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How I watched Virginia lose to UMBC from the worst place possible

Turns out a Vegas sports book is not filled with the most compassionate folk

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia vs UMBC Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I’d never been to Las Vegas before. My parents had been somewhat regularly when I was growing up, and they had regaled us with Vegas stories, and so I’d always wanted to go. This year, I finally pulled the trigger.

Just in time to watch one of the most odds-defying, historic collapses of a great college basketball team ever—and it’s the team that I happen to care deeply about.

Here’s the blow-by-blow of how it went down. All times Pacific.

7:00 AM - Group arrives at sports book watch party to hold down some seats. Thursday, I had no idea what to expect. Here’s what it was.

One of the hotel ballrooms, packed to the seams with ten-top banquet tables, a couple of bars, and a row of cashiers at the front to take your bets all day.

From tip of the first game just after 9 AM, energy in the room waxes and wanes as big game events approach. Shouts echo as teams stave off a late run to hit the first-half under. There are moans and groans and cheers and curses for shots and fouls and rebounds that can't affect the outcome of the game but move various bets from one side of the ledger to the other.

12:30 PM - Grab a sandwich from the bar. After lunching on an approximately 20-pound tub of beef nachos the day before, trying to stay a little on the lighter side. That way I’ve got more room for beer.

2:30 PM - The first games have long been over and the afternoon slate is well underway. The room is edging toward being filled to about the max it will reach for the day. At the back, near the door, a table of guys in Jackie Moon-inspired retro basketball outfits—down to the matching tube socks and headbands—explode in random outbursts over trick shots into a Nerf hoop. The room seems to waver between mere tolerance and open embrace.

3:50 PM - Creighton and Kansas State tip-off in the first game of the day with a vested interest (other than bets) for our group of mostly UVA fans. We promptly leave to play blackjack.

5:00 PM - I stand up from the blackjack table with the exact same amount I sat down with. Suck on that, house! We meander back to the ballroom with the drinks we procured from the casino floor. I can neither confirm nor deny reports that the glasses that once held those drinks were refilled from a contraband bottle of Woodford stashed under a certain ballroom table.

6:15 PM - K-State finishes off the Blue Jays, and the countdown to UVA’s tip-off to an opening-round tune-up against lowly sixteen-seed Maryland-Baltimore County is officially underway.


Ed. note: Times from here out are approximate, as time is but a human construct, pliable to the fickle whims of the beholder, and also because #BourbonMakesItBetter.

6:35 PM - Everything seems to be going wrong. Not catastrophically, just ... not great.

6:40 PM - My first F-bomb. I’m getting looks.

6:56 PM - This happens.

My tenth F-bomb. They’ve stopped even looking.

7:15 PM - UVA goes into the half tied at 21. With a sixteen-seed. I pace (stalk?) silently up and down the outside wall of the ballroom, daring anyone to tell me they took the Hoos to cover the first-half spread so we must be feeling about the same. No takers.

7:45 PM - OK pacing over, back to my seat as the second half starts, let’s do this Hoos.

7:55 PM - UMBC leads by 11 at the under-16 timeout. I’ve taken off my “LOOK HOOS NUMBER ONE” shirt from Mincer’s, thrown it into my chair, pulled on a V-sabres quarter-zip to replace it, and returned to what is definitely now rage-stalking.

8:00 PM - Rage quit. With UVA down 15, it all becomes clear: my embrace of the vile debauchery in Sin City has clearly brought my pure and pristine Hoos into Saturn’s shadow, and I must pay penance.

I take my winning tickets from earlier in the day to the cashier station to cash out. (Because if I’m going to be paying penance I may as well pay it with the house’s money.) Fella behind the register starts in on how this was some leg of some parlay and it’s going to cost him $800, and he gets a full-volume blast of “I LITERALLY COULD NOT CARE LESS RIGHT NOW BUT THANKS.”

I feel bad about that. Sorry ... Joe? I think your name was Joe. You looked like a Joe. I leave a regret tip on the counter, grab my computer bag, and storm briskly out toward the Strip.

As I’m walking back to our hotel, I’ve donned my best, “Not today, pal” face, and it seems to be working. Turns out a 300-pound dude scowling and walk-sprinting down the sidewalk tends to clear a path pretty easily. Check my phone: nope, not better.

8:30 PM - All is pain. I can no longer embrace the pace, but only darkness.

8:35 PM - Re-list the Elite Eight tickets I bought after Virginia beat Duke YEA I KNOW I’M SORRY THIS ONE’S ON ME. (If you know anyone looking...) Start rooting in earnest for a Kentucky-Tennessee matchup.

8:40 PM - Start looking for earlier flights home. Mumble some swear words at United and their [EXPLETIVE DELETED] [EXPLETIVE DELETED] change fees.

Somewhere in here Brian gets back to the room. There’s a lot of silence for a while, punctuated only by the “Are you ok?” texts from family, friends, colleagues. We confirm that the non-UVA fans who stayed behind are bringing stuff we left.

Once we finally do start talking, another 20 minutes of basically this:

  • “I mean...”
  • “Yea.”
  • “How did...”
  • “Yea.”
  • “...Dammit.”
  • “Yea.”

We’re emotionally healthy and proud of it.

9:30 PM - Our dinner reservation comes and goes without notice.

9:45 PM - We start making moves toward dinner. Thanks to being indoctrinated into Michigan fandom on the side by my girlfriend and her family, I have non-UVA gear to wear out. Brian does not. Brian wears one of my shirts. It makes a lovely dress for him.

Important caveat here: This is not a decision motivated by shame. Neither one of us would ever disclaim our UVA fandom. But we had each already rode the rage tiger a little more than we felt comfortable with. Our impulse control was ... lessened. And plenty of folks between here and dinner and here again had consumed far more impulse-control-lessening juice. You saw Twitter after the game; now imagine that drunk-screamed in your face, accompanied by the whirs and bells and lights of 80,000 video poker machines.

It’s not that we didn't want anyone to know we were Virginia fans just so they wouldn't make fun of us. It’s that we didn't want anyone to know we were Virginia fans so we wouldn't have to go to jail.

10:15 PM - Dinner. The non-UVA fans in the group are doing their level best to talk about ANY. THING. ELSE. Some pork belly buns from Momofuku help dull the pain, as do some primo Old Fashioneds.

Then there’s more drinking and some more gambling and why god so much more drinking.

And now we’re here. UVA rivaling its 1982 Chaminade loss, but this time on national television in the age of The Internet Never Forgets, is a thing that’s happened. The sun has also come up, and Virginia Tech has still never won a national championship in anything that doesn't involve worms.

Perspective helps. Now some coffee and an Advil would too.