“Drink Angry” was the attitude at sports bars around Wichita for Saturday’s Final Four game between Wichita State University and Louisville.
Influenced by the “Play Angry” slogan of their beloved Shocker basketball team, WSU fans put their hearts and souls into being WSU fans, showing up at the bars early to claim their favorite seats and doing whatever it took to order drinks in a crowd.
And when the possession arrow deprived the Shockers of a last chance with 6.3 seconde to play in their 72-68 loss to the Cardinals, “angry” was a fitting reaction.
“That’s the worst call ever!” a fan hollered in the outdoor section at Larry Bud’s Sports Bar and Grill, 2120 N. Woodlawn, where about 400 of the 600 fans wearing “Play Angry” and “Leave It All on the Floor” T-shirts watched the national telecast on multiple screens.
“I’m half sick about it,” said Frank Strong, a longtime WSU fan and Shocker season-ticket holder from Wichita.
“I’m sick abut it,” said his wife, Gloria, “but they had a great season, and it’s been a great ride.”
Many in the crowd had been at Larry Bud’s since morning. They booed when a Louisville fan wearing a Cardinals cap and a red shirt walked in about 20 minutes before the game started.
The brave fan was Staff Sgt. David Crone, who is stationed at McConnell Air Force Base. Crone said he grew up a couple of blocks away from Freedom Hall in Louisville, where the Cardinals play.
“This is probably one of the safer bars to do this at,” he said. “I wasn’t going downtown, that’s for sure.”
Fans jumped up from their seats at Heroes Sports Bar and Grill in Old Town, cheering when WSU led the Cardinals. Fists pounded on tables when Louisville grabbed the lead.
“I’m real proud of these boys,” former Shocker women’s player Kim Evans said just after halftime. “They’re standing up and representing Wichita, no doubt, no doubt. And the fan base behind it, everyone’s coming together. That’s the best part about it.”
Both levels of Fat Tony’s Grill and Sports Bar were packed to the bar’s 245-person capacity, co-owner Bryan Shapiro said during the game. The crowd – dressed in Shocker black and yellow – started arriving about 3:30 p.m. The restaurant, housed in a vintage movie theater on Douglas in downtown Wichita, projected the game on two giant movie screens and several smaller TVs.
“The energy in there, it’s high,” Shapiro said of the cheering fans. “Everything we do is black and yellow.”
At the Wichita Boathouse, a sign posted on the balcony declared, “As two families are becoming one, we ask that you choose a seat, and not a side.”
But that only applies to weddings, not basketball, newlyweds Robin Branstetter and Joshua Busch agreed.
So the couple made sure the Shocker fans who doubled as their wedding guests didn’t miss the game after their 5 p.m. nuptials.
Anxious for tip-off, no one sneaked a peak at their cellphones during the 15-minute ceremony, and most stayed on the upper floor to eat and mingle while the game was broadcast on two TVs below.
Although the bride walked down the aisle to a recorded symphony, a game-day appropriate “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” boomed through the Boathouse when the couple entered the reception, hand-in-hand.
“It’s just been a double party,” Busch said.
His new wife agreed.
“It’s turned into a pretty big celebration. It’s like they’re here for us and the game,” she said
A few guests wore yellow and black in support of the Shockers. There was even a giant “Shocker Nation” cookie with WuShock’s angry sneer between a delicate tiered wedding cake and the groom’s cake.
By halftime, a 7-foot projection screen TV aired the game behind the head table. Bridesmaid Shelby Flores, 21, stood watching, a black Shocker T-shirt covering her formal gown.
“I’m really excited that they made it this far,” said Flores, a sophomore at WSU.
The formal occasion didn’t keep the bride’s grandfather, Pete Camargo, from showing his Shocker pride, either. As he pulled aside his dapper suit-and-tie attire to reveal a Final Four T-shirt, Camargo grinned and shouted, “Go, Shockers!”
Tuning in from afar
WSU fans around the country tuned in.
Craig Atkinson watched in the game in Lake Stevens, Wash., north of Seattle, with about 15 people joining him at his house, including several people from the Wichita area.
Atkinson, who works at the Boeing plant in Everett, Wash., lived in Wichita all his life until moving to Lake Stevens four years ago. He’s been a die-hard Shocker fan since he was 9, he said, and went to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles last week.
Atkinson said he was proud of the Shockers. He and his wife wore WSU gear all week.
“We had so much Shocker gear here we tried to give everybody who came who didn’t have Shocker shirts on one. We also had signs from last week’s pep rally in Los Angles hanging in a front window so everyone in the neighborhood could see them.”
Steve and Becky Mason also were decked out in WSU shirts as they watched the game at their home in Little Rock, Ark.
“We just hollered and screamed all through the house,” said Steve, who went to school at WSU and lived in Lawrence before moving in 2001 to Little Rock, where he works for Southwest Power Pool.
“I was very proud of them, and I think Louisville had all they wanted.”