That was honestly the most surprising aspect of my phenomenal, four-cities-in-five-days jaunt over the first weekend of the Big Dance.
It was a trip I’ve always wanted to do. And I nearly carried it off last March, though I made it to only three different sites.
This time I pulled it off — and am barely awake right now to tell you about it.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16
5:30 a.m.: The alarm went off in Massachusetts and I got ready to go and start what is the most hectic time of the year for me: March Madness. I got a huge hug from my 7-year-old daughter before I walked out the door and headed to the airport.
10:00: Landed in Washington, D.C., in preparation of a day filled with eight news conferences. First I sent in a story on The Jimmer that I had been working on, then I ran down to CVS and took my wife’s advice and picked up a package of Vitamin C drops.
10:30: Walked into my hotel and the first two people I saw as they headed over to the arena: two of the best writers in the country, ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil and The New York Times’ Pete Thamel.
11:00: Walked into the building and quickly realized having AT&T in the Verizon Center: Not a good thing. Cell reception, just as it was the previous week at Madison Square Garden, would be a challenge.
11:15: The setup is that the coach of each team goes to the podium before a few players are brought up and speak to reporters while the locker rooms are open. The only annoying part of the locker rooms is the TV guys that ask players five consecutive questions — as if there’s no one else around. I almost always head directly to the locker room because I’ll get some of my best stuff from assistant coaches and also would prefer to get with players in a 1-on-1 setting.
11:40: First up was Old Dominion. Senior big man Frank Hassell was hilarious, ripping on all his teammates — and even his coach, Blaine Taylor, for his mustache.
12:25 p.m.: Heard that Bucknell’s Bryan Cohen would draw the unenviable assignment of having to check Kemba Walker the next day. The 6-foot-5 Cohen, the two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, played along well with my video.
1:15: Walked into Butler’s locker room and was immediately greeted by Bulldogs star Shelvin Mack, who wanted another crack at me in practice. If you remember, my lock-down defense forced Mack to score just 6 of 10 times against me back in October at Hinkle. However, Brad Stevens was adamant: Round 2 would have to wait until after the season. He didn’t want me injured. OK, fine, he didn’t care about my health. It was all about Shelvin.
1:45: Went into the UConn locker room and caught up with Alex Oriakhi, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Walker. When I told Walker who would be guarding him, he tried to keep a straight face. It wasn’t easy.
4:00: Finished a story on Butler and how they had managed to deal with the early-season struggles and finish strong.
7:00: Left the arena and went back to the hotel.
8:30: Met my former intern, Greg Paulus, and his buddy, Ryan Gensler, for dinner a couple blocks from my hotel. I didn’t have time for lunch, so I made up for it with dinner. The former Duke point guard and Syracuse quarterback just finished his first year as an assistant at Navy. After dinner, we went to a bar (the 24-year-old Paulus drank wine) and may have been the only ones in the place actually watching VCU beat up on USC.
12:30 a.m.: Got back to my hotel and did a quick hit with the crew at FOX video hammering the concept of the First Four.
THURSDAY, MARCH 17
7:30 a.m.: Had to wake up to do a couple of radio interviews. Over the course of the season, I try to do every one possible. Honestly, I’m shocked I’ve gotten to the point in this business where people actually want to hear my opinions. But this time of year it gets extremely difficult to do them all, so I keep them to a minimum.
10:45: As I usually do, I arrived to the arena about 90 minutes before the game starts to make sure my Internet connection is working well, find my seat and make certain nothing else crazy happens.
12:15 p.m.: This tournament started off with a bang. Matt Howard hit the game-winner as the buzzer sounds and the Butler Bulldogs — last year’s Cinderella story — knocked off Old Dominion.
2:30: I made a few extra bucks in holding the camera for Dana O’Neil as she does a postgame 1-on-1 with Howard. Hey Dana: I’m still waiting for my tip.
3 p.m. to midnight: The last few games didn’t have quite the same sizzle as the day’s opener. Pittsburgh routed UNC-Asheville, then UConn did the same to Bucknell before Cincinnati took care of Missouri fairly easily.
1 a.m.: I got started on my nightly wrapup in which I make it easy for the reader to get a quick take on the entire day’s action from around the country. The great thing nowadays is that I can watch another game courtside on my laptop, so I try and keep up with everything I can.
2:30: I walked out of the arena, jealous that everyone is partying on St. Patrick’s Day, and took a cab to a hotel closer to the airport. Did a quick video hit, packed up my suitcase and got a few hours of sleep.
FRIDAY, MARCH 18
6 a.m.: Woke up to get to Reagan Airport. There’s just one problem: The iron in the hotel room didn’t t work. I threw on a wrinkled shirt and caught the shuttle bus to the airport.
10:30: Landed in Chicago, walked out of O’Hare Airport and caught a cab. I know plenty of sportswriters that would have gone to the game looking disheveled, but I couldn’t do it. I had the cabbie take me to a Marriott hotel about 10 blocks from the United Center, where I eventually begged the woman at the front desk to bring down an iron and ironing board — and I went to work in the bathroom.
11:30: I walked into the United Center, got situated, grabbed a turkey sandwich at the concession stand upstairs and found my seat — which is basically next to the tuba player in the Akron band.
1:40 p.m.: Notre Dame and Akron kicked off my day, which wasn’t all that exciting to be honest. The Irish blew out Akron, Florida State held off Texas A&M and Purdue smacked St. Peter’s.
Midnight: VCU put the finishing touches on its smackdown of Georgetown.
1:45 a.m.: Did a Skype with the video folks.
2:04: Filed my wrapup.
2:30: Sent in my story on how improbable this was for VCU, Shaka Smart and senior guard Joey Rodriguez — and how none of them were supposed to be there.
2:45: Walked upstairs to try and grab a cab and the guy at the security desk just laughed at me when I asked him if there were any in the vicinity. He said it would take at least 15 minutes — and added they might never come to that area of town at that time of night. He called one anyway, and then I went outside and started walking. Finally, after about 20 minutes, I caught one and headed to my hotel near Midway Airport.
3:15: Checked into the hotel.
SATURDAY, MARCH 19
5:20 a.m.: Wake-up call.
7: Flight left for Tampa
11: Landed in Tampa, headed to my hotel (which was flooded with Kentucky fans), checked in and headed down the street to the arena.
Noon: Walked into the building and got into my seat right as the game was starting.
2:45 p.m.: Kentucky big man Josh Harrellson is mobbed before briefly recounting the story of former coach Billy Gillispie putting him in the bathroom a couple years ago at halftime and also making him ride home in the equipment van.
3:00: Went into the West Virginia locker room and talked to Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman, a pair of John Beilein recruits that started this season for Bob Huggins’ team.
3:10: Ran back onto the court to catch Florida’s win over UCLA.
4:00: Went over to see Florida sophomore Erik Murphy’s family in the stands. Murphy’s father, Jay, starred at Boston College, his mother, Paivi, played pro ball overseas and his younger brother, Alex, recently committed to Duke. Thomas, 12, is the youngest and he’s already well over 6-feet tall.
4-5:00: Watched the rest of the Florida game while also writing a story on Harrellson during timeouts and breaks in the action.
5:15: The Gators moved to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 — the second of their back-to-back national titles.
7:00: Was talking to Billy Donovan about Erving Walker as he recalled the time he called me about Walker before he took his commitment. I told Donovan that Walker wasn’t good enough to start for a program that wanted to compete for national titles. Donovan didn’t listen to me. Smart man.
8:00: Sent in my story on Walker and how he may be the smallest man on the court, but he has mammoth cojones.
9:00: Threw my stuff back in the hotel room and then went down the street and watched Butler’s shocking last-second win over Pittsburgh; saw Jake Pullen’s career come to an end against Wisconsin; and was shocked as The Jimmer and BYU pounded Gonzaga.
1:02 a.m.: Filed my wrapup, did a video hit.
SUNDAY, MARCH 20
6 a.m.: Woke up in Tampa, got ready and grabbed a cab to the airport.
10:30: Landed in Charlotte, where I called my nephew — who is a manager on the Michigan basketball team (yet I cannot ever seem to break a Michigan story) — and met him downtown at his hotel. We walked a few blocks to my hotel (the same one I stayed when I watched Memphis pound Michigan State a few years back), where I checked in, threw my suitcase in the room and ironed my shirt.
11:00: Arrived at the arena and grabbed a quick lunch in the media room with my nephew, ESPN workhorse Andy Katz and John Akers of the Basketball Times.
2:15 p.m.: Venoy Overton? Are you serious? I am admittedly not the biggest Isaiah Thomas fan, but I was shocked at the decision to give the ball to Overton instead of Thomas with the game on the line.
2:45: North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes is a close-to-the-vest type of guy, but you need to watch the video of fellow frosh Kendall Marshall and some of the other players after the win over Washington.
3:00: I walked on the court to see Michigan trailing 13-9 at the 12-minute timeout. My nephew, sitting in the stands with the other managers, looks confident.
4:45: My nephew and the rest of the Wolverines fans are distraught after Darius Morris misses a short runner in the lane that would have forced overtime.
5:15: I got a chance to meet Duke standout freshman Kyrie Irving’s father, Drederick, for the first time outside the Duke locker room. The elder Irving played at Boston University and overseas.
8:00: I finish my column on Irving and how time is running out for him to inch closer to what he was — and then I walked back to the hotel with New York Post rising star Kevin Armstrong and grabbed dinner downstairs at Champions where we watched the last 10 minutes or so of Arizona’s shocking and somewhat controversial victory against Texas.
9:00: I went upstairs to my room, watched Marquette pull the upset over Syracuse on my laptop and caught Florida State’s resounding victory over Notre Dame.
10:30: I taped my nightly video hit and then got started on my daily wrapup. My eyes were hurting at this point as I was finally starting to feel the effects of a lack of sleep over the past few nights.
12:47 a.m.: I finally finish the wrapup, but now I have to do a Sweet 16 preview. It doesn’t sound so bad. I can probably pump this out in a matter of a couple hours.
2:52: I put the finishing touches on the preview and e-mailed it to my desk. I packed, went downstairs to the lobby and printed out my boarding pass for my flight the next morning.
3:30 a.m.: Sleep.
MONDAY, MARCH 21
7:30 a.m.: Phone goes off. Time to get up. Catch cab to the airport.
12:30 p.m.: Land in Boston.
1:30: Walk in my house and am mauled by my dog, Kasey, with endless kisses. It’s good to be home.
2:41: My wife called and informed me that my daughter is now tied with me in the Beat Jeff Goodman bracket on FOXSports.com. That’s just not good.
Now I can cross one thing off my bucket list, but it’s back on the road Wednesday morning when I fly out to New Orleans for the Sweet 16.
Four days in the Big Easy then flying to Newark for Sunday’s Elite Eight.