Fans get taste of big-time

Dan Miller

Hundreds of Minnesota women’s basketball fans walked from their hotels to the New Orleans Arena for a Gophers autograph session and public practice Saturday afternoon.

On the sunny, 75-degree day, Gophers fans sang the “Minnesota Rouser” and chanted “Go Gophers” during the practice inside the arena.

Lori Dewald attended the practice and was in town even though she didn’t have a ticket.

Was she looking?

“Absolutely,” Dewald said.

Eight hundred fifty tickets were allotted to the University, but many more Minnesota fans were in the area over the weekend.

Dewald said she talked to other fans while looking for extra tickets, and many of them were trying to do the same thing.

“I think there’s a lot of us still looking,” she said.

Creative Charters Inc. flew four planes full of Gophers fans down to New Orleans. The company provided room and board for fans and let them figure out their own ticket situations.

Even if some Minnesota fans didn’t have tickets, they still took advantage of the sights and sounds of historic New Orleans.

Mother’s Restaurant, which prides itself on “the world’s best baked ham,” is one of the most famous eateries in the downtown area. It is just blocks from the New Orleans Arena, the Superdome and downtown hotels.

General manager and owner Denny Amato has seen plenty of sports fans over the years, and this weekend was no different.

Amato, who has served fans from all four schools in the Final Four, described the women’s basketball fans as far less aggressive than other groups of fans he sees.

“There hasn’t been much antagonism between the schools,” he said. “During football season, you’ll get different schools in here yelling at each other. But we haven’t had any of that. In fact, I have heard a lot of ‘good lucks’ from the fans.”

As for the Minnesota fans, Amato said they have lived up to the Minnesotan reputation.

“They have been very pleasant,” he said. “Minnesota nice has held true so far.”

The nice Minnesotans, adorned in maroon and gold, strolled the river walk, bartered in the French Market and wandered down Bourbon Street.

Minnesotan Peggy Wally, walking near the riverfront and enjoying the Sunday sunshine, said she won tickets to the Final Four last year in a drawing, but she never expected the Gophers to make it that far.

“We knew we were coming, and we thought we would just root for the underdog,” Wally said. “Somehow, it turned out the underdog was the Gophers.”

Sue Corbin and Laurie Hauer said that when the Gophers advanced to the Final Four, there was no question whether they would be in New Orleans.

“We had to,” Hauer said. “We called in Sunday night after the win and called Creative Charters to sign up. We knew even before the Tuesday game that we were coming.”

Fans such as Hauer and Corbin, who paid $699 each just for air travel and hotel, said they think they got what they paid for.

“It’s not a cheap trip, but it is well worth it,” Hauer said.