March 31, 2007

The Worst Seat in the House

Down three tiers, past the media buffet, after the photographers' lounge, through two media work stations, past a giant black curtain, beyond two makeshift sections of bleachers and just after an expanded press row, a Final Four game is in progress.

From this vantage point, though, the following question begs to be answered: If you attend a basketball game, and you can't actually see the game, did you, in fact, go?

These four Florida fans got to "see" their Gators advance to the Final.

Way, way, way, way up in section 306, rows 24 and 25, sit four Florida Gators fans, their legs draped over the empty seats in front of them. There's no arguing that these guys, dressed in blue and orange, are the proprietors of the worst seats in the house.

For what I assume are financial reasons, every year the Final Four , is played in a football arena. It's pretty outrageous, like having a chess match at the bottom of a pool or the squash championships in Grand Central Station. The Georgia Dome, home of Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons, is hosting this year's games.

VIDEO: The pregame scene was far superior to the actual games.

The set up, no matter the city, is always the same. The court is set up parallel to where one endzone would be, between the currently imaginary goal line and the twenty-yard line. The court's fourth wall of seating is the makeshift -- ack, this diagram explains it better than I can.

Kevin Blanchard, Herre Echmer, and brothers Larry and Sam Kuhn, all college students from Florida, have "scored" seats at the far (away) end of the stadium, a kick return away and then some from the action, split down the (nonexistent) uprights, in the tippy-top tier, with their backs almost against the concrete stadium wall. From this vantage point you can tell that an athletic event is taking place, though you'd be hard pressed to say which sport it is.

This is the actual view from section 306.

"It's looks like the little blue ants vs. little white ants," says Echmer during the Georgetown-Ohio State game. "We just wanted to be here. It's the atmosphere; it's not about where you sit."

Once the Gators were assured a berth in the Final Four, the older Kuhn, Larry, 20, logged onto eBay to secure four tickets. He won a bid at $250 a piece for four $60 face value seats, the maximum price he could go. Like most online buyers, he wasn't exactly sure what he'd purchased. It wasn't until he later checked the seating chart that he realized they'd be stationed closer to the Florida-Georgia state line than the actual game. "By the time our seven-hour drive from Jacksonville was over," says Larry's brother, Sam, "I was finally done complaining."

"It's not so bad," explains Blanchard, wearing home Florida No. 1 jersey. "When you first get to your seats you can't see anything. But your eyes adjust...sort of." Greg Oden, after picking up two early fouls, was relegated to the bench for most of the first half, a downer for the paying fans here to see the big man play. But these four looked on obliviously, unable to tell the difference between Oden and his backup Kyle Madsen...who's white.

There are advantages to being a handful of Hail Marys from the action. The bathroom and concession lines are swift. They can spread out their stuff and place a man-buffer between each other. To defray their travel costs they plan on collecting all if the unused Final Four seat cushions in their section and hawking them on eBay. Explains Blanchard, "We think they'll go for five bucks a pop."

"I can spot that hair from a mile away," says Sam Kuhn.

Twenty minutes after the Buckeye's win, the Gators come storming out of the tunnel for warmups. The boys perk up in their seats. "There's (Joakim) Noah," remarks Sam Kuhn. "I can spot that hair from a mile away." The others squint their eyes trying to get a glimpse. "Yep," says Echmer, "I think it is."

Last year, the boys paid less money, and had considerably better nosebleeds, to see Florida win it all. If Florida makes it to the Final Four again in 2008, will they splurge for seats with actual sight-lines?

"Next year I'm buy tickets in the bathroom," says Larry Kuhn. "They have a sweet plasma flat screen in there."

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Posted by Matt Waxman at 11:48 PM | Comment