The Final Four and The ATL

Nevermind warmer temperatures and the flowers in bloom, the greatest thing about March is the NCAA men's basketball tournament, affectionately known as March Madness. The tournament brings with it weeks of excitement, and the terms "Cinderella," "Bracket Buster," and "Sweet Sixteen" take on new meanings. Studies have even shown American companies lose over $1 billion in productivity losses during March Madness. All this drama builds up to one of the most exciting weekends of the year...The Final Four.

Final Four Atlanta
We hoped to add another year to the banner...
Growing up a fan of the Florida Gators, the dream of seeing my team in the Final Four was just that...a dream. One Cinderella run in the early 90s aside, Florida had always been a football school, and basketball played the role of second fiddle.

Fast forward a decade, and all that started to change. In 2006, a team that started the season unranked not only made it to the Final Four, but went on to win the championship in convincing fashion. The following year the Gators rolled through the NCAA tournament once again, and we're headed back to the Final Four. Two days before the first game in Atlanta, my phone rang. It was the Gator ticket office calling to tell me that childhood dream was coming true.

The next day we packed the car and made the easiest six hour drive of my life. The only hotel in the Atlanta area that wasn't booked or practicing price gouging was a Hampton Inn about 15 miles south of Downtown. Not that it mattered...for once, I wasn't there for the hotel.

The Final Four isn't just a few basketball's an event. Before Saturday's big games, we watched the band Live and Ludacris perform in Centennial Olympic Park, and attended a pep rally of sorts being hosted by the Gators. We even had time for a pre-game Pig Sandwich at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Atlanta Final Four 2007
A really tiny Ludacris
Finally, it was time for the main event. We hiked to our seats - which were basically on the roof - and I began to bite my nails to stubs. The format is, and play for the national championship on Monday. Lose, and go home tomorrow. A few hours later, after I regained consciousness, I called the hotel to extend our stay...

With a day between games to recuperate, I planned a great day for us in Atlanta. First, we would hit Six Flags over Georgia, and follow that up with another concert by my wife's rock star crush...Adam Levine and Maroon 5. Sadly, the weather had other plans, and rain made sure none of this happened. We later learned the concert went on anyway, and I'm still working off the negative points this cost me with my wife.
Final Four Atlanta 2007
You'll notice the confetti hanging from the scoreboard...
The next evening we climbed back to the rafters, and settled in for the national championship game. My blood pressure no doubt rivaled that of Lewis Black, and it would stay that way for two hours. The stress proved to be unnecessary...Florida was dominant the entire game, and in the end the title was ours.

Florida Gators Final Four 2007

As the players danced on stage and coach Billy Donovan hoisted the national championship trophy, an entry near the top of my bucket list vanished into thin air.

Who are you pulling for in this weekend's Final Four?

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