New York City- In 1972 Ricky Nelson had a hit, ‘Garden Party’. Interestingly, that predates the year FAU began playing Dr. Naismith’s game competitively by 17 years. Make no mistake though, the NY Regional in the NCAA Tournament were a ‘Garden Party’ for FAU faithful.
Each of the teams in the regional brought a fan base to the ‘world’s most famous arena’. None like the FAU contingent genuinely basking in the moment and vociferously cheering on their beloved Owls.
Halftime of their semifinal meeting with Tennessee, the FAU deficit was five points. Getting a chance to talk with three fans, all were in awe of their first trip to MSG. Not even a complaint regarding the over priced beer one young lady was sipping. "Are you a Knick fan?," the lady with the beer asked. Turned out she is and I said since grade school the Knicks have been my favorite NBA team. and the three of us got into discussing the Knicks and recently departed Willis Reed, ‘the Captain’.
Throughout the game, FAU fans, probably 90% of them wearing something in red, were cheering every significant play, a Michael Forrest three pointer, a penetration by Nick Boyd… Anything of note on offense or defense, by Dusty May’s Owls. When FAU made their game changing run during the final stanza, the Garden erupted. A ‘red sea’ of devoted fans raising the decibel level.
As the clock wound down and it was evident FAU was Elite Eight bound, the cheering and chants reached an even higher volume. Post game the cheerleaders, dance team and mascot celebrated on the Garden floor. Posing for pictures and dancing to the PA system playing Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’. FAU players , before heading to their locker room, ran to the front row behind the basket to high five and hug some of the fans. Cell phones were raised and selfies, with the score in the background, the order of the moment. It was all a scene of team devotion you had to see and soak in.
Post game, grab a few quotes as coach May saying in jest how he thought about dancing on a press table. Final stats and a coffee for the road were the final order. Heading down the stars to the street level the ‘red sea’ still chanted loudly ‘FAU, FAU’.
Outside MSG the party continued. Fans took selfies, posed for group pictures. A FAU banner was displayed by a few fans with others joining in to pose for pictures. The fans all reveled and soaked in the moment.
Three fans asked if I, being quiet, was a Tennessee fan. Said I was a media member and told them I live close to and cover their previous opponent, FDU. All three fans spoke in sincere reverence and respect of the Knights. One young lady said, "when FDU played Purdue we rooted for them (FDU). We wanted Purdue out of the way but as the game went on more and more of our fans rooted for FDU because they played so hard and were underdogs. They were really tough to beat."
On this night the same could be said of their own FAU Owls. I Wished the three best of luck in Saturday’s final and headed to catch a 12:05 train. Yes, it was midnight and the party kept going on. FAU fans kept it going right on Eighth Avenue. No curfew for them. The clock struck 12 and Cinderella was still at it as the dance continued.