Veteran Final Four fan calls this one ‘pretty darn special’

A day later, C.C. Pharr still seemed a bit overwhelmed. There was Saturday’s jaw-dropping first look at the immensity of AT&T Stadium. The massive screen looming over the basketball court. The Final Four record crowd of nearly 80,000 people. The drama of Kentucky’s last-second victory over Wisconsin.

“I think any fan that was there last night is going to be talking about it for a long time,” Pharr said Sunday. He had traveled from his home in Asheboro, N.C., for college basketball’s ultimate event. “I was skeptical when I found out it was going to be here. It was going to be too big. We would be too far away from the court. It didn’t turn out that way at all.

“To play a basketball game in there and pull it off the way they did was pretty darn special,” he said.

Which, for Pharr, is saying something. The retired personnel director at Eveready Battery started attending Final Fours in 1976, and with the exception of one year (the kids wanted to go skiing in 1980), has been to every one since.

On Monday, he will be in his seat next to his wife, Carrie, for the national championship game between Kentucky and Connecticut.

Pharr has always been a college basketball nut of a sort, having seen every Atlantic Coach Conference tournament game since 1963. His first Final Four was a road trip to Philadelphia for him and three buddies, but others quickly wanted in.

Carrie Pharr has accompanied him to most of them, as well as up to two dozen friends and relatives who gather from around the nation. C.C. Pharr said he has always found enough tickets through the NCAA lottery, or through ACC schools that might advance to the national finals.

The Pharrs generally make a vacation out of it, spending a week exploring in and around the Final Four host city. He turned 72 during this week’s visit to North Texas. In addition to the semifinal games, he has played golf at Fort Worth’s Ridglea Country Club, sampled the Mexican food at Joe T. Garcia’s and taken in a walk-off win by the Texas Rangers.

“We won all the money playing golf and we got to the ballpark and hot dogs were a dollar,” C.C. Pharr said. “We like Texas, buddy. We had quite a day.”

Seattle and San Antonio have also been favorite Final Four destinations, he said. But ultimately it’s about basketball. Pharr remembers the teams and outcomes of every tournament for nearly four decades, some more easily than others.

In 1983, he sneaked an 8-millimeter video camera inside an Albuquerque arena to record the last few minutes of North Carolina State’s shocking upset of Houston. He missed capturing Wolfpack coach Jimmy Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug.

Another highlight came a year earlier in New Orleans, when Pharr and company watched the North Carolina team that included Michael Jordan and James Worthy defeat Georgetown for the title.

“We were sitting four rows behind the bench of Georgetown,” Pharr said. “We all brought signs saying what towns we were from. Those signs are all over ESPN Classic.”

Pharr said his memories of this weekend will be no less vivid, beginning with the moment he saw the cavernous interior of the stadium for the first time and the video screen that is longer than the court.

“It was mind-boggling,” he said. “You really get the scope of the place. But I think all the people who went to the game, even people in the top row, enjoyed it, because of the video screen. I bet I watched the screen half the time even though we were in the club level.”

“I had friends sitting up in the [highest seats] but they felt like they were part of the game because of the screen. It just makes a huge difference, the quality of the picture, replays every second.”

Saturday’s first game was “kind of a dud,” Pharr said. “We were kind of in shock that Florida couldn’t keep up with Connecticut. I had Florida picked as my national champion months ago.”

But the second game, between Kentucky and Wisconsin, had Pharr combing his memory trying to find one better. With seconds to go on Saturday, Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison ended a tense battle by hitting a three-pointer.

“I think the Wolfpack game in 1983 will always be No. 1,” Pharr said. “No. 2 is North Carolina over Georgetown. But I would put this one in the top three or four. I don’t think you could witness a better basketball game. It was a moment.”

And perhaps Pharr’s last. Next year’s Final Four is in Indianapolis, where he has been several times already.

“This is going to be my last one,” he said. “I’m going to hang it up.”

Unless college basketball’s ultimate spectacle returns to AT&T Stadium. Given his experience in the last few days, that might be enough to coax him back to the road.

“With all my Final Fours, overall, this is probably No. 1,” he said.

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