Friday was travel day and it started quite early as a quick snow storm meant my work shift began at 2 AM. Fighting fatigue, I still wanted to hit the road immediately after, so I left midday and the ride was ok until I got into Maryland and the dreaded Beltway at rush hour. It was a slow crawl that continued on 95 in Virginia, where traffic goes from 5 MPH to 65 to 25 in minutes. Very frustrating. Finally, it opened up past Fredericksburg and not long after I got to the hotel in Richmond, I hit the sack for a needed lengthy sleep.
Refreshed, I left for downtown Richmond a little before 8 AM so I could check out the State Capitol building before heading to the VCU game. The morning was cold, but in mid-winter form, my body was seasoned to walk outside for an hour as I checked out the surrounding grounds and views from the city on top of the hill. The original building dates back to Jefferson’s design in the late 1700s and as you would expect from this commonwealth, there is an abundance of statues and history here. After an hour here, I moved my car to a lot closer to VCU, but still a 20 minute walk away as I wanted to see Richmond between the heart of the city and campus. Probably not the greatest idea as there wasn’t much to see and a few spots were a little sketchy, so even though parking can be a challenge, I recommend buying a $7 pass ahead of time and parking at the Laurel Street Deck. Despite a young age, the Siegel Center is not the prettiest building on the outside, however past the main doors, the hallways and concourse are nice and brightly lit with Rams memorabilia all around. Inside the arena, the design simply features four sides of one-level seating with a walkway behind the seats. I was not a huge fan of the set-up because of the shallow slope to each seating side, which led to seats further from the court than expected. Plus, the end of the sideline seats went so far beyond the baseline, that it lead to less than attractive sightlines. While I was not a huge fan of the arena design, it did set-up one thing…noise! That is what makes VCU’s Siegel Center a special place and I was absolutely blown away by the atmosphere…
I always knew that VCU had one of the better atmosphere’s in college basketball, but it wasn’t until attending live did I know that it was this good….like Top 10 in the sport good. Fans hang on every single play and the amount of passion in each roar, cheer and boo was notable. They understood the game and it is one of the very few places that I have been to where a scoreboard was not needed to egg a crowd on. It also is insanely loud and I completely believe the 110 decibels it once hit. Then you have the incredible pep band, which makes the scene all the more festive. The Peppas are the best pep band I have heard and they’re playing thru nearly the whole hour pre-game was quite enjoyable. When they play “Havoc” and the “Hey” song with the VCU chant…it is special. The students are terrific too and they play their part in the event very well. The game was against GW and the Rams came in undefeated in the A-10. This was a terrific game of basketball with a great flow and the Colonials showed incredible poise in such a hostile atmosphere. They ended up keeping the game from getting out of reach and then took the lead on a Joe McDonald 3-pointer with a minute left. VCU was down two and had the ball with 10 seconds, but they could not convert a couple of attempts as GW somehow walked out with a win. Despite the tough loss, I walked out of the building blown away by an amazing sporting experience.
The 20-minute walk back to my car allowed me time to reflect and for my ears to stop ringing as I got ready for the next game at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The University of Richmond is a small, private school on the very edge of the city that is very suburban as opposed to VCU’s large urban campus. Before getting to Richmond’s campus, I took a drive down Monument Ave and saw the famous General Lee statue. I also stopped at the only “attraction” near UR and that is the Wilton House. I normally like old house tours, but this one was so incredibly awkward as the tour guide I had would not even be suited to have a phone conversation with somebody. The $8 waste of uncomfortable-ness thankfully only lasted 25 minutes and I hightailed it out of there for an early dinner on Grove Ave at The Continental.
My early arrival on Richmond’s campus meant that I could park within walking distance of the arena instead of using the shuttle and I also walked past their beautiful football stadium. The campus has terrific scenery and brick buildings and the Robins Center follows the theme with a brick exterior. Even though the arena was built in 1972, a significant renovation a couple years ago essentially turned this into a new arena. I uttered an “Oh Wow” passing from the concourse to the interior as the set-up is terrific. Everything from the seating design, slope of the seats, four premium corner spots, the color scheme and the abundance of athletic logos and wordmarks all flowed so beautifully. The Spiders took on UMass and this game was more common of modern-day sports. It was shamefully announced as a “sell-out” despite about 25% of the seats being empty. The fans were good with a fine amount of noise, but it was only when the “noise-meter” came on where the loudness really increased. Richmond ran away 69-53 from a terrible Minutemen team that settled on almost every possession for a three-point shot. A couple cool things from the visit…the videos involving “Tarrant”, the Spider mascot and the pre-game video that highlighted all of the NCAA Tournament runs by previous Richmond teams.
I’ve been longing for a great college basketball experience and this past weekend certainly delivered with an incredible atmosphere at VCU and a beautiful arena at Richmond. I highly recommend a trip to RVA for anyone who loves the sport.