As the game-ending buzzer blared at U.S. Bank Stadium and the confetti rained down, the newly crowned NCAA basketball champion Virginia and Minneapolis together enjoyed one shining moment.
The Twin Cities area wrapped up the Final Four tournament Monday night, proving once again that it can host a national mega-event that draws thousands to town and the eyes of the world. Civic cheerleaders say extravaganzas like the Final Four and the Super Bowl, which Minneapolis hosted in 2018, not only give Minnesota bragging rights but also provide an economic boost for local businesses and become a billboard of sorts to lure visitors long after the events leave town.
The “Final Four fits perfectly in Minneapolis,” said Kate Mortenson, CEO and president of the Final Four organizing committee. “Once again, Minnesota is shining. … It’s pretty clear we’re good at this.”
The $1.1 billion stadium built for football transformed into a basketball arena this weekend was filled to the rafters — more than 72,000 people during each of the games. And on Monday night, fans hung onto the edges of their seats as Texas Tech and Virginia brawled to the finish. A cliffhanger game toyed with emotions — hopes were raised, then dashed.
Bellinsky Liu, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student stood on her tiptoes to see the court and bit her nails as the final minutes ticked down. She rode for 20 hours in a school bus to cheer her team in the student section.
“I’m just speechless,” she said. “I’m just so proud of my Hoos that we got here.”
Elsewhere in the stadium, Carson Ogle, a first-year law student, could barely face the court as the last seconds ticked away in regulation time.
“I cannot tell you how nervous I am right now,” said Ogle, a Texas Tech fan who caught the last flight out of JFK on Sunday. “I only have the clothes on my back.”
When it was over, Virginia took the trophy and Texas Tech fans consoled one another. “It hurts bad,” Cooper Ogle said as he helped his big brother Carson off the floor.
Hours before the tipoff, hope reigned. Anything was possible.
Fans jammed downtown, taking in pregame festivities and kicking back on a 60-degree April day that beckoned them to take off their jackets and reveal their team colors.
Texas Tech red and Virginia orange filled Nicollet Mall, dotted with a few Auburn and Michigan State fans who lingered in town even after their teams got bumped from the Big Dance.
About 94,000 visitors were expected to pour into the Twin Cities and spend an estimated $386 a day each over three to four days, giving the Twin Cities a $142 million shot in the arm. The Super Bowl brought in nearly twice that.
Hosting both these events required monumental planning efforts that were years in the making and required thousands of volunteers.
“The energy and passion of our volunteers is an indication of how eager Minnesotans are to show how special this place is,” Mortenson said.
On Monday night, organizers declared victory as Minnesotans and visitors filled the stadium, restaurants and hotels.
“I think it’s the best organized sporting event I’ve ever been to,” said Zach Crowe, of McLean, Va., as he dribbled a miniature basketball with his 4-year-old son, Bennett, on the U.S. Bank Stadium plaza.
The second-generation Cavaliers fan flew to Minneapolis on a one-way ticket Friday, praying his team would make their first National Championship appearance.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Crowe said, while forming a makeshift basketball hoop with his arms so his son could practice shooting. “We’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
Down the street at the StubHub ticket outlet, a throng of last-minute buyers lined up to snap up the fewer than 900 tickets that were left.
Virginia and Texas Tech fans each held onto hope that they would witness the first national championship for their school.
StubHub spokeswoman Jill Krimmel said that 33 percent of the day’s sales were to Texans, 24 percent were to Minnesotans and 10 percent to Virginians. “It’s going to be a red crowd,” she said, referring to Tech’s team colors.
Gail Adams was among those who would wear red. She and three generations of Tech fans in her family chartered a plane to Minneapolis on Monday.
“We had to charter — there were no [commercial airline] seats,” she said.
“I’m glad to be here,” said Carlos Brown, a Cavaliers fan from Richmond, Va., who bought tickets online Saturday night shortly after Virginia made the final.
All around, fans held up their phones, snapping photos and posting to social media that they had “arrived” at the big game.
Patti Day and Barbara Kaufman, 71-year-old twins, flew in from Reno, Nev. For Day, it was her eighth Final Four.
“This is by far the best one I’ve been to,” Day said after taking a panoramic photo of the stadium as fans trickled down to their seats.
Minneapolis exceeded her expectations. “I’ve been amazed at how nice the people are here,” she said. People are polite — even when an hourlong wait for a train after Saturday’s games might have tested some patience. “We wish our city was like this.”
As for the games — they’ve been spectacular, nail-biting and exciting, Day said.
Sitting up in Section 319 with binoculars in hand, the sisters weren’t rooting for a particular team on Monday. Instead, they pinned their hopes on another close game and reveled in the energy in the stadium, darkened by $5 million blackout curtains covering all the glass that would normally bring the outside light in.
“It’s amazing in here,” Day said. “But I do wish I could see it without all those curtains.”
Outside the stadium, locals reveled with the business rush. “It’s been great,” said Joe Lauer, a bartender at the Eagle Bolt Bar. “To me it’s better than the Super Bowl. It’s a good mix of young and old, and everyone seems friendly.”
Brit’s Pub, which opened on Nicollet Mall in 1990, had its single biggest sales day ever on Saturday, said operations manager Dana McBroom.
Good business, however, could have been even better for Patrick McCutchan, who runs five food carts. Although he had a great weekend, he was disappointed that he was barred from his usual spot outside the Dakota Jazz Club on the mall.
McCutchan buys a permit to set up his hot dog cart outside the Dakota, but the Final Four organization superseded the normal permits, he said.
“I just wish they would have let me set up today,” he said in the shadow of the Ferris wheel, where crowds gathered to watch the game on a giant outdoor screen. “This is the only place where there’s still a lot of people.”
Still, the Final Four brought people to the streets of downtown and the doors of businesses.
“It’s awesome we’re having these big events in our city,” said Cassie Lynn, who was working a booth on Nicollet Mall. “It’s really great for the Midwest. We have some attractions, but this is really big.”
Staff writers James Walsh, Torey Van Oot, John Reinan, Mara Klecker, Liz Sawyer and University of Minnesota student Isabella Murray, who is on assignment for the Star Tribune, contributed to this story.