The ACC is unlike any other tournament I have been too (except for maybe the NCAA Tournament.) The reasons why are not necessarily the obvious (great teams and great players,) it’s the little things. Here’s a few. If you attended this year add some of your favorites.
Star Sightings. Because of the history of the ACC, you have 12 schools now that have lots of individual history and players. One thing you find at the tournament is “star sightings.” There’s the obvious stars in the stands. Yesterday, TO was in the house as was Frank Beamer and Doug Flutie, and so was Matty “Ice” Ryan. But, it’s running into the basketball history and “stars” everywhere. Like at the hotel, during the dinner break, running into the whole Duke team and having to see Wojo. He’s not very tall. Then this morning while working on the computer, Oliver Purnell was near me having his coffee. Mike Gminiski walked by where I was working. He was dressed way down from the suspenders dapper look of TV. On my way back to the room, I had to stomach seeing Wojo again. I went out to the ATM machine at Peachtree Center Mall and had the pleasure of exchanging pleasantries with Bob Ryan of ESPN and Boston Globe fame. I said “Good morning Mr. Ryan.” He responded “good morning.” Entering the arena, I was behind Al Wood, NC guard-forward 1978-81, and his family, including UNC women's hoops players and his daughters Martina Wood and Candace Wood. People around me (lots of Baby Blue), started buzzing. But, these diehard UNC fans could not come up with the name. One guy said, “hey there’s … oh what is his name?” I quietly helped him out “Al Wood”, I whispered. He was appreciative. You can do this all without a media pass.
Women Rule the World. Here’s another reason why the ACC tournament is fun. ACC fans I sat near during 4 sessions know their conference. Moreover, more women attend this event than the NCAA subregionals. And, ACC women know their ACC hoops!! I've known this for years, but the depth of knowledge can be impressive. One female fan next to me knew the name of the ref in the UNC/Va Tech game who was blowing calls in NC’s favor. She then without blinking returned to her novel. She also had the obligatory comments about Psycho T flailing and faking contact to go to the line. The NCAAs on the other hand is a “fraternity” event, 90% guys with their brackets and newspapers. They buy their blocks of tickets and plan for months for the event. The ACC is more couples.
They learn it early. UNC/Duke rivalry starts early. During timeouts, the cameras scan the crowd. During the evening session on Friday, they showed an “8-year old” showing off his Duke shirt. Another 8 year old jumps in front pointing at his UNC hat. Nonetheless, as much as UNC is disliked, Duke is hated more. Shirt seen on Carolina fan – “Duke S_cks.” Shirt on Maryland fan – “Duke S_cks.”
More Cowbell. Having been to as many college tourneys as I have, you start to appreciate the artistic part of the programs – halftimes and time outs. That’s when the bands, cheerleaders, mascots and dance squads have their time to shine. Awards for this year – best band was BC. The cowbell/cymbal player was going crazy. They played “Livin’ On a Prayer” just before Al Skinner overcoached the last minute. You can never have enough cowbell. Best mascot, hate to admit it, but the Blue Devil was the best during the first two days (and he only had one game). He was doing cartwheels and flips during one time out. With a mascot head on, that is skill! Best dance squad – FSU. They remind you of the old Metro Conference days. The squads would all perform on Championship Saturday. The Ville, Memphis and FSU were perennial top squads. FSU was a member from 1976-1991. Runner up was Virginia, although they did all their routines in their corner.