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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Mon, 03/17/2008 - 9:58am.
They say sports can serve as a tonic for what ails us. In an extreme example, the return of sporting events in mid-September 2001 helped start the healing process for the nation after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The UNC-Duke basketball game earlier this month helped that community honor UNC's student body president, who was killed a few days before. This past weekend, the men's basketball team at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, may have helped distract people in the Peach State from a slew of bad weather Friday and Saturday that spawned tornadoes, destroyed homes and claimed at least one life.
Late Friday night, the Bulldogs sat in a locker in Atlanta's Georgia Dome waiting to take on the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the last quarterfinal game on the second day of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. But as Mississippi State and Alabama played out in the arena, the action on the court stopped, and everyone looked up. They saw steel supports, a giant video screen and a scoreboard swaying on the cables that attached them to the ceiling. The sound of a locomotive warned spectators of what turned out to be a tornado that ripped a hole in the dome's fabric roof and sent insulation floating to the floor below. Outside, the first tornado ever to hit downtown Atlanta left behind a swath of destruction estimated at at least $150 million. The Georgia Dome deemed structurally sound, an hour later Mississippi State and Alabama finished the last couple of minutes of a MSU win. But before Georgia and Kentucky could take the court, their game was postponed. It would be moved to the following noon up the road to the campus of Georgia Tech, where Alexander Memorial Coliseum was mostly empty, save cheerleaders, pep bands, players families and a few others who were allowed in. The small crowd the result of no easy and equitible way to distribute tickets to an arena less than half the size of the facility it replaced and the fact that Atlanta police were busy helping deal with the mess left behind by the tornado.
So there were the last-seeded Bulldogs Saturday afternoon pulling off their second overtime upset of the tournament. Their reward was another game six hours later against top-seeded Mississippi State. The battle of Bulldogs went to the boys from Athens. Suddenly Georgia had gone from being the worst team in the conference to having a chance to make the NCAA tournament if they could secure the SEC's automatic berth with a championship game win over Arkansas Sunday.
Along the way, the Bulldogs saved their coach's job and became media darlings, beating seemingly insurmountable odds and giving the people in a ravaged city and state a welcome and happy distraction from the mess around them. But not everyone was happy. Some 20,000 fans were supposed to watch those last four games of the tournament. Most were turned away by the revamped ticket policy. By most accounts, most of those fans were understanding, albeit frustrated. But just when you think crazed fans can sink no lower, up walks Stephen Gray McFayden and Trudy Noble.
McFayden and Noble are both Wildcat fans from Kentucky who made the trip to Atlanta with as many as 15,000 other members of True Blue Nation. Now, folks, I lived in Lexington, KY, for more than two years, and I know how die-hard Kentucky fans are. Seriously, fans along Tobacco Road have nothing on these people. And I mean that as a compliment to the Wildcat faithful. But while the vast majority of that ardent fan base are just plain good people, there are always a few bad apples who spoil the bunch, including McFayden and Noble.
In a story this weekend in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the ticket issue, McFayden said, "Come Monday I will be filing in Fayette (Ky.) Circuit Court a class action suit against the Georgia Dome. I'm going to be seeing who I can sue and for what."
Noble was almost as considerate.
"Why should I be out that money?" Noble asked. "The Georgia Dome insurance ought to pay me back. There ain't enough money in the world to pay me back for how scared I was in that Georgia Dome. I thought the building was going to fall down."
People literally down the street picking up what is left of their homes and businesses, and these two want to get paid for missing a basketball game. What is wrong with some people? I wonder if McFayden's lawsuit will include as a defendant God, as in acts of God, the clause included in many contracts, including typically a ticket to a sporting event, that reduces or removes liability for event cancellations. As for getting paid back, that's what travel insurance is for. I'm guessing you could probably have gotten a pretty good deal on some for a basketball game. They don't usually get rained out.
But it wasn't just narrow-minded fans who showed a lack of support. The Big Ten conference joined the fray, too. CBS was scheduled to broadcast the SEC title game to a national audience at 1 p.m. ET Sunday followed by the Big Ten championship at 3 p.m. CBS and the SEC asked the Big Ten to swap timeslots. The Big Ten wouldn't do it. So the SEC game was moved to 3:30 p.m. and broadcast nationally on ESPN2 with CBS only airing the game in Arkansas and Georgia.
Despite all of this, somehow Georgia pulled off yet another upset and earned a trip to Washington, DC, Thursday to play in the first round of the NCAA. The Bulldogs are sure to continue to get extra attention for the amazing worst-to-first run they made over the weekend. That coverage surely must include mention of the tornado that set the drama in motion. And hopefully it will help focus attention on what matters most: the victims of the storm and lives they must rebuild. Yes, sports can indeed be a great tonic for what ails us. At least as long as people keep the proper perspective and value lives more than basketball tickets.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo