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My excellent trip to Lexington

March 25, 2013

It sure was nice to know that we wouldn’t be sweating an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after the great season the Rams had. I was going to be following them wherever they went but was hoping for a reasonably close location within reasonable driving distance.

And so it was a bit of a disappointment when the Rams were placed in Lexington, KY.

But as soon as it was announced, my wife immediately went to work booking the trip and got that part of it done efficiently and cost effectively. Not cheap but manageable. A planned Wednesday departure from Denver and a return on Sunday.

We went to see the team off on Tuesday at Moby Arena. We showed up at 10:00AM and waited around with the dogs until the team finally started to make their way to their bus at about 10:45AM. I was amazed at how serious they already looked. Felt like watching someone going on a business trip.

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Travel to Lexington

Originally booked to fly into Lexington, we had to make changes and couldnt get in and out of Lexington at the times I needed to travel. The only alternative was to fly to Dayton, Ohio and drive to Lexington.

We left Fort Collins at 5:15AM for a flight from Denver to Charlotte, NC where we would catch another flight to Dayton. The trip went smoothly. Several Ram fans were on the flight and so was Denver broadcaster Drew Soicher. My wife recognized him as he walked by us. He’s pretty short.

We met some fellow Ram fans getting off the plane in Dayton who had routed the same way we did. They did not get tickets through CSU and didn’t have tickets for the Saturday game. Since my wife and I were on the hook for tickets on Saturday if CSU won, we made arrangements for them to have our seats in the event of a CSU win over Missouri. And in a little bit of small world, my wife recognized the wife of the other couple as someone who worked at Lopez Elementary school, where she had just subbed a few days prior.

We grabbed our rental car and began the 140 mile drive from Dayton to Lexington, hoping to make good time so that we could attend the CSU function scheduled from 6-8PM at a bar in Lexington.

The Wednesday night CSU event

GPS is nice. We were able to make decent time down I-75 even with construction and rush hour in Cincinnati and pull into the bar at about 6:30PM. We arrived at the same time as CSU AD Jack Graham and his lovely wife Ginger. And then were greeted at the door by Deidre Church, the Events Manager for CSU Athletics and Jessica Streeling, the ticket manager.

A few words about those two.

Deidre Church is a genuine treasure. Fun, energetic, professional. Everything she sets up is first class. I would not trade her for anyone in the athletic department.

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I made arrangements with Jessica to have my tickets transferred to the Ram fans I had met in Dayton. It was handled professionally and seamlessly.

And then we wandered our way inside to the event.

A portion of the pep band was there. The cheerleaders were there. Cam the Ram was there. Counteless fans, friends, and CSU luminaries. We ran into friends Len and Jan Carpenter, whom we got to know because of CSU basketball. We chatted with Darren Green (Dorian’s dad), Rand and Shelly EIkmeier (Wes’ parents), and Chuck Iverson (Colton’s dad). We were introduced to a pair of lovely ladies who were Wes Eikmeier’s grandmothers along with other family members.

I also had a chance to catch up with Gary Ozzello, Kelly Lyell, and countless others.

It was like being with one big family. My CSU Basketball Family. Beautiful.

The band played, the luminaries spoke, we ate some food.

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We headed out at 8:00PM to find our hotel at the end of a long travel day and went to sleep with visions of Rams dancing all over Tigers.

Game Day vs. Missouri

We awakened at about 8:00AM and I looked out the window and saw some white stuff in the air. I figured it was something from a tree being blown by the wind but upon closer examination, it was snow. Snow for God’s sake in March in Lexington, KY! 20* and snowing!

We had plenty of time to kill until the evening session but it wasnt going to be easy with it being so cold outside. We found a nice breakfast place and then drove around the campus of the University of Kentucky. We considered going to the afternoon session at Rupp Arena (Butler, Marquette) but only if we could get tickets for really cheap. The best we could go was a pair for $50 so we found a BWW and watched on TV instead.

We made a quick trip back to the hotel, then it was off to downtown Lexington for a quick dinner and the games. Downtown was absolutely buzzing with the Louisville faithful. A Sea of Red everywhere. And then it was time to head over to the arena.

We arrived at an escalator that would take us upstairs to the Rupp Arena entry. Security people wouldnt let us on the escalator because they said there was no room at the top until the doors opened. Of course they didnt stop people from walking up the stairway right next to the escalator, making it even more crowded.

Kentucky people arent so smart.

The doors finally opened, we walked through the ticket gate and security and made our way into the arena.

Rupp Arena

SO there we were in the concourse of Rupp Arena. A concourse about as wide as the one at Moby Arena. The difference being that Rupp Arena seats about 23,000. Not 8750. Not easy to get around for sure. We wandered our way to our section and entered the seating area.

My first impression…

What a dump!

A storied program like Kentucky with 8 friggin national championships (yes the banners were impressive). Dirty blue seats that looked like they had been in a Carmike theater for 20 years. Garbage everywhere. Pizza boxes and empty cups scattered about because they hadnt been cleaned up from the afternoon session.

No central scoreboard or videoboard hanging from the ceiling! Just microphones and scoreboards/videoboards in the upper far corners..

A far cry from The Yum! Center, Louisville’s home arena where CSU played last season in the NCAA’s. The Yum was as good as it gets. And with Louisville and Kentucky being such bitter in-state rivals, it is a cause for a lot of jealousy on the part of UK fans.

So much so that UK has asked the state to build them a new arena. And woird is that the state has responded with a big Eff You!

Not because they dont love their basketball. But because they think they should build it themselves with all of that money they have. And they do have money.

The Kentucky locker room and practice facility at Rupp was off-limits for teams other than for tours. Word is that is is incredibly ostentatious. Word is that the UK Basketball program has so much money that they bought last year’s Final Four floor to practice on. And that they spent a cool 950k for it.

Louisville vs. North Carolina A&T

Louisville looked impressive in warmups. Tall, strong, agile. NC A@T looked the part of an NCAA Tourney team physically but not when the game started. Louisville was all over them early, forcing turnovers and scoring easily.

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I sent a text message to one of CSU’s assistants that read “How does Peyton Siva look from up close? He looks pretty good from where I’m sitting.”

His reply: “He looks better down here.”

I sent the following photo to our old coach with the message “Robin isn’t very impressed with NC A&T.”

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The best part of the game was when CSU came out to watch the game and appreciate the NC A@T Pep Band who played their hearts out even with their team hopelessly behind. Enough to warrant applause from the CSU Pep Band and the CSU team.

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Colorado State vs. Missouri

My wife and I went for a walk around the arena concourse during warm-ups. We missed CSU’s entry to the court which came about 5 minutes after Missouri. By the time we returned to the arena, there were only a couple of minutes till gametime. I said hello to a few people and had my customary pre-game good luck hug with Shelly Eikmeier. As an aside, it is a ritual I will miss most of all starting next season.

Player introductions, commercials, and it was game on.

And boy was it game on as CSU came out and blitzed the Tigers from the opening tip. Wes Eikmeier and Dorian Green started raining in the three-balls and Greg Smith joined them. A comfortable 9-point lead at the half and CSU had survived 12 minutes of Colton Iverson on the bench with foul issues.

Missouri made an early run to cut the CSU lead to 4 but then the Rams pulled away to a double-digit lead that they would hold for most of the second half. They were attacking the rim rather than relying upon their perimeter game with the best being a Jon Octeus dunk. Missouri got it back to 7 at one point but then the lead quickly went to double digits and CSU put the game away at the free throw line.

At the end an 84-72 victory with Dorian Green leading the way with 27.

But it was more than that.

It was an NCAA Tournament win. The first for CSU since 1989.

And very much relished by the CSU faithful who had made their way to Lexington. A loud roar at games end, hugs and high fives for all. No one left until they started to turn out the lights at Rupp.

Beautiful!

A post game Coke at the Campus Pub with the Eikmeiers, the Iversons, and Darren Green and then it was back to the hotel with visions of sugar plums and wins over Louisville on Saturday.

Friday at Claiborne Farm

I’ve seen a lot of great sports events in my life.

Super Bowls, MLB playoff games, World Cup soccer matches.

But the greatest single sporting event I have ever seen was the 1973 Belmont Stakes when Secretariat won the race by 31 lengths to secure the Triple Crown.

And so when presented with an opportunity to visit the horse farm where Secretariat was bred and later lived in retirement, it was a must visit.

I had made arrangements with the folks at Claiborne earlier in the week for a group of 14 and was joined by several members of the Eikmeier and Hornung clans.

The tour lasted for about an hour and we saw the barn where all horses at Claiborne are conceived, the stalls where the horses live, the fields they run in, and the graveyard where the greats were put to rest. We got to see stallions War Front (80k stud fee) and Blame, the 2010 Bredders CUp Classic champion (30k stud fee).

Claiborne has bred something like 22 Kentucky Derby winners, 19 Belmont winners,and numerous other champions. Its like an absolute Who’s Who of horse racing over there 100+ years of existence.

Our guide was, believe it or not, a Colorado State graduate. He had begun his education on rodeo scholarship at the University of Wyoming and then transferred to CSU to major in Equine Science.

Words can’t describe the feelings I had. I do know this. It was an absolute must see for me and really opened my eyes into how cool an area Lexington, Kentucky is.

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The rest of the trip

My wife and I had a beautiful time touring Lexington the rest of the day. It is a beautiful small city with lots of colonial style homes and Victorian townhouses. The surrounding area is horse farm after horse farm after horse farm on some of the most beautiful rolling terrain that you will find anywhere.

And of course it was made prettier in the knowledge that CSU had defeated Missouri.

The Return Home

A long day as we had to leave Lexington at 2:15AM.

A flight from Dayton to Minneapolis.

A 5-hour layover waiting for weather to improve in Denver.

Arrival in Denver in time to watch the first half of the CSU-Louisville game, then the roads cleared enough for us to head home as we listened to the second half on the radio.

I wish I could have been in Lexington for the game. I would like to have roared for this group of kids one last time. And while CSU basketball goes on, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to view another team in the way I have been able to view this collective group.

Thanks to the players and coaching staff. You were the reason I ended up in Lexington and provided Robin and I with memories that I will cherish until the day I die.

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