Friday, March 21, 2008

'Good Ole Rocky Top'

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The tournament buzz finally got here Friday morning.
I walked out of my room in the Sheraton hotel adjacent to the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center at about 8 a.m. to get some breakfast and thought I was still asleep and dreaming for a minute.

The Sheraton is one of those atrium hotels, with all of the rooms ringing a central opening that goes all the way to the top. Way up on the 11th floor, I was hearing a recorded version of "Rocky Top."

Once I got down to the atrium lobby where all of the restaurants are, I found out I wasn't dreaming. A Tennessee alumni group was having a pre-game gaterhing before the Vols' first-round match with American, scheduled for a 11:15 a.m. tip local time.

I estimate that same version of "Rocky Top" was played eight to 10 times in the time it took me to eat pancakes. Then, as I was about to go back upstairs, the actual pep band and cheerleaders came in and, of course, the band played "Rocky Top."

During the game, the cheerleaders actually held up signs to help the Vols' fans remember the words to the song. "GOOD" said one sign. "OLE" said the second, followed by "ROCKY" and "TOP." If you're enough of a Tennessee fan to be at an NCAA basketball regional game, I am fairly sure you already know the words to that song cold.

As I walked the couple of blocks from the hotel to the media entrance, Tennessee orange was pretty much everywhere. I am guessing the Louisville folks were sleeping in, since the Cardinals don't play until the fourth game tonight.

There was a loud group of American fans in the stands right behind me during the game and they did their best to hold their own despite being outnumbered.

It was very cool to hear the backers of the Patriot League champions give their team a warm ovation after they played hard in a 82-57 loss to the Vols. That's one of the moments that makes it great to have the so-called Cinderella teams in this event. The Eagles gave everything they had against Tennessee but just couldn't get the job done.

I haven't been back out on the court for the second game yet, but it sounds like Butler has a rowdy bunch here, too. I sort of figured Butler-South Alabama would be a very good first-round game, so I am going to try to catch some of it before writing my game story from the Tennessee game.
But don't tell the boss that.