Men's basketball | NCAA tournament

They're high above the action, but 'we're here, and that's what counts'

2014-04-05T20:35:00Z They're high above the action, but 'we're here, and that's what counts'Dennis Punzel Wisconsin State Journal nwitimes.com
April 05, 2014 8:35 pm  • 

ARLINGTON, Texas | Luke Mich and Becky Rupel had a pretty good idea they’d be sitting in the nosebleed seats for Saturday night’s NCAA national semifinal basketball games.

So even though they were four rows from the top of AT&T Stadium, they were just glad to be in the house to watch their University of Wisconsin Badgers take on the Kentucky Wildcats.

“We went on the NCAA website and sorted by price and did not hit Page 2,” said Mich, who paid $250 apiece for the tickets. “We stayed on Page 1 and this is where we are.”

Where they were was so far up that they knew they’d be watching the game mostly on the gigantic high-definition video board, which at the time it was installed in 2009 was the largest in the world at 160 feet by 72 feet.

“We were right about there for a Packers game here last winter,” said Mich, pointing to a couple rows in front of them. “So we knew we’d be watching most of it on that screen … which is a pretty expensive TV ticket."

Mich and Rupel graduated from UW-Madison in 2012 and have since been living in Austin.

When the Badgers made it to the Final Four, there was no doubt they’d be heading up the highway to watch them play.

“We’re here, and that’s what counts,” said Rupel.

That was the general mood of Badgers fans scattered around the upper level, even at costs that not that long ago would’ve put them in VIP seating.

“When I looked online it looked like the middle of the building, but I didn’t know how high up they were,” said Buck Owen, a Wisconsin Dells native who has retained his Badgers’ allegiance despite living in Crown Point since 1989.

“Down lower I saw seats were going for $2,500 to $5,000,” said Owen, who paid $684 for two tickets in the top row. “I don’t care about seeing the game down front. I just wanted to say I was here.

“When the Badgers got to the Final Four, I said I might never see that again in my lifetime, so I’m going. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

While Owen was comfortable with his lofty position, his companion wasn’t so sure.

“She hasn’t made it up here yet,” Owen said. “I think she’s afraid of all those steps. But going down is worse. You don’t want to be drunk up here, because you’d never stop if you started to fall.”

As a NASCAR fan, Greg Berard, of Rhinelander, is accustomed to sitting a long way from the action. Berard, along with family members Darlene Klemm and Dick Weible of Oconomowoc, were planning to come to North Texas this weekend to attend NASCAR races Friday and Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, along with another family member, Roger Weibel, who now lives in Dallas.

Roger Weibel, who has season tickets for the Dallas Cowboys, used his ticket connections to land seats for just $120 apiece – right in the top row.

“They’re way up, but we’re glad we’re in here,” said Bedard. “We knew where they were. It’s a long way up, but it’s better than nothing.”

Russell Dorn and his 14-year-old son Jacob had a vantage point about three rows closer that he bought online for $355 each. In his mind, it’s a small price to pay to make the biggest Badgers fan in Firth, Neb., happy.

So how does a teenager in Cornhusker land become a Badger fanatic?

“I don’t know,” Dorn said. “He just loves the Badgers. We’ve gone to two UW football games and even a Packers game.

“Nebraska hasn’t been too hot at basketball, so he just became a Badgers fan. We like to follow college sports, but it’s all about the kid.”

Like most of the fans throughout the stadium, Mark Gruen was proudly wearing the colors of his favorite team. Both of them.

Gruen, a 1981 UW graduate, has been living in Hebron, Ky., since 1994. So in keeping with his divided loyalties, his wife made him a T-shirt that was half Wisconsin and half Kentucky. And he wore a cap for each school.

“It’s a beautiful coincidence,” said Gruen, sitting four rows from the top with his brother-in-law, Jim Cole, a Kentucky alum. “What are the odds that our two favorite teams are in the Final Four? It’s just fantastic. A one-in-a-million shot.”

So which team had the strongest connection for him?

“That’s like asking which one is my favorite child,” he said. “There’s no way I’m going to do that. One of these teams is going to be playing for the national championship, so I figure I can’t lose.”

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