Meeting Men at March Madness

Meeting Men at March Madness

No need to jump through hoops when you go to Las Vegas for the NCAA basketball championships – but the ball won’t be in your court.

Josh Newman, Mike Newman, Brandon Sees and Danny Fortes enjoy March Madness at Lagasse’s Stadium at the Palazzo in Las Vegas.

This was my equation: one stadium plus one major sporting event, multiplied by a liberal helping of beer and hot wings, equals oodles of men with raging testosterone levels. I figured by going to March Madness in Las Vegas, my odds of finding a goldmine of savory single men was a slam-dunk!

Although most guys are familiar with the term, March Madness is the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) annual playoffs of 64 top-ranking American college basketball teams, all vying to win the National Championship.

A sport’s addict Shangri-La: Fans enjoy the action and suspense from their cozy stadium seats.

Every year during the month of March, scores of men travel to Las Vegas to hang out, wage bets, cheer for their favorite teams, and enjoy their manly love of killer competition with other like-minded sports fans. The basketball games are taking place all over the United States, but die-hard enthusiasts go to Las Vegas, where they can indulge in the aforementioned beer, food, gambling and fraternal bonding while watching an average of four games at the same time at the Lagasse’s Stadium, located in the Palazzo Hotel right on the strip. This is an upscale sports bar, designed by popular TV chef, Emeril Lagasse and the menu offers his famous (Bam! Now you’re fat!) recipes, available for immediate consumption.

The air was electric as droves of energized men hollered “Overtime! Overtime! Defense! Defense!” from the stadium’s luxurious white leather couches, every wall boasting multiple, jumbo hi-def screens airing different games simultaneously. Emotions ran hot as some lost money on failed bets while others jumped for joy. With a capacity for 1,400 screaming sports fans, mostly men, I felt like a cat at a mouse convention.

You win some, you lose some. Unlucky attendee is crushed over his team’s loss.

There were a few women in the place, but most were the waitresses. The guy-to-girl ratio must have been 200 to 1. Meeting a guy here was going to be a breeze — or so I thought.

This is where the needle scratches right off the record and the whole scene freezes.

As I tried to strike up conversations, I realized that the female form is no match for March Madness. From daybreak until twilight, these men are so focused on the games that women are completely off the radar. This kind of reckless neglect was hard to swallow, but I was here and decided to make the best of it.

I met two charming gentlemen from Chicago named Laroyne Brown and Robert Chandler. Every year, Laroyne and Robert book a suite at the Palazzo for twelve nights. The rooms are sophisticated and stunning so it’s no wonder Laroyne and Robert go “balls out” but share the room to keep costs down so they can support their annual March Madness habit. They limit their bad judgment calls (aka losing bets) to a maximum of $1,000 per day. “To sum it all up,” Richard says, “it’s mostly losses but it’s all for laughs.”

The thrill of victory. L-R: Laroyne Brown and Robert Chandler get into the game from the front row.

Although they did their best to be polite to me, neither one could take their eyes off the games. How could my strategy for meeting men at March Madness be so wrong? I could have been naked, straddling a Harley Davidson while barbecuing T-Bone steaks and still be ignored. These guys were here for one thing and one thing only – basketball.

Suddenly, four girls in their mid-twenties walked in wearing tight orange UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso) T-shirts. Robert and Laroyne jumped up, but only because they considered it to be a good luck omen. Without even introducing himself, Laroyne handed one girl $40 and told her to place a bet on the UT team. He didn’t even say please, and the girl did it! Laroyne has some huge basketballs (pun intended) for doing that. If some guy threw those orders in my face, I’d tell him my burka was still at the dry cleaners.

At one point, there was a terrible odor in the stadium and I realized in a room full of men drinking beer and eating chicken wings, someone was bound to pass gas. And they did! It smelled like Michael Moore ate Supersize Me’s Morgan Spurlock.

Barbara Bloom poses with Bobby Brubeck (in visor) and his March Madness friends.

After the smoke cleared, I spotted a cute guy in a visor. Turns out it was Bobby Brubeck, ex-Dodger and current ESPN sports radio host. I was hoping Bobby had seen his fair share of NCAA championships and would throw a little attention my way. Wrong! Bobby was focused on his teams – and no wonder, he had $5,000 riding on each one. I asked him about the allure of the NCAA, and he said college basketball is becoming extremely popular because the players perform with more heart. He said they’re not as jaded and spoiled like the pros in the NBA.

As I walked back to my seat, I ran into none other than the great Jerry Tarkanian. Among many claims to fame, Tarkanian was the coach that led UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas) to the NCAA Basketball Championship in 1992. He’s a hero despite being fired for allegations of illegal recruiting. Say what they will about “Tark the Shark,” the team never had the same success after he was canned.

While posing for a photo with me, Tarkanian accidentally elbowed my club soda. It flew backwards, spilling about a third on my white blouse (wet T-shirt contest anyone?) and landed perfectly right-side up on the seat behind me, totally retaining the remainder of its contents. No wonder UNLV won the National Championship!

Barbara Bloom with Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian.

Lagasse’s Stadium has a terrace at the base of the Palazzo where you can sit on plush couches outdoors, watch the games on individual flat screens and enjoy the parade of Las Vegas tourists. I found a group of friendly guys from Phoenix who offered me a drink and seat. Maybe things were looking up – it was a good sign so I obliged.

The boys from Phoenix confessed they were so devoted to their televised sports and gambling getaways that they’ve turned their homes into veritable sports bars. They have multiple TVs in the living room, each tuned into a different sports channel. That just screams romance doesn’t it? Danny Fortes, the bartender in the group, designed his private chambers to look like accommodations in Vegas. He said he even rolls his bathroom towels the way you find them in a hotel room.

Another member of the group, Josh Newman, a project manager said, “We’d love to see more women here. Any woman that knows about sports is ten times more attractive.”

So here’s the play-by-play: If you’re a singular gal on the prowl, I’d recommend going to March Madness, but you’ll need to shift gears. Enjoy the crowd’s emotional roller coaster. That’s the best part. Whether you know sports, want to learn about sports, or just want to try something different, the excitement is infectious as you absorb the drama between the teams and the fans.

You’ll probably see many potential “cute recruits” but they’re not ripe for picking until all the games are finished, providing they haven’t lost their shirts —otherwise, all bets are off!

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