Michigan versus Pepperdine, 1994: A March Madness story

By |  March 13, 2018 0 Comments

This Thursday my Jayhawks will tip off against the Penn Quakers at the Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan. The fact that the game is being played in Wichita got me nostalgic for the last time the NCAA played tournament games in Wichita… way back in 1994.

A young Seth Jones and his dad, Boyd, midfield at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, late 1990s.

The venue was the Kansas Coliseum, a venue that seated just north of 9,000 people. The story was that this would be the last time the NCAA tournament ever appeared in such a small venue. Apparently new rules were put into effect (probably immediately after realizing they signed a contract to go to Wichita) regarding NCAA host venues. Until Wichita got a larger, nicer stadium to host basketball, you could expect the NCAA tournament to stay away.

And stay away they did, until the 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena was built in downtown Wichita a few years ago.

But back to 1994. As you can imagine, that was a hot ticket in Wichita. Especially because four of Michigan’s Fab Five (Chris Webber had already left for the NBA) were set to appear in the Coliseum. I was a teenager back in 1994 (don’t laugh, I really was!) and my dad and I were determined to go.

Dad was a longtime basketball player and fan. He played high school ball in Indiana, then played on a traveling team with friends. When we moved to Wichita, he joined the Kansas Air National Guard, and was a regular on the leagues that played at McConnell Air Force Base. I was just a young basketball fan, falling in love with the Jayhawks a few seasons earlier when my sister enrolled at the school. (I eventually attended Kansas as well, from 1996-2000 – Rock Chalk!)

Dad and I had one major problem with the NCAA tournament: we got skunked on tickets. Sure, we had season tickets at the Kansas Coliseum for the Wichita Wings indoor soccer team. But that gave us no pull for NCAA tickets. This was a Wichita State University hosted event, and we definitely had no pull with the Shockers. So we were on the outside looking in. I was devastated that I would miss this once-in-a-lifetime sporting event in the same sports venue I visited on most weekends in the winter.

Dad was a gamer, though. There was more than one way to skin a cat. He started putting feelers out at work. We didn’t need seats, we just needed to be in the barn. Someone had to know something.

Seth and Boyd at the Superdome in New Orleans. Kansas versus Marquette, 2003 Final Four.

Finally, Dad got a lead. A friend of a friend knew a guy who knew a guy. It was a long shot, but…

Dad scored. We were in.

We were going to be volunteer ushers.

We arrived at the Coliseum about three hours early for training. We were handed a white bib that read Kansas Coliseum, and a sticker for a name tag. Boyd and Seth were now in charge of making sure every ticket-holder found their proper seat, section 208. And if I recall correctly, we were good.

“Right this way, sir. You’re going to be about seven seats down this row. Watch your step, ma’am. Enjoy the game.”

I learned that day what a vomitorium was. I’m proud to say that we showed all those lucky ticket holders to their seats, then took residence in that vomitorium and watched college ball all day. This was not work! This was March Madness.

The Michigan/Pepperdine game was not supposed to be a good game. It was a first rounder, a 3 seed versus a 14 seed. Then something crazy happened: one of the Fab Five (I don’t remember which one) threw a Pepperdine player into the Michigan bench. His landing didn’t go well. He was barely caught and then pushed back to the floor.

The Wichita crowd immediately turned on Michigan. This was not the way we treated people in Kansas! The atrocity drew the loudest reaction of the day (the same day Exree Hipp from UMass jumped OVER a dude for a dunk!) It suddenly became a home game for Pepperdine. The Malibu, Calif.-based school known as the Waves suddenly became the favorite team of Wichita, Kan. And yes, we rocked the heck out of the Wave in the Coliseum.

The game went down to the wire… overtime! Dad and I were high-fiving, not needing to jump out of our seats — we didn’t have any.

Pepperdine fell in overtime, 78-74. It didn’t matter. My dad couldn’t come up with tickets, but I think he came up with something much better: a March Madness memory I’ll take with me to my grave.

To all the college basketball fans out there: happy March Madness. I hope your team does almost as well as my Jayhawks.

Photos: Seth Jones

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