Joy and heartbreak hung in the air among college hoops fans in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday.
Fans of Michigan State and Auburn were looking for ways to get out of town, or resigned to watching Texas Tech and Virginia fans celebrate and prepare for Monday’s title game.
“The games are fun but it’s not really the same when your team isn’t in it,” Matt Bishop said in between checking Delta flights to get back to Midland, Mich., two days earlier than planned.
For some, the fun was just beginning. Bailey Delavan was in the middle of a 17-hour road trip from Lubbock, Texas, on Sunday afternoon so he could see his beloved Texas Tech play Monday night.
“This is the first championship Tech’s been in so we decided we couldn’t miss it,” said Delavan, who was switching off driving with his wife.
The weekend marked the culmination of college basketball season as tens of thousands of fans descended on downtown Minneapolis to cheer on the teams that survived to the final rounds of March Madness.
That energy wasn’t limited to the inside of U.S. Bank Stadium at game time.
The free concerts at the Armory started Friday, as did the Fan Fest in the convention center and the Tip-off Tailgate on Nicollet Mall. Sunday’s calendar was the least busy of the weekend. The two remaining teams and their coaches were at U.S. Bank Stadium for practices and media interviews.
With the big game Monday night and school starting up for the week, Metro Transit was warning people to plan their trips accordingly, saying it could take longer to get around town.
Washed out by the rain
The big public event Sunday was to be the Final Four Dribble, hundreds of kids bouncing free basketballs in a parade starting at the Minneapolis Convention Center. But the morning sun gave way to rain so everything moved indoors. The kids appeared enthusiastic indoors with their free balls and T-shirts as they explored Fan Fest.
Five-year-old Emery and Teodor Stanton Perrin of Minneapolis were a little disappointed about the cancellation of the parade. Or at least their mom was. The boys wore head-to-toe basketball gear from various teams including Harlem Globetrotters and Golden Gophers headbands holding back their dark curls.
Emery said he loves basketball “because they get to score.”
Events have been well-attended. On Friday, a whopping 36,000 fans went to U.S. Bank Stadium to see the building transformed by blackout curtains and a basketball seating arrangement in the middle of the Vikings’ football field. Each team held an open practice for the fans.
Then came the two semifinal games Saturday where attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium was announced at 72,711 — about 5,000 more than the Super Bowl in February 2018. Fans from all four schools made themselves heard through two tough games.
The morning after, in St. Paul, several hundred kids and parents attended a “celebrity” game that pitted the coaching skills of NBA Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Youngsters and their parents tossed balls and beanies at the University of St. Thomas campus while a DJ spun Bruno Mars, Usher and Rihanna.
Isa AbdurRazzaq, a 12-year-old from St. Paul, was dressed to impress in a white Nike headband and a black track suit woven with a metallic gold panther.
He bounced a ball in one hand as he surveyed the room. “My dad got tickets so we just came,” he said, adding that Barkley is his favorite. “I kind of just like the way he plays.”
For some, it’s a wrap
In downtown Minneapolis, Ann Stieff, a Virginia fan from Baltimore, was recovering from her team’s “nail biter” victory. She toured the Mill City Museum and said she was enjoying walking around downtown Minneapolis.
“The hospitality’s been wonderful,” Stieff said.
At the Michigan State hotel, Steve Handeland planned to sell his eight tickets to Monday’s final. Instead, he headed to the Minnesota Timberwolves afternoon game before heading home.
His friend Bob Roth took solace in a brief encounter with the Spartans’ legendary coach Tom Izzo in the lobby, “just standing there like a Walmart greeter.”
Another Spartans fan, Jason Soderberg was disappointed, but he said, “When you look back at the whole season, it was a great run.”
Staff writer Mara Klecker contributed to this report.