Fans find a homein unfriendly Kemper Arena

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
Now, I’m not really the drinking and partying type, but in the interests of investigative journalism I entered Kelly’s Bar on Saturday with an open mind and a full stomach. Both came in handy.
Located in the Westport area of Kansas City, Kelly’s is the home of 46-ounce beers and, for a weekend anyway, was the designated meeting place for Gophers fans in town.
It’s not that the place was invaded, but let’s just say that if you somehow forgot the words to the Minnesota Rouser — which, of course, would be a tragedy — spending a few minutes in this place would refresh your memory.
Bands of Gopher fans (I could tell by their suave maroon and gold wardrobes) were spread around the bar. They took turns chanting “Let’s go Gophers” and spelling out M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A. They also threw in the occasional rip on Kansas, which the Gophers could meet in the final game. I’ll bet the locals loved that.
The atmosphere in Kelly’s was considerably different from the lobby of the Ritz Carlton, where fans congregated for a pep fest the day before. This isn’t surprising. Nevertheless, the goals were the same: to enjoy the Gophers’ run through the NCAA tournament while it lasts.
At the Ritz, patrons sat in high-backed, overstuffed chairs and couches; at Kelly’s, rowdy fans jockeyed for a square foot or two to call their own. At the Ritz, patrons enjoyed high tea; at Kelly’s they drained keg-sized paper cups of Busch. At the Ritz, a tuxedoed pianist played a few mellow classics; at Kelly’s, Grateful Dead and Tom Petty tunes blared over the speakers, barely inaudible over the crowd noise.
But at both places, celebration was of primary importance. And that celebration carried over to Kemper Arena, where more than 5,000 fans converged to give the Gophers a veritable home-court advantage.
“We had a great following in Minnesota all year,” senior center Trevor Winter said. “It was really a boost for us to see all the fans. It was like playing at home.”
Some fans followed the team when perhaps they shouldn’t have, including a trio of male CLA students who sat in the upper deck for the Southwest Texas game and sipped on overpriced beer.
“I took incompletes in two of my classes so I could come down here,” one of them said, explaining why he wanted to go unidentified. “If one of my profs sees my name in the paper and knows that I’ve been down here watching hoops, she might just say, ‘F— it’ and fail me.”
The other two nodded in agreement, but their guilt didn’t stop them all from cheering wildly a few minutes later when Winter flew down court for a breakaway slam.
It’s unfortunate, by the way, that so many fans made the trip to see a handful of games played in what has to be one of the worst venues in the United States. Kemper Arena, which looks like a gigantic toilet in dry dock, is located in an area of Kansas City known as West Bottoms. It’s squeezed between a livestock show facility and group of semi-abandoned buildings.
Thankfully, Minnesota fans brought a bit of Williams Arena to a place that badly needed it. It’s unlikely that the same could be said of the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tex., but the fans are sure to flock just the same.
And if they’re lucky, they’ll find a Kelly’s.