Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hey Mom! I made the front page!!!

I was in my motel in Washington, DC after an NADA dinner on the Tuesday before Final Four weekend. I got a call from   from the Mitchell Daily Republic asking me for an interview about thirty Final Four trips. The interview lasted about 45 minutes and I swear that he was having more fun than me.

He was asking about various Final Fours and whether or not I saw them - and I did - every one of them in the past thirty years. I had fun reliving different games through the years. I have to say, I was surprised how vivid my recall was.

I have commented many times before that we have seen some great basketball but as the years pass, it truly is more about renewing friendships on an annual basis more than anything else.

Cheers boys! Here's to 30 more!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thirty Years of Madness for this Final Four Duo

Knust (left) and Korth (right) at last year's Final Four in Indianapolis.

Every avid college hoops fan has seen the replay of Michael Jordan’s game-winning jump shot to lift North Carolina to the 1982 title over Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Houston fans have had nightmares about Dereck Whittenburg’s high-arching air ball that Lorenzo Charles grabbed for the game-winning dunk as Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack edged the Cougars for the 1983 championship. The image of Keith Smart's shot arching high through the air before splashing through the net to give Bob Knight’s 1987 Indiana Hoosiers a one-point title game victory over Syracuse is familiar to most college hoops fans.

Choose any of the great Final Four moments of the last thirty years, Doug Knust and Chris Korth have been there to witness them. Knust, a car dealer from Chamberlain, South Dakota and Korth, an attorney from Kansas City, Missouri will be in Houston for this year’s Final Four. It will be the thirtieth consecutive Final Four that they have attended together. It’s a streak that started when they were seniors at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Knust and Korth were juniors at Creighton 1981. In March of that year, they were looking for a place to watch the NCAA basketball tournament. They knew that ESPN was covering early round games but, unfortunately for them, the games were only on cable TV and Omaha’s cable provider did not carry ESPN. However, ESPN was available in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is just across the state line.

Korth called over to a bar in Council Bluffs and got the good news that yes, they have cable and yes, they have a big screen TV (those were rare in 1981). The bad news was that they did not open till 5pm. However after a little begging and pleading they agreed to let Knust and Korth bring several of their friends in for a special private basketball watch party in their basement starting at 10 am. The next day, after thirteen hours of basketball, they emerged from the basement, weary eyed but hooked on the NCAA Tournament.

During the games that day in 1981, the NCAA ran a commercial promising a "chance" to go to next year’s Final Four. Simply call a long distance phone number and for a charge of $1.50 the NCAA will send you an application to enter the "lottery" to win tickets. Knust called in and got the application. He applied for the maximum at the time of four tickets (cleaning out his checkbook in the process). Knust says he’s not sure how much money he had to send in or where he got it. Several weeks later, he got the news that his name was drawn in the lottery and that he would be receiving four tickets for the 1982 Final Four in New Orleans. Now the problem: how does a pair of college students with no money, no credit cards and no plans get to New Orleans for the Final Four?

“I didn’t know how we would be able to get to New Orleans or where we would stay if we went,” recalls Knust. “Then I had a brainstorm. I decided to give a ticket to my Dad for his birthday in October thinking that maybe he would want to take me along, since I had my own ticket!”

Well Knust’s father, Harry, thought it would be a great idea if he and his son and a couple of his friends would make the trip to college basketball’s pinnacle. Korth made plans for airfare and the motel. Harry stepped up and paid for the motel room and the rest is history.

Knust and Korth, at the age of 21, attended their first Final Four in New Orleans in 1982. The entire weekend was magical and the basketball was unbelievable.

Korth tells a story from their first trip, “One late night, in a hotel lobby, we ran into then DePaul Coach Ray Meyer, one of the deans of the coaching profession. We got to personally meet, talk with and take pictures with Meyer.” Korth says, “He treated us as long lost friends, talking about his ‘love of the game’ for several hours. In the process, he infected us with a love of the game.”

Oh yeah, some North Carolina freshman makes a last minute basket to win a thrilling game for his team. His name is Michael Jordan. Knust and Korth were hooked!

Knust and Korth have not missed a Final Four since then, taking in some 87 Final Four games, in 18 different venues in 15 states and watching 46 different teams represent their respective schools. This year Reliant Stadium will be the nineteenth venue and the 88th, 89th and 90th Final Four games.

“One of the first things people usually ask me is something about which was the best or my favorite,” commented Knust. “That’s a bit like asking a father which is his best or favorite child. I’ve enjoyed all of them. Sometimes it’s the great games. Sometimes it’s the great individual performance. Sometimes it’s a great visit with one of the great coaches in the college game. Sometimes it’s a great restaurant. Each one is unique and wonderful in its own way.”

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you!” Knust joked when asked how they get tickets. “We used to get them through the lottery but we now turn to the scalpers to get our seats.”

Knust and Korth have been accompanied by various friends and family members through the years. Their group has been as large as 25-30 people and as small as 4 people. A couple of their friends have joined them for more than fifteen Final Fours.

“Needless to say, a streak like this requires an understanding spouse. My wife’s birthday is April 1st. I have been gone for quite a few of her birthdays over the years,” commented Knust. “That might just make her birthday a bit happier!”

Knust talked about how at the beginning, it was all about the basketball. As the years have gone by, however, he appreciates the opportunity to get together with great friends each year. “The basketball is still great and a big part of it, but I really love getting together with my friends,” says Knust.

“One tradition that we started about fifteen years ago was to visit a fine steakhouse in the host city on the Sunday evening,” told Knust. “It has really become one of the highlights of the weekend. There’s nothing like washing down good steak with a few beers or a couple of glasses of bourbon!”

When the streak started, Houston’s Guy Lewis and his Phi Slamma Jamma teams were near the top of the college basketball world. There was no such thing as a three-point shot or shot clock in college basketball. The tall, skinny players wore shorts that exposed their legs to mid-thigh.

This year, their party includes five other friends who have attended over ninety Final Fours between them. Emmet Kenney (21 trips) is a psychiatrist from Fargo, ND and a classmate of Knust and Korth at Creighton University. Bren Abbott (17 trips) is an attorney from Kansas City. Calvin Rider (18 trips) and Matt Hesse (9 trips) are attorneys from Wichita, KS. Abbott, Rider and Hesse were law school classmates of Korth at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. John Pollard (3 trips) is a dentist from Fargo, ND.

Knust said he’s looking forward to going to Houston. This the first time Houston has hosted the Final Four since 1971, before Knust and Korth started attending. When asked what was on their agenda besides basketball, Korth said, “We might visit a couple of Houston’s watering holes!”

They will be eating at Vic & Anthony’s on Sunday evening. While there will be plenty of discussion about college basketball at dinner, it’s a fair bet that there will be some conversation about an upcoming trip to New Orleans, the site of next year’s Final Four.