George Hockett’s sip from the tall glass of his blonde beer meant more to him than most camped around the rotunda at Lumpy’s Sports Bar & Grill in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday afternoon.
Hockett’s group of friends have been hopping around the country, catching opening-round games of the NCAA Tournament since 1995, but this year was different.
This year, the guys picked Salt Lake City — back in mid-October.
They had no idea the Shockers would be coming to EnergySolutions Arena five months later. They had no clue their Shockers would shock No. 8 Pitt in the second-round of the Dance on Thursday afternoon, or if they’d get to see them take on the No. 1 team in the country.
When Hockett was watching CBS’ Selection Sunday at home with his wife and friend, the Shockers flashed across the screen, followed by Salt Lake City.
The house erupted.
"We lucked out," said Hockett, a 1986 graduate of Wichita State.
On Friday afternoon, his cluster of Shocker fans watched the tournament from the comfort of their bar stools at Lumpy’s. Hockett said Salt Lake City is one of the best basketball towns he’s encountered during his run of NCAA tourney games.
"The fan interest," he said. "I don’t know how many people in [ESA] are from Salt Lake, but I imagine many of them are."
Zach Miller and Brian Essig were two fans crammed into ESA on Thursday for all four games, but they aren’t locals. They flew in from Indianapolis on Thursday morning and jetted over to the arena.
Minor caveats are that Miller is a Indiana guy and Essig is a Purdue man.
They flew out to visit Miller’s brother-in-law, a Salt Lake City resident, crash bars around town and watch basketball both live and on TV for three straight days.
On Friday, Miller and Essig screamed at the TV in Maxwell’s bar area as former Ute Marshall Henderson started to hit some shots that drove his Ole Miss Rebels past the Big 10 Wisconsin Badgers.
"We come from a basketball state where basketball is king," Miller said, sporting a Hoosier sweatshirt, "but it’s great here."
Essig’s claim to fame is picking Harvard to upset New Mexico on Thursday night. Miller, on the other hand, had the Lobos in the NCAA title game against — who else — the Hoosiers.
And they already have their sights set to Saturday’s Round of 32 games.
"I think it’s going to be more full," Essig said.
"I think it’s going to be crazy," Miller added.
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