I stole that headline from somebody – maybe ESPN.com – but it tells the story of the Kentucky-North Carolina basketball game from last Saturday pretty well.
The first time I worked a game at Rupp Arena – the first time I’d been inside the building at all – was when I worked at the Red & Black student newspaper and covered the University of Georgia basketball team. The arena, from what I remember, was packed – probably sold out. But as the game began, the crowd wasn’t loud*. The fans weren’t exactly silent, but it wasn’t a great atmosphere. I remember thinking it had been a “wine and cheese” crowd. Since that 2000 contest, I’ve been back to Rupp maybe a half-dozen times. The atmosphere hadn’t changed much since. Still crowded, still laid back.
*That could have been a function of the fact that the Bulldogs, though an NCAA tournament team that year, weren’t exactly filled with superstars and perhaps not as exciting as other squads in the conference.
Last week, though, I covered the Kentucky-North Carolina game for CBSSports.com. The Wildcats were ranked fifth; the Tar Heels No. 10. The place obviously had sold out – more than 24,000 for a new Rupp Arena record. It was loud. Spine-chillingly loud. Awesomely loud. The last time I covered a game in front of a crowd like that was the Mike Tyson-Danny Williams heavyweight fight in Louisville’s Freedom Hall.
It was incredible. And I’ll never think about Rupp Arena in the same way. In a good way.