Sunday, June 04, 2006

A FedEx, Lick-A-Stamp Effort

Getting down to the home stretch of the trip. March 8th, eighth day in. Took off from Little Rock, AR headed for Memphis, TN. The two cities are fairly close to each other, it was about a 2-hour drive. This blog wouldn't have guessed that without having been there.

Arrived at FedEx Forum about an hour before the first game, Southern Methodist vs. Rice. Since this site didn't yet know the lay of the land in Memphis, it figured it'd just park at the stadium, even though that's usually among the more expensive option among parking lots. The thinking was that, even if it was expensive, this blog was going to be at the Arena for 2 sessions, and the price would essentially be discounted since this blog could be there for 8 hours or so.

As soon as this blog got to the stadium, if found that it was sorely mistaken. Parking was $15.00, which is pretty high for all-day, but it wasn't even all day. The lot sign said all vehicles must be removed after Session 1, or they will be towed. This was extremely lame. All the negative of very high-priced parking, with no advantage of being there for over 4 hours. Unfortunately, by the time this blog read the sign, it was halfway inside the structure, so it pretty much had to cough up the 15 bucks. Not optimal.

Aside from the ugly parking situation, the Forum was pretty awesome though. 2 merchandise stands on the lower level specifically for the tournament. This blog thought that was a little light for such a huge stadium (19,000 capacity), but with that said, this blog didn't have to wait in line at all when grabbing a program and a shirt.

The replay scoreboard was the best this blog has ever seen. Must have been plasma or something, definitely widescreen. Very cool when they showed replays. Also a very clean environment, ushers unfortunately asked for this blog's ticket until it passed them for about the 4th time. In fairness, there was one usher that this site had a 10 minute conversation with on the first day, and she didn't ask me after the initial exchange (unfortunately, she didn't work after the first day, so this blog had its tickets ready a lot). She was relatively elderly, and we wound up talking about how her husband used to hang out with Elvis and they were neighbors of Muddy Waters or someone like that, plus she had gotten to meet Frank Sinatra. Somewhat fascinating non-sport conversation in a very musical town.

Another slight bummer was the ticket taking policy at the gates. Pun City had received its book of tickets in one block, and, when intact, the block of tickets had a picture of the Forum in the background. It looked pretty slick. The tickets also had bar codes on the bottom. This blog assumed that they'd scan the bar code like the vast majority of stadiums out there, and this blog would be able to keep an intact block as a keepsake. (Despite the block being longer than 11 inches, this site had taken steps to make sure the block remained intact on the 900+ mile journey). Unfortunately, they were ripping tickets in an old-fashioned style. So, this blog instead has individual tickets now instead of a cool-looking intact block.

The first game rivaled the Mid-Con in emptiness, which looked amazingly empty in a 19,000-seat arena. Maybe 500 around, and you could hear every fan yelling on the occasions they woke up to do so. This site supposes that seeing lower-tier Conference USA teams on a Thursday at 11:00 is maybe not a completely sane endeavor, but some of these teams' fans were disappointing in that they did not travel well at all.

Also one of the very few conference tournaments this blog has been to that didn't either have vendors in the concourse giving free stuff (not even a credit card company!), or cheerleaders/mascots throwing free stuff to the crowd. In their defense, one Memphis resident stated "I guess people in Memphis just want to watch the game." This was a pretty cool way to look at it. Kind of a bummer for this site though, this blog can usually count on these tourneys for freebies. But these negatives were far overridden by the positives.

First off, this blog had 14th-row seats at halfcourt. Fantastic. Pun City was even able to move down to the 1st and 2nd row for a few games. Secondly, the hospitality of the Memphis fans was unreal. On the 8th, this blog was taking notes in the second row, and a fan, Terry, asked if this site was a player. (This is actually fairly common for Pun City on the road, either being thought of as a scout, player, or journalist). After some pleasantries explaining what type of insanity this blog was up to, Pun City found that Terry lived in Memphis and worked fairly close to the Forum, and he gave this site some tips on where to park and eat. He also asked if I wanted to join him for lunch the next day, so this blog did, and every suggestion he had was right on the money.

Among the suggestions:

-Park at "Parking Can Be Fun" between Front and Main Street. Parking was like 6 bucks for the whole day, and this blog went there every session thereafter.

-Eat at Huey's. This was a burger spot / sports bar between the parking garage and the stadium. Fantastic burgers, and very friendly staff. The owner actually struck up a conversation with Pun City after noting this site's WAC Conference tournament shirt (it was appropriate given that SMU and Rice played on the first day, having been in the WAC the year before).

During that first day, this blog was also able to get its program autographed by then-UAB Coach Mike Anderson, UCF coach Kirk Speraw, and former coaches Steve Lappas and Pete Gillen, in town announcing the games for CSTV.

Some game notes:

-Ed Hightower was in the house refereeing game 2 (Marshall vs. Tulane). This was a big-time ref in a somewhat smaller conference tournament, so this blog was pleasantly surprised.

-Tulane's jerseys were made by Aeropostale. This is not a common company for collegiate jerseys, despite the fact Aero sponsors many conference tournaments (including this one). The jerseys looked sweet though, so hopefully they get some more contracts soon.

-No halftime entertainment whatsoever. Way lame. Nothing but basketball going on in this arena.

-SMU's band played "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," and "Shake Your Groove Thing," among other standards.

-Rice's band went with "99 Red Balloons," and "Come On Eileen."

-Southern Mississippi's band performed "Hey Ya," "Back In Black," and "Low Rider." Pretty decent group of songs.

-Marshall's band treated the crowd to "Sweet Georgia Brown," Smashmouth's "All-Star," "Brick House," and "Born To Be Wild." That last one was probably a must-play for a team called The Herd.

-Tulane played the obligatory "O When The Saints," "Mama Don't Dance," and "Crazy Train," which was converted by the students into "Let's Go."

-UCF's band, among the best in the land, played.....nothing. They weren't there. Huge disappointment. This blog had looked forward to hearing their fight song, which rocks. Instead, the band hadn't travelled.

-Dan Bonner was there for every game of the tournament, even though he only announced the final for CBS. Very professional to do that kind of over-preparing.

This blog would recommend Memphis to anyone inspite of the many negatives, which were far outweighed by the positives. Back later for the last 4 days of the trip.


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