If I had to choose one word to describe the trip to Nashville, Tenn., to watch the USF mens basketball team make history in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years, it would be, Yee-Haw.
I left in my car at 5 a.m. on Friday, after watching the USF womens basketball team in the Womens National Invitational Tournament, to embark on the roughly 12-hour drive to Nashville with the Student Bulls Club (SBC). The best part of the journey was the billboards, and the most interesting by far are in Georgia. My personal favorite simply stated, Strippers, need I say more? in large, black lettering.
When people say that Nashville is the center of country music, they mean it. Walking down Broadway Street to the Bridgestone Arena, country musicians were singing their hearts out at bars lining the street. Im not ashamed to admit that on St. Patricks Day, a day the Bulls didnt take to the court, I took the country music theme all the way with a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I even tried on some cowboy boots and a hat or two.
The atmosphere in the city of Nashville where alongside Chick-fil-A, Walgreens and other fast-food restaurants are also closed on Sundays was interesting. But it was nothing compared to the feeling of die-hard basketball fans supporting the teams they love. The size and noise of the crowds throughout the NCAA tournament was unbelievable.
In addition to passionate players and coaches, there was a lot of energy on the court, from the male Ohio cheerleaders screaming to Rocky D. Bull being lifted in the air by USF cheerleaders.
Some teams had more fans and energy than others. On Sunday, the Ohio fans stood for their entire game while USF alternated between sitting and standing. But with all fans screaming their lungs out, it was difficult to hear the person next to you during the Bulls final round in the tournament
Other USF students who traveled to Nashville helped make up the powerful USF crowd, and decided to make the trip despite predictions of a disappointment. Since the games fell during USFs spring break, it was easier for students to attend.
An hour after the final buzzer after USFs 58-44 win over Temple on Friday, S-O-U-T-H-F-L-O-R-I-D-A could still be heard outside the arena.
Alex Day, a sophomore majoring in history, said supporting athletics is an important part of being a student.
Everyone should care about University athletics because its the driving force behind what powers the University, he said during a pregame party at the Cadillac Ranch bar. (This has been) a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Tyler Litvin, a junior majoring in biochemistry, said he needed to see the season all the way through.
Ive followed the team since the beginning of the season and I had to finish it out, he said. Win or lose, we will still support our team.
Fan support seems to affect the players. Mark Vargas, a USF alumnus and SBC board member, said the players recognize how important fan support is.
Many athletes recognize us for being the best fans, to the point that the players give us tickets in order to be there, he said.
Its because of those tickets and SBC that I was able to go to Nashville and see history being made.
After the 62-56 loss to Ohio, USF fans held their heads high. We put our horns up and listened to the Alma Mater and our fight song for the last time this basketball season. We recognize that it was a great season.
Yes, there was some disappointment. We wanted USF to advance to the Sweet Sixteen as the underdog team that everyone was talking about, but we were still proud of our teams accomplishments. We proved our spot in the tournament and quieted a few Sportscenter announcers. There might be some tears and some broken hearts, but were still in shock that USF made it this far.
Life is a collection of experiences, and this is one that I enjoyed having. Nothing compares to the drama of a sports team willing to push the limits to win a game.
Next year, I want more people to watch the Bulls do it again. So to all Bulls fans: Go farther, cheer louder and support our team through thick and thin.