For Saturday’s Final Four matchups at AT&T Stadium, no fans were farther from the action than McKinney businessman Jeff Moore and his 12-year-old son, J.B. For the record, their seats were in Section 439, Row 30. That is the last row, the most distant perch at one of the most humongous sporting venues known to man.
As Connecticut and Florida warmed up for Saturday’s first game, the players looked antlike far below.
But not for a second did you hear father or son complain. The massive stadium big screen, larger than the court itself, loomed directly in front of them. It provided crisp images of drops of pregame player sweat. Even in the top row, father and son were engulfed by the spectacle, the bands playing, the crowd roaring. Moore, a Florida grad, got to watch his alma mater chase another brass ring.
But for him, something else was much more important. Distant seat or not, he said, “All that matters is that I’m here with my son.”
“It’s the Final Four,” he said. “It’s the experience. I can take my son to the Final Four. How many kids get to do that? I don’t know if he gets what a big deal it is, but I do.”
Saturday’s attendance of 79,444 set a record for the Final Four but not for the stadium itself.
Elsewhere in the distant reaches, where some fans paid hundreds to essentially watch the game on television, the sentiments Saturday were remarkably the same.
Ouida Stevens of North Richland Hills is 82, but she happily trekked up to her top-row seat, where she sat next to her son, Mike.
“The blimp dropped us in here,” Mike Stevens, a Midland resident, quipped before the first game. “You can see the ball go through the hoop. You can’t really see the players’ numbers, but after about five minutes, you can figure out which player is which.”
“Especially if you are basketball fans, which we are,” his mother said.
“If you are a basketball fan, this is like the Super Bowl,” Mike said. “It’s just such a spectacle.”
This year’s Final Four venue has come in for a lot of heat, especially from purists who argue that watching basketball should be a more intimate experience, hearing the thump of the ball and the squeak of sneakers on the court. That’s impossible for most at the stadium in Arlington.
“When Money Talks, Game Is Drowned Out in Big Stadiums,” a New York Times headline said this week.
As part of her research, the Times reporter climbed to the top row at Jerry World last week, looked down on the court and found the distance laughable. The imperative to pad attendance totals and make more money was to blame, the story said.
In fact, for many years now, the college basketball showpiece had been taken from traditional arenas to larger stadiums for that purpose.
But none has been as vast as AT&T. Several players from this year’s Final Four have also been critical.
“It’s an insane venue; I think it’s too big,” Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky told the Times. “I can’t even see the fourth deck.”
Yet without the extra seats, Mike and Ouida Stevens probably wouldn’t have had the chance to share their Final Four goose bumps Saturday.
And Brett Camp, an 18-year-old from Atlanta, might have gotten a different high school graduation present.
“My son is a huge Kentucky fan,” his father, Chris Camp, said from the upper reaches as the first game was about to begin. “He’s not much into cruises or going to the beach. I said, ‘How about I take you to the Final Four? We’ll get whatever tickets we can get and have a good time.’
“We’ve had the tickets for a while, and when Kentucky got in last week, that was just icing on the cake,” the father said.
Even if the game was so far below.
“We’ve got a great view of that,” Chris Camp said of the big screen. “It’s just to be part of the experience. And it’s also the first time I’ve been inside something like this. Just a great opportunity.”
When basketball fan Terry Campillo finally arrived at his top-row seat, he turned to his friend Harv Brown and joked: “Oh, my God. I’m glad I’m from Denver. I’m used to being this high.”
Later, he was more serious. “You come for the experience, not for the seat,” he said. “You come here and see so many other college basketball fans, like we are. That makes it all worthwhile.”
From the top row, Jeff Moore and his son watched Florida take an early lead and then allow UConn to charge back.
Memories were made, the altitude not important.
“This is the Final Four,” the father said. “This is bucket-list stuff for an awful lot of people.”