By Sam Driban

My name is Sam and I’m a March Madness addict.

It started as a “one time, let’s see what this is all about” drive down to Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland in March of 1991.

Why not?

I started to fall in love with the NCAA basketball tournament during the 1970s and 1980s. It wasn’t just UCLA, North Carolina, and the Kentuckys of the world, but the Santa Claras, Long Beach States, and of course, the Villanovas too. Almost every game was exciting and you dared not miss a moment, because anything could, and usually did happen.

Traveling down I-95, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been to a tournament game or to Cole Field House, for that matter. I didn’t even have a ticket.

March Madness had not yet taken over the country, so after arriving I was able to purchase a ticket for $25 for each session (the afternoon doubleheader and the night doubleheader). Eleven hours later, I knew that I’d never miss a tournament again.

I saw four great games, including a Temple upset of Purdue, but nothing compared to the magical game between No. 2 seed Syracuse and the 15 seed Richmond Spiders. This was supposed to be little more than a scrimmage for Syracuse, but the Spiders were giving them all they could handle and by the middle of the second half, there were 13,000 crazy screaming people rooting for Richmond who probably couldn’t name a Richmond player or had ever seen them play.

There I was, wearing my new Richmond cap purchased at halftime, standing, jumping, and screaming with each Richmond possession until they had accomplished the unthinkable. Richmond’s victory over Syracuse was the first time a No. 2 seed had been eliminated in the first round by a 15th seed. Maybe it wasn’t hockey’s USA over the Soviets miracle, but it was pretty damn special and I was hooked.

Since then, I have traveled to more than 20 different cities in March to catch two, four, or six games live with many cities repeated. I have taken my buddy Craig to a few tournaments and have flown to several sites, but usually it’s just me, my car, a box of cigars, and CD’s my family won’t let me listen to. The windows are down, the heat is on (This keeps me awake on the interstates driving at 4 a. m. when it’s 18 degrees outside), and I’m on my way to basketball heaven.

By the way, it has to be the first weekend of the tournament. It gives you the opportunity to see the most games live and the chance for a multiple-city trip. It’s also the most exciting week of the tournament when every office pool is still alive and the chance for the “big” upset is best.

One of my favorite tournaments was 1993 when, in the middle of our store downtown on Sansom Street, I grabbed a box of Partagas and just left without telling anyone, drove seven hours to Winston-Salem, N.C., watched a Wednesday night ESPN NIT tripleheader on the tube (call that foreplay), then caught four games live Thursday.

After the last game ended just before midnight, it was off to Nashville driving through the night to catch four games live on Friday. It was back to Winston-Salem for a Saturday second-round doubleheader and then, just for a final fix, it was off to Indianapolis for a Sunday doubleheader before heading back to Philly.

What a weekend!

I returned to work Monday having caught 12 games live in three cities over four days and 2,000 miles. It doesn’t get better than that. Sometimes I settle for one city, two days of live ball, and 20 hours in a city’s best sport’s bar. On what I call bonus trips (Buffalo or Syracuse for example), you can even side step your way into Canada for a few hours and bring back a little real Molson.

Through the years, I’ve seen some of the most memorable games in tournament history. I’ve seen my share of No. 3’s and 4’s getting bumped by such schools as Wichita State and Tennessee-Chattanooga. I’ll never forget the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky knocking off Michigan’s “Fab 5” in overtime in Dayton. I really thought the building was coming down.

My all-time favorite has to be Valparaiso in 1998. With my seat in the Mississippi school section no less, I was right on line with that Bryce Drew miracle shot. If the distance was right, I was the second person in the building next to Bryce that knew it was lights out for Ole Miss. Ten minutes after the game I had to tell an older lady sitting with her booster husband who was still staring at the court in disbelief, that she better break it to him that it wasn’t two out of three. It was time to go back to Mississippi.

That’s part of the beauty and also the heartbreak of each game; it‘s one game, winner take all. Bryce Drew’s father, Homer, was the coach of Valparaiso which made the story all the more special. Together, they won the next game by upsetting Florida State and made it to the Sweet 16 before bowing out. To this day, when they show the highlight of that play, you can see me in the background.

I’m sure it’s coincidence, but I’ve also had the knack of seeing the eventual national champion play at the site I’ve attended. Me? I’ve never even come close to winning a pool. I love ‘em, but can’t pick them.

I’ve driven through snow, rain, sleet, and even hail to make this tournament. It’s a sickness you can’t fight. You just go along for the ride. If you want to catch guaranteed excitement and the best action around, forget going to the morgue (Wachovia Center). Catch March Madness in person for unforgettable hoops. You just might get hooked.


I find the sharing of this information to be so self-defeating, but here it goes.

  1. Get the layout of the arena and the phone number of the host school or arena before you leave. This is easily done on line.
  2. Plan to arrive the day before the games start if possible. Each school has an open, free to the public workout at the arena and sometimes that’s a good place to find tickets. It also wouldn’t kill you to actually see a little of the host city either.
  3. If possible, stay at or visit the hotels where the teams stay. Remember, there are 8 teams in town and access is easier than say, the NBA’s. The schools and their alumni are everywhere and sometimes the booster clubs or traveling fans have an extra seat or two from someone who couldn’t make it.
  4. BIG ONE. Each school has an allotment of tickets from the NCAA. The tickets come in books covering all three sessions (two doubleheaders and one doubleheader on the weekend).While a Duke or Indiana never return tickets to the host school or arena, a Southwest Missouri State may have a hard time selling 1,200 tickets on two days notice for a trip to Buffalo. When the tickets are returned the day before the games start, they are put up for sale either at the arena or at the host school’s ticket office. These are great seats as all of the school’s allotments are courtside, lower level. They are also face value and this method has become one of my favorite ways to get good seats on the cheap.
  5. The scalper. If you’re willing to pay top dollar, the scalper can be a great source. If you’re looking for an ordinary ticket, you don’t need the “professional” scalper. There will be enough Regular Joes selling tickets at the games, especially after the team that they came to see play loses in the first game and now they have unwanted weekend tickets. Sometimes, I look for that “great seat”. If you’re looking for that great seat, get to the arena early and walk around. You can spot the scalpers and they can spot you. Let them approach you. Be coy, tell them, yeah you’re looking, but only for that great seat. Since you’ve downloaded and printed the arena layout and know it by heart, tell the scalper that you want one of these 500 seats (lower level, center court section, nothing else). Give him your cell phone number and tell him to call you when he gets the seat. Do this with a couple serious looking scalpers and you’ll get your phone call and seat. Let them compete against each other for your premium purchase and the price might drop a little. I’ve been able to get some of the best seats in the house this way. We’re talking dead center court, first few rows. In Buffalo a few years ago, my seat was so good that a security official told me to take my feet off of Billy Packer’s chair. No kidding!
  6. NEVER buy tickets on line leading up to the games. I saw tickets for Jacksonville last year going for $275-$695 that come game day were $55-$125. These online services are just for those who don’t know better. If you were going to buy online, look how much money you’ve saved by buying this rag and reading this crap. You can drop me off a cigar in appreciation if you feel the need.

Sam Driban is part owner of Black Cat Cigar Company in East Norriton.

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