Do they know I don’t really belong here?

That was what I was thinking tonight as I was courtside at the Richmond Coliseum, using that CAA tournament press credential I mentioned earlier.

I had decided that, if anyone asked, I was there simply in case something went wrong… a backup for the VCU “Rams Radio” guys.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only person using a credential as a free ticket, but I wasn’t going to advertise it, either.

I did bring a notebook so I could keep track of what happened… so let’s dive into a mix of notes, memories, and “oh my god”…

5:30 – get to the Coliseum, and head for the area where I parked on Saturday (10th Street north of Leigh)… when I got there, there were no open spots… Until that SUV pulled out just in front of me and left a nice, safe, open spot.  Which I grabbed.  50 cents into the meter to cover the legalities (meters run until 6pm in that area), and I’m parked for the night.  So we’re off to a good start.

5:45 – head for the press room, and dinner (build-it-yourself burritos – I had a burrito-free burrito, just meat, rice, and cheese)… and find myself in the same dinner line with the WTVR (CBS6) crew… and as I get my dinner, up walks John Feinstein, who’s only one of the most well-known college basketball writers anywhere.  So I do what I usually do in a case like this – put on the “I really do belong here” face (while trying to make myself non-notable) and go have dinner. 🙂

5:55 – stop by the VCU broadcast position in the front row of press row to say hi to Robby Robinson, who I’ve worked with all season but never met in person.  He is one of the most gracious people I’ve met, saying he’s glad I was here and was part of the VCU team for tonight.  I had no work to do, of course, even though I did let him know that I was around if needed.  :)  Although later… well, we’ll get there.  Parenthetically: Robby is a class act, and – like their head coach, Anthony Grant, also a class act – has a great future.  VCU did well to bring Robby in when Terry Sisisky retired.

6:00 – I took up the position I’d scouted for myself… just off the right side of press row, in the corner behind the hockey boards near the VCU student section.  The rivalry was already underway, as the VCU and Mason pep bands took turns playing songs (and taunting each other)… the atmosphere was definitely building in.

Before tipoff – (I stopped noting times here – so here are some verbatim notes from the notebook) “The only place with more gold is cash4gold.com!” (VCU and Mason both use gold in their school colors, you see).  “This is becoming a VCU home game” (VCU fans outnumbered Mason fans at least 2-1 by game time) and “Allan Harvie?” (the Renegades owner had a second-row press row seat – and, sadly, his name spelled wrong on his credential). The teams had two warmup periods, at 6:00 and 6:30. The roar got louder each time the teams came back out, naturally.

Seen before the game – on a signboard held up by a leader of the VCU student section (may be paraphrased a bit):
”No standing on chairs!
No cheering for the SCUMBOOGERS!
No running on the floor until clock at 0:00
No personal attacks
NO LOSING!”

I should note – I’ve been joined in the corner by VCU fundraiser (and former NFL quarterback) Scott Secules and CAA Senior Assistant Commissioner Jerry Stone.  And they’re treating me like I belong there.  Um… wow?

6:58 – Mason back on the floor.

7:00 – VCU back on the floor to a thunderous reception.

7:05 – From the notebook: “Bedlam”.

7:07 – Game time.  Teams shoot toward their opponent’s student section in the first half, toward their own in the second.  I guess that’s so the students can’t wave things at (and taunt) shooters in crunch time… 🙂

I’m not qualified to write a game story (you can get one from the Times-Dispatch or ESPN).  So I’ll just give you the scores at each media timeout so you can get a feel for how the game went:

  • 1st timeout (“16 minute”), 15:15 left, VCU 9-3
  • 2nd timeout (“12 minute”), 8:25, VCU 21-12.  The fact that this timeout came so late was indicative of the fast pace of the game.
  • 3rd timeout (“8 minute”), 7:28, VCU 21-14
  • 4th timeout (“4 minute”), 2:30, VCU 30-17
  • halftime, VCU 30-19

7:55 or so – halftime.  Sprint to the media room for a soda and a breather.  This was not the game anyone expected.  VCU dominated, specifically sophomore Larry Sanders (6’10” with the wingspan of a 767).  Sanders had 12 defensive rebounds in the first half.  The whole Mason team had 14 rebounds (offense and defense).  The first half was the Larry Sanders Show (with no apologies to Garry Shandling).

8:03 – second half, here we go…

  • 1st timeout (bonus media TO), 17:12, VCU 37-19 (yes, VCU jumped Mason at the start of both halves)
  • 2nd timeout (“16 minute”), 15:18, VCU 39-20

8:15 – With VCU running out to a big lead, ESPN Radio needed a feed… the CAA’s media relations director, Rob Washburn, came over to Scott Secules looking for someone who could set it up.  Scott motioned to me and said “he’s the radio guy”… so I gave Rob the hotline number for the WBBT studio so ESPN could call in and pick up the live feed.  Then I tried to find a quiet spot (HA!) to call Brian Woodward (our traffic manager and studio engineer) and let him know the call was coming.

8:20 – I get a text from Brian indicating that ESPN was the third national radio network looking for the feed.  Sporting News Radio and Fox Sports Radio had also picked up our broadcast for highlight purposes.

  • 3rd timeout (“12 minute”), 11:38, VCU 45-25 (VCU by 20?  Seriously?!)
  • 4th timeout (“8 minute”), 7:41, VCU 47-32 (a few worries on the floor and in the stands)
  • 5th timeout (“4 minute”), 3:08, VCU 65-48 (the last 4 minutes were nuts, with GMU bombing 3-pointers and VCU calmly answering)
  • Full time, VCU 71-50, as I started watching out for a couple of members of the CAA staff who were worried about being run over by several thousand VCU fans… while also watching the bedlam on the floor.

9:04 – And the party is on.  Actually, the entire second half had the party atmosphere, and VCU students were crowding the wings of the student section for the last 7-8 minutes of the half… which gave everyone plenty of time to determine safe places to hide. 🙂

I don’t think I can really share what this was like in text.  I was in the Coliseum when the original Renegades won the ECHL Riley Cup.  I was part of an impromptu celebration when the New York Islanders won the 1980 Stanley Cup.  But this… this was really one of a kind.  And to have a courtside view… I think I remember why I wanted to get into sportscasting as a kid. 🙂

At least I got a chance to see why Eric Maynor is VCU’s all-world star… and why Larry Sanders is going to scare CAA schools for 2 more years… after the game, when Robby Robinson and I were talking during a commercial, we came to the conclusion that if VCU brings this level of performance to the NCAA tournament, there’s another Duke (2007… “Is this the dagger?”) out there just waiting to be picked off.  It’ll be fun to see if Maynor has another dagger waiting… 🙂

The wrap-up — I can’t thank the CAA enough for giving the station credentials… Brian for steering the second pass to me… all of the people I’ve named above… and you for putting up with me gushing here. :)  I don’t know if this is once-in-a-lifetime, but I’m treating it like it was.  It was a blast.

Postscript – it turns out that WBBT had a seat in the second row of press row.  I didn’t know it, because when I scanned the seating list, I was looking for “WBBT”.  The seat was in Brian’s name, and I missed it.  I didn’t know it until I was hiding waiting on press row during the VCU court-storming and saw our call letters on a place-holder on the table.  So I grabbed it as a souvenir 🙂 – but honestly, while I’d have had a great time anywhere in the building, winding up in that corner with Secules and Stone providing expert commentary made it just that much better. 

Obligatory plug – VCU’s next game is in the NCAA Tournament, March 19 or 20.  That game, and however many games VCU plays in the Big Dance, will air on 107.3 BBT (107.3/Richmond, 100.3/Petersburg).  You should join us. 🙂

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), generally nice person (if you ask me).

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