Bring it home

THE LIFE OF KINGS

Baltimore should be keeper of event

On lacrosse's final four

May 31, 2008|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG

I don't know how you spend your Memorial Day weekend, but I spent part of mine sitting alone in a booth in the Piccadilly Pub in Foxborough, Mass.

I was about three bites into a blue cheese burger that tasted like steamed cardboard and two spoonfuls of clam chowder that tasted like glue when I had what most people like to call an epiphany.

For the love of all that's holy, the sooner the NCAA decides to put the lacrosse final four in Baltimore and leave it there the better. Permanently.

Please God, make this happen. Like, yesterday.

It wasn't just the rubbery cuisine at the Piccadilly Pub (one of the only places open in Foxborough after 9 p.m.) or the long hours of travel to and from Gillette Stadium that helped me realize this.

It was the entire experience of having the lax final four in a place like Foxborough, which is about a 40-minute drive from Boston and has around 16,000 people. It didn't have the right vibe. The tailgating in the parking lot felt awkward. There was no central location for people to gather, nowhere to go and drink away your frustrations when your team lost. You couldn't walk anywhere except to your car, so traffic was a nightmare on game day.

Had it been held at Alumni Stadium on Boston College's campus, that would have at least made sense, even though the stadium seats just 44,500. Chestnut Hill is reasonably close to the heart of Boston, and Boston can be electric. Foxborough might as well have been in West Virginia for as little as it felt like Boston. Duke fans tried to get into the spirit. They wore T-shirts that said, "Duke Lacrosse: The Best 18-1 Team in Boston." Problem was, there were no Patriots fans to taunt. They were all at home watching the Celtics on TV. Most fans just shrugged their shoulders.

To borrow from former vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen: I've covered several final fours in Baltimore. Baltimore is a friend of mine. And Foxborough, you are no Baltimore.

I understand the NCAA's desire to grow the game of lacrosse by spreading it around. And I'm sure the fine people of Foxborough will point to the fact that 48,970 people showed up for the championship game - an attendance record. Maybe people even make a fair point when they say keeping it in Baltimore every year would give Johns Hopkins an unfair advantage in crowd support.

I don't care. Had this year's final four been in Baltimore, I'd wager that 55,000 would have shown up at M&T Bank Stadium and Syracuse still would have defeated Johns Hopkins. (The Orange was just too good this year.) Afterward, half those people would have flooded the Inner Harbor talking about how Baltimore is the perfect venue for the final four, sort of like the Mecca for lax rats up and down the East Coast.

The lax final four should take a cue from the College World Series, which has called Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., its home since 1950. It's an annual party, and even when Nebraska isn't in the mix, it still has, dollar for dollar, the best atmosphere in all of college sports.

Baltimore could have that. It would give the sport an anchor. Crabcakes could be as much a part of the annual festivities as cradling and cross-checking.

At the very least, I'd never have to eat another cardboard burger from the Piccadilly Pub. At least after 2009. The final four will be back in Foxborough next year.

I'll be there. But I might just bring my own food in protest.

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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