After graduating from Pitt in 2007, my move back to Long Island was really a no-brainer. Most of my college friends were leaving Pittsburgh, I had a better chance of landing a job in New York, and most importantly, Long Island was home. Pitt took me out of New York, but it never took New York out of me.
I did bring two things back home with me, awesome beer pong skills and an undying love for my Pitt Panthers.
After watching the demise of the St. John’s basketball program under Mike Jarvis, my dad was more than happy to hop on the Pitt bandwagon with me. Together, we were fortunate enough to watch just about every conference game and a good chunk of the non-conference games this season.
Our cable company carries four local sports networks in addition to the ESPN family. If ESPN didn’t have a Big East game, one of the local networks picked it up.
Unfortunately for us, DirecTV has a strangle-hold on the NCAA tournament package. Making matters worse, UConn and Pitt were slated to play at the same time last night. UConn was the game carried by our local CBS affiliate. This gave my dad and me two options:
1) Huddle around our computer and watch a choppy picture on a 17 inch screen
2) Find a sports bar with DirecTV
It was pretty obvious to both of us that option two was our best bet. Here’s a recap of what we went through to watch our beloved Panthers.
9 p.m. - We begin to weigh our options. He could bolt out of work at 6:30 to make it back home at 7:10. This would give him 15 minutes to get off the train and to the bar. Or I could fly out of work to catch a train at 5:30, meet him in Manhattan and spend an entire week’s pay on a single beer while watching the game in a midtown sports bar. Neither option seems ideal.
9:30 p.m.- My buddy Jeffries, one of my two friends from Pitt currently living in the New York City, lets me know that he’s going the sports bar route also. Manhattan now becomes a more appealing option.
10 p.m. - My dad and I agree that our best option would be a bar named McQuade’s. It is on Long Island but closer to the City than our neighborhood, making it easier for my dad to get there in time. Plus we both really like it there.
My dad is ready for bed, so we decide that we’ll figure it out at the last minute. Tomorrow, I will scout out Long Island bars while he scouts out Manhattan bars. Nothing ever goes wrong when you leave things to the last minute.
11:30 a.m. - I have actually been able to get two hours of work done on a game day. I’m very proud of myself right now, two hours of productivity was an hour and a half more than I expected of myself. And we still have another five and a half hours! Maybe I’ll be able to function in society after all.
Noon - The fire alarm goes off. I have never been more excited for a fire alarm in cold and rainy weather in my life. I am able to make some phone calls and plan my night while standing outside with my coworkers.
12:15 p.m. - As the small kitchen fire on the foUrth floor of my building flows nicely into my lunch break, I call my Uncle Joe, a man of leisure who would have some solid recommendations for me. He gives me a handful of names and wishes me luck. He strangely doesn’t seem very sure about any of them. I start to get the feeling that this could end up being more difficult than I anticipated.
12:30 p.m. - All of Uncle Joe’s recommendations come up snake eyes, so I try McQuade’s one more time. I speak to a woman named Deborah who seems flustered by my question about DirecTV with the NCAA package. The conversation ends with her telling me “My boss will be here in an hour, call back then. I don’t want to get fired for giving you the wrong answer.” Fired? Deborah’s boss must be a pleasure to work for.
1:30 p.m. - I call McQuade’s back. Deborah’s boss and I have the following exchange:
Me: Will you be showing all of the NCAA tournament games tonight, or just the local game?
Boss: We have the sports package.
Me: Does that include the March Madness package?
Boss: We have the sports package. We have all of the ESPNs.
Me: The games are on CBS, will you be getting the out of market games?
Boss: We have the sports package.
Me: Mmmmm, OK. Thanks.
1:45 p.m. - I call my Dad. He’s made about as much progress as I have although the conversations he’s had have been more coherent than mine. We decide that we’re going to watch the game on Long Island one way or another.
If I find a bar by 6:15 I will call him and let him know. If not, I will meet him when he gets off the train to let him know where we stand. It bears mentioning that my Dad is one of 15 Americans between the ages of 10 and 70 who still doesn’t carry a cell phone.
2:30 p.m. - I call Jeffries to let him know that I won’t be going into the City to watch the Panthers with him. Jeffries was planning on bringing his girlfriend and a bunch of his buddies from work, so I don’t feel too bad about not watching with him.
5 p.m. - After spending the rest of my day staring at my computer and pretending to be busy, I race out of my office and head home. The rain turns my 15 minute drive into half an hour. Good thing I’m not pressed for time.
5:30 p.m. - In about 18 seconds, I change out of my work clothes and into my Pitt gear. I give my Mother one last chance to watch the game with us. She declines telling me “I can’t watch the game with you; you scare me.” And I wonder why I’m single.
5:45 p.m.- I drive into the downtown area of my lovely upper-middle class suburb which has a solid amount of bars. We have a sports bar called Champs which is a last resort for tonight. I like Champs but Pitt is approximately 2-497 in games I watch there. I try not to be superstitious but when the NCAA tournament rolls around I can’t leave anything to chance.
5:55 p.m. - I walk into two bars, see a cable box and walk right out without saying a word. That’s good social behavior on my part.
6 p.m.- I walk down the street and see a small chalkboard outside of a bar. It reads “We have EVERY NCAA Tournament game...25 cent wings.” Basketball and wings! I am home!
6:01 pm- I walk into the bar and start interrogating the bartender about the games. The more questions I ask, the less sure the bartender becomes. I must be a joy to deal with. The owner walks out of the kitchen just in time. We have the following conversation:
Owner: What game do you want?
Owner: We have it.
Me: I’ll be here.
Owner: And we have 25-cent wings.
Me: Now I can die a happy man.
Owner: (confused) You’re going to die?
Me: Maybe, if Pitt loses.
Owner: How much money did you lay down?
Me: None, I’m an alum.
Owner: (no response, just a stare)
Me: I’ll see you at 7!
6:05 p.m. - I call my Dad and let him know we’re in.
6:10 until 6:45 p.m. - I pace around my house nervously, since I now have time to kill. Gotta love the tourney.
7 p.m. - I arrive at the bar where I see a bunch of meatheads I went to high school with. We give each other the awkward nod type deal that says “Hey I know you but never said more than 10 words to you in my life.” They seem to have been at the bar for a few hours on this lovely Thursday, glad to see they’re doing well.
7:05 p.m. - As the bartender pours me a perfect pint of Bass, a waiter asks him, “What four states have a capital that starts with the same letter as the state?” He could only get Honolulu, Hawaii. I chime in, banging Dover, Delaware out right off the bat. Two down, two to go! This is exactly what I need in order to avoid thinking about the magnitude of the Pitt game.
7:15 p.m. - Right as I get Indianapolis, Indiana my dad arrives. He orders a Bud and asks me “Are we sure it will be on here?” And I wonder where I got the “difficult to deal with” gene.
7:20 p.m. - The bartender gets out a remote and tries to put the Pitt game on for us. I let him know that it will be on channel 702. I don’t have DirecTV, I looked the channel up online before coming to the bar. Everybody is impressed with/terrified by my attention to detail.
7:27 p.m - And we’re live from Boston! Our long strange journey has come to an end.
7:50 p.m. - Pitt looks like crap early, the waiter I was talking to earlier lets me know that Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is the fourth capital. I’m far less concerned with missing the most obvious answer than I am with Sam Young’s inability to stop dribble penetration.
8 p.m. - The waiter comes back to make small talk about God knows what. I never make eye contact as I am fixated on the game. My people skills should get me far in life. My Dad and I take this time to place a dinner order. He gets a Philly Cheese Steak, I get wings.
8:10 p.m. - The owner recognizes me and tries to strike up a conversation. As he tries to be friendly (what a bastard) Xavier goes on a 10-2 run to take an eight point lead into half. He’s one of those guys who feels the need to chime in with “ohhhh Pitt’s not doin’ so good” as the wheels are coming off. Just a pleasure to have around while things are going poorly.
8:15 p.m. - My father and I share one of the quieter meals of our soon to be 24-year relationship. I’m fixated on my wings that are fried beyond belief. Now any heart attack I have tonight only has a 75-percent chance of being Pitt-related. I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Pitt will clock out in the Sweet 16 yet again and that I’m about to watch the last 20 minutes of Pitt basketball until November.
8:25 p.m. - The owner reappears from his back office just before the start of the second half. He lets me know that he just bet Pitt to win outright and I better not let him down. You got it! I’ll make sure to grab more rebounds this half.
8:30 p.m. - Pitt starts the second half with a newfound focus on the defensive end. I turn to my dad and say, “If they can cut this lead to 4 by the first TV timeout, then I’ll start to believe.”
8:40 p.m.- We’re at the first TV time out, the score is tied at 37. My dad and I are officially pumped.
8:55 p.m. - UConn has put their game out of hand, now every TV in the bar has the Pitt game on. Our new problem is that the TVs that had the UConn game are two seconds ahead of the TV my dad and I are watching. We decide to stick with our TV since the other two dozen patrons seems disinterested in the game.
9:15 p.m.- After 18 minutes of ugly, defensive minded basketball that only a true Pitt fan could enjoy, the masses are suddenly interested in a tight game with less than two minutes left. This means my dad and I have to change TVs in order to watch with everyone else.
9:16 p.m. - Apparently, with a two-point lead, Xavier stole the ball, threw a wild outlet pass down court only to have one of their players grab the ball while stepping on the end line. I’d go into more detail but I temporarily blacked out.
9:17 p.m. - I could tell by the rumbling at the bar that most of the patrons were rooting for Xavier. This was until they saw how psychotic I was at this point in the game and figured it might not be the best idea to vocalize. Not worth having to fight a crazy person. At this point Levance Fields hits a step-back three to put Pitt up one with 50 seconds left. My buddy Jeffries sent me a text to let me know he was able to hear me screaming in Manhattan.
9:18 p.m. - Pitt gets a steal and a fast break lay-up to take a three point lead with 30 seconds to go. I am jumping and screaming. I notice a few attractive girls watching me at the end of the bar. Judging by their facial expressions, my two-inch vertical leap wasn’t exactly a turn-on.
I couldn’t care less. Pitt was heading to the Elite Eight for the first time in 35 years. They are now one win away from their first Final Four in 68 years. In my book, that absolutely justifies how ridiculous I probably looked at the time.
9:25 p.m. - My father and I finish our final beers and pay the tab. Our final numbers: zero new friends, one sandwich, six beers, 18 wings, $60 bill including tip and 21 hours of aggravation trying to find a place to watch. Guess what, it was all worth it!
Days like the one I had yesterday are what being a true fan is all about.