and able to sell us a ticket for Saturday’s game at face value, $150! The real kicker was the fact that his seat was better than ours! We debated dropping him off there with his bag and letting his neighbors know he was a pretty good kid, the snacks he liked and where we would be if they needed us. That or they could trade us seats, but after we saw our seats, we were pleased.
We met previously mentioned friends at a local bar where many uofl fans had congregated. Eli was a hit. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. Most were in awe that we would bring such a little guy along, but he had been to most of the games already. It wouldn’t have been right to leave him behind. No one was surprised the NCAA charges for kids but all seemed to agree that babies in laps seemed absurd. When the time came, we began the hike over to the arena. It was gametime.
The next 2-3 hours are kind of a blur. No, not because of alcohol, but because of the emotions surging through me. When we got to the arena, we made it in without a hitch. We found our seats, but we were kind of surprised there was no alcohol sales on a club level. In the long run, it was better. I saw all of the game instead of waiting in lines in the bathroom or beer line. When the national anthem was played, and the starting lineups were read, a tear came to my eye. I am too poor of a writer to ever be able to put into words the emotions that I felt at that moment. Here I was watching my favorite team with my wife and SON by my side. This was a bucket list item checked off. And about that wife, what a trooper. She made this possible by taking eli when it became obvious that I was in need of free hands to express myself. The game ended with a cards win. Poppy and uncle Patrick were there too and eli got to spend some time with them at the half, but when the game was over, he and mom set off to get back to buckhead and our hotel. If it were only that simple.
I had wanted to stick around and watch the second game. Our next and final opponent was to be determined and I still was too high on that emotional roller coaster to go in. however, when I got that call from mer with that sound of panic in her voice, away I went. Shout out to quasi uofl fan Patrick katchak for abandoning the game as well. With mom, baby and me back at hotel, I realized just how tired I was and turned in too.
Sunday was a day in the park…literally. We started the day with the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. Little man was quite the hit to all of the employees of the area, until the end when they saw the ring of food around his high chair. Side note, I have started assessing the floor around our table as a reference point for the tips. Standard is 15% for good service, but if I look down and see what I saw in the ATL, it quickly jumps to 30% with a little note of apology. The other thing we have learned is that, like both mom and dad, he likes to eat. However, more like dad than mom, if he is otherwise occupied and entertained, he will “forget” to eat. That is the only way I can explain what happened Sunday in the park and otherwise.
Around ncaa tourney time, there have been, the past 2 years at least, free concerts Sunday between final four and final game. Last year, in new Orleans, jimmy buffett was on of the headliners. This year, there were MANY bands we wanted to see starting that morning with a little group from Portland named blind pilot. It all culminated Saturday night with DMB. We started the day out in roswell at my brother in laws house. We stayed a bit too long though as we missed most of blind pilot. There were still several others we wanted to see so no biggie. But after several hours of fun there, and a short nap on mommy’s lap by eli, the park was getting increasingly crowded, there was little to no food appropriate for eli and none that mer would put in her mouth on a dare. Eli had little interest in bottles or even water so we ended up finding a place off the beaten path, sitting inside in a corner and watching the boy eat. And did he eat. Bottom line is, we realized that from now on, food has to be a priority for eli because he will pick “fun” over food anytime.
When Monday finally came, I was so nervous with anticipation. A part of me was sad because we had arranged to take e out to the hotel with jane rather than subject him (or us or our neighbors in our seats) to a 9:15 tip off. Furthermore, I figured it would be easier to leave him out there and pick him up after the game than to figure out arrangements after the game. The game did not disappoint. In the end we won, he slept comfortably in a hotel and because of this many things worked to our favor:
1. we drove through the night getting home at 0500 so I could be on call Tuesday.
2. He slept through the night and never really woke in the car
3. The return trip took 35% less time than the trip down due to mom and baby sleeping
4. I felt fine for call (a little tired but otherwise ok) which I think we can all rest assured knowing that would not have been the case with any late night celebrating with the fans and team in the ATL!
I have said it before and I say it here again, this event and this weekend were a check on the bucket list for me. I wish he had been a little older so he may have some memory of it, but I know in my heart of hearts there will be another in the future. I hope a little imprint was made in his developing brain so the cardinal fan he HAS to become shines through!