Witnessing March Madness in Denver From the Worst Seats in the House

Our view. Additional photos below.
Our view. Additional photos below.
Photo by Michael Roberts

March Madness — the annual NCAA men's basketball championship tournament — visited Denver this year.

But even though a significant chunk of the action was scheduled to take place at the Pepsi Center, I expected to be witnessing it as I had for many years: on my TV at home.

(I never watched on my desktop computer or smartphone while on the job. Not even a single time. I swear.)

Things worked out differently, however.

The ride up, up, up.
The ride up, up, up.
Photo by Michael Roberts

My daughter Lora, with whom I share an obsession with hoops, reminded me that attending the tourney was on both of our bucket lists.

And a few weeks back, she convinced me to spend a stupid amount of cash (more than three times list price per ticket) so that the two of us could see Saturday's games in person.

Which is why, on the afternoon of March 19, we arrived at the arena to spend even more money.

$20 for parking. $28 for a souvenir T-shirt — the least-expensive one available. $6.50 apiece for two bottles of water. $8.50 for one piece of pizza. And $8 for a bottomless bucket of popcorn.

We refilled the latter once, and I had every intention of doing it again before the night was done, but as we neared the bottom of bucket number two, both of us realized that we'd puke if we tried to eat one more kernel....

Oh, yeah: Our seats were in the uppermost part of the upper deck, basically against the wall, turning the games themselves into what looked like a lost scene from Ant-Man.

My seat — and the wall behind it.EXPAND
My seat — and the wall behind it.
Photo by Michael Roberts

And we had a great time.

Granted, the teams that faced off so far below us weren't the ones we thought would share the bill. When filling out our brackets, we picked number-five Purdue to best Arkansas Little Rock and Iona to top Iowa State at the Pepsi Center on Thursday to set up the first Saturday match-up. Wrong on both counts.

Likewise, we figured Seton Hall would defeat Gonzaga, thereby winning a chance to face Utah, which we favored to advance over Fresno State. We were right about the latter but botched the former.

None of which should have come as a surprise.

Our pick to win the whole thing? Second-seeded Michigan State, which choked in round one against that perennial powerhouse Middle Tennessee (which promptly lost its next game against Syracuse, a number-ten seed).

The view of the lobby as the 19,000-plus attendees filed in.EXPAND
The view of the lobby as the 19,000-plus attendees filed in.
Photo by Michael Roberts

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With our bracket not only busted but blasted to bits, Lora and I had little rooting interest in either game, and that turned out to be just fine. And the view actually wasn't bad; it allowed us to see plays developing (and falling apart), if not whether a given foul call was justified.

As such, we were able to enjoy the games on a pure basketball level, getting excited by good performances by all of the squads (particularly Gonzaga, which looked way better than an eleven seed while sending Utah packing), rolling our eyes at the missteps (Arkansas Little Rock, which had performed heroically against Purdue, had little left in the tank in its loss to Iowa State), and delighting in some of the best people-watching opportunities either of us have had in ages.

Given how close Utah is to Colorado, we figured we'd see plenty of Utes boosters, and we did. But we weren't prepared for how many Iowans would be in attendance — or the enthusiasm they'd display.

Our favorite was an apparent bro-country lover (absurdly muscled physique encased in a too-tight T-shirt tucked into his jeans, a baseball cap tilted back on his head), whose fist-shaking, neck-tendon-stretching reactions were made up of about 90 percent anger no matter the circumstances: happy-anger, sad-anger, depressed-anger and, ultimately, celebratory-anger.

The courtside view.
The courtside view.
Photo by Michael Roberts

And that's not to mention the overstuffed guy about to burst out of his bright-red Iowa State suit or entire families of identically clad rooters, who were obviously thrilled to have been rewarded with a victory after caravaning across the midsection of the country.

Neither game was especially close — no buzzer beaters for us — and once the final whistle blew, the crowd dissipated quickly and security lapsed.

Lora and I were able to walk all the way to media row at courtside and get a glimpse of the view enjoyed by fans whose tickets cost many times more than the ones I had to gulp twice (or three times) before purchasing.

But even if we'd been in the front row, I don't think we would have enjoyed it that much more.

Witnessing March Madness in Denver From the Worst Seats in the House
Photo by Michael Roberts

The madness was worth it — although next time the tournament returns to Denver, I'd rather find tickets at face value....



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