DETROIT – It was midnight in Greektown and a couple wearing matching Connecticut sweatshirts figured that while the Huskies’ luck Saturday wasn't so good, perhaps theirs would be better at the casino they were about to enter.
So right out on the street they raised some capital; two good seats, $400. Two eager Michigan State fans went for it, a little more green for the UConn fans set to gamble and then get out of town, a little more green in the stands for the Spartans' Monday night championship game against North Carolina.
Never before has the national title been played in the kind of environment it will Monday and as a result, no one can predict the impact.
Around 75,000 people will pack Ford Field to watch the game and perhaps 55,000 of them will be Michigan State fans. As big as the crowd was for State's semifinal victory over Connecticut – and it got loud enough to shake the CBS cameras – this will be even bigger and louder.
Each year the title game crowd is always different from the semifinals. Most of the fans of the two losing teams leave. Corporate ticket holders and casual fans usually head home for work.
Local fans snap up the tickets at reasonable prices – often face value or lower. If this game was being played in San Antonio or Atlanta or Indianapolis, it wouldn't matter.
That it's being played 92 miles from MSU's campus, in the heart of a five million person metropolitan region that's home to the school's largest alumni base could.
There will be at least 10,000 loyal Carolina fans. There will be some neutral fans. And then there will be everybody else; all wearing green.
"It's like a road game for them," said Spartans guard Travis Walton.
After Saturday's game, UConn coach Jim Calhoun said the pro-Spartan crowd "didn't affect us. I think it affects them. They obviously had incredible reinforcement."
Either way, it's the X-factor in this game.
State coach Tom Izzo admitted that when you line up the Spartans and Tar Heels in terms of one-on-one talent it isn't close, Carolina has more of it. The Heels have blitzed through this tournament without even the hint of a late game scare. They've won all five games by double digits.
Anything less than winning a national title will be a letdown. Michigan State has been the underdog in its last two games, so it's not conceding anything. Playing in front of a crowd like this, however, doesn't hurt.
"We're talking about the maximum test, because you're talking about 70,000 people," Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
How much of a test remains to be seen. Is 55,000 Spartan fans in a spacious football stadium more intimidating than 9,300 in the closet known as Cameron Indoor Stadium?
Does the fact so many State fans will be in attendance, let alone flooding downtown Detroit on Monday, actually allow the favored Tar Heels to find some us-against-the-world motivation? Williams is certainly willing to try everything he can.
He knows he has to guard against overconfidence after his team whipped the Spartans 98-63 in this very building back in December. That night it was only a third full, though, making for a dead, dreary environment. Williams was trying his best to point out the match-up is closer than you think.
"I mean, they're not exactly Charlie's donut team," Williams said. "They're pretty damn good."
Then, to top it off, there's the story line that Michigan State is offering joy to an economically and emotionally depressed city.
"If you would tell me that if Michigan State wins it's going to satisfy the nation's economy, then I'd say, 'Hell, let's stay poor a little while longer,' " Williams joked.
That's all he could do – laugh it off and deflect the karma and hope to find a hidden motivation in having to deal with a never before experienced confluence of factors.
The truth is, neither he nor Izzo has any idea what a partisan, title-game crowd means. The last thing even close came in 1994, when Duke played Arkansas in Charlotte (the Razorbacks won). That wasn't the same, though. While Duke's campus is just a two-and-a-half hour drive from Charlotte, it's a Carolina town if anything. Having the game played in a traditional basketball stadium meant only so many tickets could be sold anyway.
Not so in Metro Detroit. Not so at Ford Field.
It'll be big, loud and green Monday. More so than even Saturday night when the Spartans marveled at the support and used it to soar past Connecticut and then snap up their tickets.
- Michigan State