People and Community Sports

The Final Four: Dispatches from Houston

Editor’s note: Welcome to Houston. A team of writers, photographers, videographers, and social media experts with University Communications will be providing continuous engaging and insightful news and information to you throughout the NCAA Final Four Tournament. Stop back often for the latest on this live blog.
A view from the rafters at NRG Stadium during the FInal Four game. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
More than 70,000 fans packed NRG Stadium for the Miami Hurricanes vs. UConn Huskies Final Four matchup on Saturday night. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami
Sunday, April 2

What the scoreboard doesn’t say 

In the end, the scoreboard inside NRG Stadium read Connecticut 72 Miami 59. 

But mechanical contraptions without voices and without emotions rarely, if ever, tell the whole story. 

Such as how way back in October, the Hurricanes were picked to finish fourth in the ACC conference, behind Virginia and basketball blue bloods North Carolina and Duke. And how Miami went on to defeat all three of those schools during the regular season on its way to capturing the conference championship. 

It won’t recall how the Hurricanes were listed as underdogs to Indiana, No. 1-seed Houston, and Texas in NCAA tournament games, yet knocked off all three of those teams to reach the coveted Final Four. 

Or how the Hurricanes, led by guard Jordan Miller’s 27 points, erased a double-digit deficit and stormed back to topple a tough and gritty Longhorns squad in the Elite Eight. 

No, the scoreboard inside NRG Stadium, where Miami fell to the Huskies Saturday night in the Final Four, will not tell those stories. After all, it is only, as Merriam-Webster defines it, “a large board for displaying the score of a game or match.” 

It lacks the power of human recollection. 

And this historic season, Hurricanes fans have plenty to proudly remember. 

They will remember the energy and infectious smile of 6-7 Nicaraguan basketball player Norchad Omier. 

They’ll remember ACC Player of the Year Isaiah Wong’s spinning moves and sweet jumper.  

They will remember Miami edging Pittsburgh 78-76 back in early March and how, after the victory, head coach Jim Larrañaga and his players climbed a ladder to cut down the nets inside the Watsco Center to celebrate the team winning a share of the ACC title.  

They will recall the 73-year-old Larrañaga dancing in the locker room after his team’s 89-75 upset win over Houston in the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance. 

“The grit, determination, and resilience with which our student-athletes have played this season, and during this tournament, are to be admired,” University of Miami President Julio Frenk wrote in an emailed letter to the ’Canes community shortly after Saturday’s loss. 

Indeed, what a magical ride it’s been, with, the scoreboard won’t tell you, more to come. 

—Robert C. Jones Jr. 

Sunday, April 2
9:18 a.m. 

George W. Bush International Airport—United Terminal 

Two sets of fathers and sons wait to board their plane back to South Florida after their respective teams, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami, failed to make it to the last round of the NCAA tournament competition. Despite the loss, they were all smiles as the fathers said they both got to cross off a bucket list item and share an incredible experience with their sons.

"It was a heck of a run and an amazing experience," said Bob Farbish.

Farbish family
From left to right: Keith Swiniarski, son Dylan, 8, from Delray Beach, and Bob Farbish with son Steven Farbish, from Parkland.

—Joshua Prezant

Saturday, April 1
7:13 p.m.

A Final Four send-off

With a handmade sign that read “Go Hurricanes, Do It for Miami” held high, Angela Williams stood on her tip toes and arched her head back.

Standing only about 5 feet 4 inches tall, she was trying to get a better view of the towering young men who walked past her in the first-floor lobby of the Hyatt Regency Houston.

“I always like the underdog, so I’m here to cheer for Miami and to help make sure they win today,” said Williams.

She was among the more than 300 jubilant fans who packed the Hyatt’s lobby Saturday afternoon to cheer on the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team as they departed the property for their Final Four matchup against the UConn Huskies at NRG Stadium.

Team sendoff Houston

As the players exited the hotel to board motor coaches that would transport them to the stadium, many fans in the Hyatt’s jam-packed lobby held their hands aloft, opposing thumbs tip to tip to form the ever-popular U logo.

They howled and hollered as each member of the team filed past them, giving high-fives to some of the players.

Chants of “Let’s go ‘Canes” began to ring out but quickly subsided after only a few seconds.

Javi Salas, a former Hurricanes hurler who pitched a perfect game against Villanova in 2014, was among the ecstatic fans.

“It’s been a magical ride just watching these players come together,” he said. “They went into the NCAA tournament with doubts, but coach Larrañaga has put them in the stratosphere.”

—Robert C. Jones Jr. 

Saturday, April 1
4:55 p.m. 

Asher Foonberg, a sophomore at the University, doesn’t typically wear overalls and a cowboy hat. But when the Miami Hurricanes advanced to the Final Four in Houston, Foonberg knew the occasion called for some special attire. 

“My mom made the overalls for me. This is a very Texas-influenced outfit,” he said, sporting homemade Miami Hurricanes overalls and a cowboy hat at the Fan Tip-Off Tailgate outside of NRG Stadium. 

Asher Foonberg—Jenny Hudak

Saturday, April 1
3:40 p.m.

Friendly rivalries, family, and friends 

In the cavernous NRG Center next to the stadium, the University’s basketball Alumni Association hosted a party for alumni and friends, featuring food, music, and other activities. Literally next door, the UConn Huskies were having their own party. Which was a bit bizarre for John Katzman, a 2015 Hurricane alumnus who grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. While he was standing outside the University’s party, he said he had family at the UConn party behind him. His family, he said, is stunned to see the U in the Final Four. He hasn’t really talked to them too much about the game in order to keep peace in the family.

“She’s talked to them more than I have,” Katzman said, pointing to his friend standing next to him, Kate Stanton, also a U alumna from 2015.

John Katzman and Kate Stanton
John Katzman and Kate Stanton

The couple took a flight from Nashville, Tennessee, arriving Friday night. Stanton is from Boca Raton and has friends from FAU who are also in Houston for the Final Four to support the “other” Florida school in the tournament.

“We got swept up in the whole thing and just came down to see,” she said.

—Peter E. Howard

Saturday, April 1
3:27 p.m.

Coaches corner

Less than two hours before his team departs for NRG Stadium and their Final Four matchup against the UConn Huskies, Miami Hurricanes men’s head basketball coach Jim Larrañaga prepares to conduct a live on-air interview in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Houston.

Coach Larrañaga media

—Robert C. Jones Jr.

Saturday, April 1
2:30 p.m.

Students take part in the Final Four frenzy

Jake Panzer still can’t believe he’s in Houston, getting ready to watch the Miami Hurricanes compete in a Final Four match up.  

“It hasn’t hit me yet. When it’s over, I’ll, maybe, really understand,” said the senior, studying marketing at the Miami Herbert Business School.

Panzer and three of his friends, also students at the University, stopped by the Rustic in Downtown Houston to grab a bite before the big game.  

The group flew in from Miami yesterday morning at 6:45 a.m. and spent the day exploring Houston. Panzer, who is set to graduate in May, can’t image a better way to end his time as a student. The experience, he said, has been a once-in-a-lifetime moment.  

“We started during COVID-19. With all the things we’ve gone through in the last few years, it’s just been so great to enjoy this season all the way to the end,” he said.

From left, students Rohit Gentle, David Mills, Ryan Travers, and Jake Panzer at the Rustic in Downtown Houston.
From left, students Rohit Gentle, David Mills, Ryan Travers, and Jake Panzer at the Rustic in Downtown Houston.

The young men are waiting for eight more students, who are currently driving to Houston from Dallas, for the matchup. Hundreds more students are expected to be cheering on the ’Canes at NRG Stadium. A total of 700 student tickets were distributed for tonight’s game through the NCAA and sold out in a matter of minutes.

—Jenny Hudak

Saturday, April 1
2:14 p.m.

Harris County Sheriff’s Department deputies throw up the U during the Tip-off Tailgate celebration outside NRG Stadium.

Harris County mounted police

—Photo: Joshua Prezant

Saturday, April 1
2 p.m.

Hyatt Regency Houston creates a home away from home for the Hurricanes

From an exterior overhang illuminated by orange and green lights to the ubiquitous U logo on the hotel’s entry doors and reception desks, the property—which is serving as the team hotel for the men’s basketball team, members of the Band of the Hour, cheerleaders, and other support staff—is all about the U. Read more. 

—Robert C. Jones Jr.

Saturday, April 1
11:30 a.m.

Fueling up for what’s to come

Good morning ’Canes, it’s gameday!

The ’Canes are slated to tip-off at 8:59 EDT against the Huskies, and the Hyatt Regency lobby was buzzing Saturday morning as fans fueled up with a hearty breakfast for the big day.

Cary and Jose Moralejo, both alumni of the University of Miami, opted for bagels and coffee from Einstein Bros. Bagels for their pre-game meal.

The couple met just a few years after they both graduated from the University. Before they met in 1990, Cary and Jose were both superfans of the Miami Hurricanes.

Jose and Cary Moralejo

“Once we started dating, both of our friend groups would meet up for tailgates and UM games,” Cary said.

The couple have now been Miami Hurricanes fanatics for four decades. Their swimming pool in their first home together, Cary added, even had an orange and green tiled “U” on the bottom.

Jose, who grew up playing basketball, has been a fanatic of the sport his whole life. While he was a student, he was even involved in the early days of the men’s basketball program at the U.

“When UM started the basketball program, they only brought on three recruits and we had a contest where the champions of the [Intramural] basketball team would play the new players,” he recalled.

Cary was planning on surprising her husband with tickets to this weekend’s game for his 60th birthday, which was last week, even before Miami advanced to the game. The ’Canes ending up in the game was serendipitous.

“I follow college basketball and I’ve always wanted to go to a Final Four. What better way to knock off a bucket list item than with Miami in the Final Four,” he said.

Once they finish their coffee and bagels, Cary and Jose are off to the NCAA Experience, before heading to NRG Stadium for the game.

—Jenny Hudak

Saturday, April 1:
10 a.m.

Geared up for the Final Four 

Five basketballs; multiple rolls of tape; practice and game clips that hold the players’ jerseys and shorts; sneakers, snacks, and more. 

All told, the gear packed by University of Miami basketball team managers for the squad’s trip to Houston for the Final Four is a hefty load to handle. 

“Preparing and packing all the equipment takes about an hour, with another half hour tacked onto that to load it onto team buses headed for the airport,” said head manager Aydin Melamed. 

Friday, he and another team manager had an additional duty: delivering chicken wings to players’ rooms at the team hotel, the Hyatt Regency Houston.  

“We’re all in when it comes to supporting the team,” Melamed said.  

—Robert C. Jones Jr.

Saturday, April 1:
8:09 a.m.

Welcome to Game Day!

There will be plenty of activities happening throughout Saturday in Houston as the team prepares for tonight's historic matchup. Take a moment to enjoy a recap of what has been going on in Space City since Thursday by viewing a collection of photos, videos, and more.

Lead up to the dance

Saturday, April 1:
1 a.m.

Former Hurricanes hoops star Darius Rice recalls classic 2003 win over the Huskies 

The shot was a rainbow from heaven. 

Launched by Miami Hurricanes forward Darius Rice from behind the three-point arc as time expired on the clock, the buzzer-beater toppled the then-No. 11-ranked UConn Huskies 77-76. 

With his fists clinched in the air, the 6-foot 10-inch Rice sprinted the length of the court in what was then called the University of Miami Convocation Center, as jubilant Hurricanes fans stormed the hardwood in celebration. 

“I’ll always remember that game,” Rice recalled of the Jan. 20, 2003, matchup against the Huskies. “It was one of many classic games we played against UConn when we were both members of the Big East [conference].” 

Rice scored 43 points in that matchup. Darius Rice

The nephew of legendary NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, he was speaking Friday from inside Houston’s 80 Sports Bar and Lounge, where he and several other former Hurricanes basketball greats had gathered in advance of the current men’s team’s Final Four game against the Huskies at NRG Stadium on Saturday. 

Seven-foot three-inch Constantin Popa, who played center for Miami from 1991 to 1995, was among the other former ’Canes who showed up at the bar. 

Members of the University of Miami Frost Band of the Hour and cheerleaders performed at the establishment, which is owned by former Hurricanes football wide receiver and Houston Texans All-Pro Andre Johnson, who wore No. 80. 

“Playing in the Final Four was something we all dreamed about back then,” Rice recalled of his playing days at the U. “It’s such a great opportunity for this team. Coach L has them playing well. Hopefully, they’ll come out on top.” 

—Robert C. Jones Jr. 

Friday, March 31:
5:30 p.m.

Battle of the Bands

Fans of all four teams competing in the tournament kicked off their weekend on the right note at the Men’s Final Four Fan Fest, held in downtown Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

College students, families, and sports aficionados got a front row seat to the sights and sounds of the Final Four while the bands and spirit squads for the University of Connecticut, Florida Atlantic University, San Diego State University, and our University of Miami battled it out.

Each ensemble performed a 10-minute arrangement of songs, one at a time, to fans in the audience. The Frost Band of the Hour brought the South Florida heat to Houston with a lineup that included the Miami Fight Song and a few smooth Latin beats, including Santana’s “Oye Cómo Va.”

Fans in the stands couldn’t help but move to the beat of Miami’s band. Stacey Lewis, a South Florida native, was dancing in her seat to the Band of the Hour’s performance. Only, Lewis wasn’t wearing any orange and green. The fan was rocking a bright red Florida Atlantic University T-shirt.

Though Lewis grew up just two miles away from the University of Miami campus, she attended FAU.

“I still root for the ’Canes when I can, but I’m here for my FAU team this week,” she said. “I’m still grooving to my Miami band over here though!” she added.

No winner was crowned at this battle of the bands, but fans left the Fan Fast amped up for Saturday.

—Text: Jenny Hudak

—Photos: Mike Montero

—Video: David Paula

Lead up to the dance—photos, video, and more
On the road to witness historic hoops action
'Canes fans go to great lengths to support the U
View photos and video from the team sendoff from the Coral Gables Campus
Read more of our March Madness coverage here.

Friday, March 31:
5 p.m. 

Bello brothers bask in the glory of ’Canes’ historic season 

Last year at about this time, brothers and longtime University of Miami fans Austin and Garrett Bello left the city of Chicago with an empty feeling in their stomachs, their spirits broken after the Hurricanes men’s basketball team fell to Kansas 76-50 in the Elite Eight of the 2022 NCAA basketball tournament. 

But this year, with the men’s team making the first Final Four appearance in the University’s history, it’s been all about redemption, said Austin. “Definitely a sweeter season,” he said Friday at Fan Fest inside the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, as Garrett stood next to him. Austin and Garrett Bello

The two brothers made the trip to Texas’ largest city to watch their beloved ’Canes compete in what is the pinnacle of postseason NCAA basketball. 

“Growing up in South Florida, we’ve been ’Canes fans forever,” Austin said. “As kids, we attended home football games at the Orange Bowl and would have our pictures taken with the UM cheerleaders.” 

Now, Miami is not just a football school, Garrett proudly noted. “Basketball is right up there,” he said, “and it’s the players and Coach Larrañaga who have made it so much fun.” 

—Robert C. Jones Jr. 

Friday, March 31:
4:30 p.m.

A pleasant surprise

Mardochee Monestime and his wife, Jahaana, and their daughter, Eliyanah, 1 1/2, moved to Houston about four months ago. 

Originally from Miami, the couple both graduated from Florida A&M. That there are two Florida schools playing in the Final Four is pretty exciting, Mardochee said. 

Mardochee Monestime and his wife, Jahaana, and their daughter, Eliyanah, 1 1/2, moved to Houston about four months ago. 

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’m hoping for one of them to win” the tournament. 

Friday afternoon the family came to the George R. Brown Convention Center to check out the sights and sounds of the Final Four Fan Fest. Houston, Jahaana said, is a big city with a lot of traffic. But, compared to some of the places they have lived, it has a lot more to offer. Like the Final Four. 

—Peter E. Howard

View photos and video from the team sendoff.
Friday, March 31:
2 p.m. 

Open practice

Fans came out to NRG Stadium to watch the Miami Hurricanes participate in an open practice and interact with the crowd. 

—Videos: David Paula

Friday, March 31:
1:36 p.m.

Media attending the NCAA Final Four are picking up their credentials in a meeting room in the NRG Center, which is adjacent to NRG Stadium and features exhibit space and conference meeting rooms. More than 400 media from around the country signed up for credentials, with large contingents coming from the states where the teams are located—Florida, University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University; San Diego, San Diego State University; and Connecticut, University of Connecticut. Reporters, anchors, editors, photographers, videographers, producers, social media experts, bloggers, and field crews have been filtering in for the past couple of days, with more expected later Friday and into Saturday before the first games get underway.

Media room at NRG Stadium

—Peter E. Howard

Friday, March 31:
12:15 p.m. 

A house divided

The Fitzgerald family rarely finds themselves in conflict—until this March Madness tournament.

Jeffrey Fitzgerald, donning a UMiami polo at the adidas store in the Galleria Mall this afternoon, made it very clear: he will not be repping Miami tomorrow. 

“Today, I’m a Miami fan because I’m here. Tomorrow, I will be wearing my UConn gear in the stands,” he said. Jefferey, a University of Connecticut graduate, splits his time rooting for the Huskies and the ’Canes ever since his daughter, Brooke, enrolled at the U last year and joined the UCheer team. 

“We’ve been to just as many Miami games as we have UConn games this year,” he said “We could have never imagined a Final Four that included both teams,” he added. 

Jeffery and his wife, Ginny, flew into Houston from Burlington, Connecticut, yesterday to join Brooke, who arrived from Miami, to cheer for their teams. While dad’s loyalties lie with his alma mater this weekend, mom says she will be supporting her daughter and the ’Canes. 

“Well, my daughter’s a UMiami cheerleader, so I am a Miami girl through and through this week,” Ginny said.

—Jenny Hudak

Read more of our March Madness coverage here.

Friday, March 31:
12:05 p.m. 

Final Four Fan Fest

Mark Nawghton and his son, Andrew, came to NRG Stadium early Friday to check out the festivities and will be going to the Hurricanes open practice this afternoon. Outside the stadium, a fun fest was underway with rides, food, and other contests.

“I think this is pretty cool, said Andrew, 10, who is predicting a 'Canes win Saturday night. “They have good players. They are playing really good on defense.”

Mark Nawghton said his dad is a Miami graduate, but he went to Florida. The father and son will travel home to Sarasota, Florida, on Sunday. “He’s got to get back for school,” the father said.

—Text: Peter E. Howard

—Video: David Paula

Friday, March 31:
11:30 a.m. 

Gearing up for the big day

University of Miami fans, students, and alumni geared up for the Final Four matchup during a pep-rally hosted by adidas at the Galleria Mall in Houston on Friday morning. Fanfare greeted shoppers as the University pep and and spirit squads performed in the store. 

“It’s just insane,” said Alexander Loucks, who drove 12 hours from Jacksonville, Florida with his father, Gregory, to be in Houston for the game. “I’ve been following ‘Canes hoops for years and years and years. I was happy when we got to the Sweet 16. This is just amazing.” Read more.

Gregory and Alexander Loucks
Gregory and Alexander Loucks

—Text: Jenny Hudak

—Photo: Joshua Prezant 

Friday, March 31:
10 a.m.

On the road to witness historic hoops fun

Trio of Canes at Final Four

From Greenville, South Carolina, to Houston, Texas, a trio of  ’Canes fans—including a former women’s basketball player—have been following the success of the women’s and men’s basketball teams. Read more.

—Robert C. Jones Jr.

Friday, March 31:
7:30 a.m.

Hotel check in

The road ends here Final FourWhen super fans, supporters, and fanatics arrive at the team hotel, they’re greeted with the large banner at the main entrance. And at the registration desk, the U is a slam dunk.

—Peter E. Howard

Thursday, March 30:
7:20 p.m.

Cheerleaders and Sebastian filmed by CBS

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and NRG Park proved that statement to be true. 

Some of the University Communications team made their way over to the area to scope out the site of Saturday night’s showdown and get the lay of the land ahead of the next few days. 

Lucky for us, we found a few friends along the way. Our University of Miami cheer team let us hitch a ride to the stadium, since they were on their way to film some content for CBS Sports. 

Cheerleaders film for CBS Sports

After a couple minutes wandering around the complex, we found where we needed to be to claim our media credentials for the weekend and made our way back to our cheer squad. 

The group of 12 cheerleaders arrived in Houston yesterday and are equipped with a tight itinerary of appearances around Houston to represent the U. 

Though this squad has been traveling across the country supporting our ’Canes athletics programs year-round, senior Caiden Gagner said nothing has compared to the experience of arriving at a Final Four. 

“Usually, when we get off a plane it’s just a few buses. This time, it was like a red carpet with a giant Final Four sticker,” Gagner said. The graduating cheerleader shared that the only experience that could, maybe, compare to the enthusiasm of this week was last year’s visit to Chicago for the men’s basketball Sweet 16. 

As the UCheer team stood by for their turn to film, groups from fellow Final Four competitors; the University of Connecticut Huskies, the Florida Atlantic Owls, and the San Diego State University Aztecs, filed in and out of the raving light booth for the CBS production crew.  

While they waited, a moment of sportsmanship unfolded between our UCheer squad, and the spirit squad from the Florida Atlantic University. The ’Canes and Owls, both hailing from South Florida with campuses just 60 miles apart, reveled in the moment to represent their respective Universities in the tournament. The cheerleaders and mascots—Sebastian and Owlsley—gathered for a quick photo before parting ways. “No ruffled feathers here,” joked one of the stadium employees watching the groups. 

Once the UCheer team finished their taping, it was back to home base for the evening.

Jenny Hudak

—Photos and Video: Joshua Prezant

Thursday, March 30:
7 p.m.

An Uber super 'Canes fan

Soccer reigned supreme in Alejandro’s Costa Rican household. But after he moved to Miami 23 years ago, Hurricanes basketball quickly became the sport of choice.

“A good friend of mine turned me onto the Miami Hurricanes when I moved here. He had season tickets to the home football and basketball games. Ever since, it’s been all things U,” said Alejandro, the Uber driver who drove me from my Liberty City home to Miami International Airport Thursday afternoon to catch a United Airlines flight to Houston, where my University Communications colleagues and I will be covering the Hurricanes basketball team’s Final Four appearance.

“It’s the culture, the strong sense of family that I like about the U,” Alejandro said.

Uber driver Alejandro throws up the U

He drives for Uber part time, picking up a little cash to supplement a full-time gig. But Saturday night, when Miami and the UConn Huskies tip off on the second of two Final Four matchups at NRG Stadium, Alejandro will garage his Volkswagen Tiguan, catch a ride with friends to a South Miami-area sports bar, and watch the coach Jim Larrañaga-led Hurricanes try to make hoops history.

“I’m confident they can do it,” he said. “I have a 12-year-old son who is crazy about soccer like I was. Miami winning a basketball national championship might help persuade him to become a UM fan.”

—Robert C. Jones Jr.

Read more of our March Madness coverage here.

Thursday, March 30:
3:20 p.m.

Calm before the storm

We’ve finally arrived and settled in Downtown Houston on a rather gloomy afternoon. No rain, but it feels as though a storm is looming in the distance. 

University of Miami signage adorned the entrances, lobby, and elevators of our home base for the next few days: the Hyatt Regency Houston. 

The lobby wasn’t particularly abuzz this afternoon. A few students, traveling with the team, sat quietly around tables working on class assignments. Fans trickled in and out, perusing the NCAA March Madness merchandise stand. Visitors snagged their commemorative “Miami Hurricanes Final Four” T-shirts before the rush. 

That’ll change tomorrow when hundreds of ’Canes fans are expected to check in to the hotel, according to the concierge. 

Jenny Hudak

Thursday, March 30
2:30 p.m.

Home court

So, what about this stadium where the Final Four takes place? The home to the NFL Houston Texans, NRG Stadium is a multipurpose facility with a retractable roof. It seats 72,220—huge by basketball standards—where teams, particularly college basketball teams, play in the comfy confines of a campus facility that seats less than 10,000.

In total, the stadium boasts an impressive 1.9 million square feet of space, nearly 200 suites, and a press box area with 240 seats at countertops.  

The entire, 350-acre complex is referred to as NRG Park and includes four facilities: NRG Stadium; NRG Center, offering exhibit space and meeting rooms; NRG Arena, which seats 8,000 and features horse competitions; and NRG Astrodome, which opened in 1965 and has been home to a vast array of events and hosted a number of entertainers, including Elvis. Throughout the year, the complex hosts hundreds of events, including exhibitions, concerts, sporting events, conventions, and meetings. 

And if you were wondering, NRG is NRG Energy, Inc., based out of Houston. The Fortune 500 power company employs about 15,000 people. 

­—Peter E. Howard

Thursday, March 30:
8:30 a.m.

Departing from Miami

Orange and green paraphernalia peppered the quiet crowd huddled around gate J8 at Miami International Airport this morning. Many of them, like myself, still groggy from an early morning wake up call.

But the early morning flight is “totally worth it,” said Aryan Patel, a University of Miami junior making his way to Houston with fellow student, junior Milo Chemla. 

Hundreds of fans, students, and alumni will descend on H-Town over the next two days, where the Miami Hurricanes men’s basketball team is set to play in the Final Four of the 2023 NCAA March Madness tournament. 

Aryan Patel and Milo Chemla
Aryan Patel and Milo Chemla. Photo: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami

Chemla and Patel are among the many traveling to see their Miami Hurricanes make a run at the national title. 

“I’m going to paint my entire body orange if we make the final,” Chemla said, wearing his University of Miami black sweater proudly as he boarded the flight. The duo is planning to stay with 15 other students in Houston, saying they’ll do “whatever it takes” to be in the stands cheering for the ’Canes. 

Trip Logan, a double alumnus of the University, packed pretty light for this trip. All he really needs is his lucky orange prison jumpsuit.  

“It started as a joke when we played Notre Dame in 2017,” Logan said. The then-undergraduate student wore the jumpsuit, with torn off sleeves, during the Miami Hurricane football team’s 41-8 rout of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Logan decided the orange jumpsuit brought his team good luck and has worn it to every sporting event since.

“If it’s a big game, I have to break out the prison suit,” he shared. Logan’s superstitions even lead him to throw away the outfit, and purchase a totally new one, after every loss. This week, he doesn’t plan on throwing away any orange jump suits.

While the excitement brews, this airport crew will be kicking it back for the three-hour journey to Texas. We’ll see you when we land.

Houston—we have liftoff.

Jenny Hudak

Thursday, March 30:
7 a.m.

All about Houston

Houston bound. Several of us are making our way to Houston today. The city is a sprawling metropolis of 2.3 million people—the fourth most populous city in the United States—and you only need to look at the Katy Freeway, part of Interstate 10, for confirmation. At one point the freeway boasts a width of 26 lanes of traffic, considered by some to be the world’s widest. As they say, everything is bigger in Texas, and you can imagine traffic will be challenging this weekend.

Houston was founded in 1836 and named for Sam Houston, who led Texas forces against the Mexican army that had attacked and slaughtered more than 140 men at The Alamo in San Antonio. In 1845, Texas became the 28th state in the Union.

We can thank the Houston tourism board for this little nugget: “‘Houston’ is the first word spoken from the lunar surface.” It’s part of the quote Neil Armstrong sent back home after the Apollo 11 Lunar Module touched down on the moon on July 20, 1969. “Houston,” he said, “Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed.”

While still a haul, Miami is a little closer to Houston than the moon. It’s a nearly 1,200-mile drive from South Florida to “Space City,” the city’s official nickname. That drive’s going to take you a hefty 18 hours. Heading over the Gulf of Mexico by air shortens the distance to about 964 miles, which makes flight time from Miami to Houston about 2 ½ hours.

Some of the famous people that Houston claims as its own are singer and songwriter, Beyonce; former football player and TV personality, Michael Strahan; singer and songwriter, Hilary Duff; rapper Lacrea; along with the late actress and model Anna Nicole Smith; and perhaps, Howard Hughes, who may or may not have been born there.

—Peter E. Howard

Read more of our March Madness coverage here.