Diego’s travel log: game day at the Final Four

GoCoogs.com subscriber Diego Lopez is journaling his trip to the Final Four. You can read each of his posts on his Travel Log.

My alarm rings at 8:30 and it’s the biggest “it’s coronation day!” feeling ever!

I love Disney and every big day that comes, I play the song For the first time in forever because I think it’s perfect for something you’ve been anticipating. It’s here! The Final Four! Let’s goooooo!!!

The discussion in our Air BnB this morning is our wardrobe and, like any good Coog fan, we’re all crazy superstitious. For me, it always starts with, Do I wear the UH polo I got engaged in?

I asked my wife to marry me during a game at Hofheinz

I don’t have ONE lucky gameday shirt, and I’ve actually worn something different every game throughout the different rounds of the tournament this year. What’s going to bring the best juju?! I made sure to have options: I brought like 9 shirts for a 5 day weekend.

I finally settled on a new red polo because I haven’t worn it during a game in this tournament. Hopefully, that keeps the good juju going.

We’re going to have brunch with a fellow Gocoogs.com subscriber named Sean. He recommended a place called Milktooth. What a great recommendation!

It’s a Jewish deli-inspired menu, and it’s really neat. It is definitely a unique experience for me. My latte has citrus and browned butter. Definitely never had that before! For my meal, I got a chocolate babka (means chocolate swirled into it) French toast with a side of bacon. DELICIOUS! I loved every bite.

chocolate babka

But the best part of the brunch isn’t the food! It’s meeting Sean! I love getting to know Cougars from our GoCoogs.com forum, The Veer, and Sean is one of the best! He gets a nomination for the most interesting man alive! He’s also wicked smart, kind, and awesome company. You should definitely read about his wife’s sprinkle business too! Their story is so cool – UH even featured Sprinkle Pop two years ago.

It was a great brunch, and I’m super happy to have met a new Cougar from our online community.

Hamza ( UH CO ‘13), my wife Norma, me, Sean Piper, and my Wisconsin Dairy Farmer (Nick – CO ’14).

What a great morning! We spent the afternoon walking around the downtown area. It was a BLAST and the atmosphere was great. Still hard to believe we’re at the Final Four! Cullen BLVD, 3rd Ward, and Houston in Indianapolis with the eyes of the country on us. No matter where we go – restaurants, stores, or on the sidewalks – everyone is SO dang nice to us. Like what’s going on here? There’s magic in the air. Even behind masks, everyone is smiling! Such a positive upbeat mood! Feels GREAT.

While we’re out, I get AN AMAZING surprise! Some GoCoogs.com subscribers from the Veer that had read my first travel log want to sponsor our trip! I get an alert from Venmo and I’m overwhelmed! It’s another reminder of how I’m so fortunate to be a part of the UH community. I’ve gotten to know so many great people, received so many blessings, and here’s yet another. Our sponsors tell us to live it up and that’s what we do! CHEERS!

Cheers from Indianapolis

We finally get to Lucas Oil Stadium and have to go up a never-ending ramp. Not a back-and-forth deal like NRG – it’s a little bit of a maze, but we finally make it. We’re in our seats which are practically in space, but it doesn’t matter! We’re here!

orbiting Lucas Oil Stadium

Ready to go!

We’re in the building! It’s the FINAL FOUR. Our boys are being announced! GAME TIME!

Oof! That did not go as planned. Yikes.

My plan for this travel log was to kind of keep my thoughts throughout the game and share what I was thinking at each of the four-minute timeouts.

But after the under-8 timeout in the first half, I stopped.

Diego’s in-game notes

That was rough. I thought we would compete a lot better but unfortunately, we didn’t. We got our butts handed to us by a better team. We played one of our worst games at the wrong time and Baylor played crazy well. We all know that the semifinal result is not a reflection of how good our Coogs are.

But we finished 28-4, we won the American Tournament, we won the Midwest Region, and we were a FINAL FOUR TEAM. Six of those now! I’m so excited for when we hang our banner at Fertitta to start next season.

I went to every home game this year, I was at the American Athletic Conference Tournament, and this Final Four. I had a BLAST all season and I feel so privileged to have been along for this ride.

And it all happened during COVID! That makes it even more impressive! I got a great reminder of that because our Saturday night reservation at St. Elmo’s steakhouse was canceled due to a COVID outbreak at the restaurant. 9 employees tested positive – after the game, I had this waiting in my voicemail!

With the reservation canceled, we decided to stick around and were treated to a Miley Cyrus concert. Then we watched the Jalen Suggs buzzer-beater in OT. That felt like college basketball history. And no matter what the final result was for UH, I still had a great day and I’m still SO proud of our Coogs.

I woke up this morning thinking about how special it is to travel. Traveling allows you to experience new things and develop a wider view. I thought back to the first time I ever got on a plane. It was in college and, of course, it was thanks to the University of Houston. In 2011, I got to present at the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) in Phoenix. While we were there, we took a day trip to see the Grand Canyon.

From my first time on a plane to the resources needed to enjoy life, and the great friendships that come along with it, my alma mater has given me everything. I love that term, alma mater. It means nourishing mother and I know that UH will continue to nourish every aspect of my life in the future.

Am I bummed that the Cougars lost yesterday? Sure, but I’m thankful for another great travel experience. I got to experience another city I had never seen, I made memories with my wife and friends, and it’s still a great trip I’m going to cherish. We were able to switch our flight to Sunday and, before heading back to Chicago, we stopped at Cafe Patachou. My buddy Hamza is going back to DC, and I know it’ll be a while before I see him again so we make the most of it.

Sunday brunch in Indy

After we eat, we walk over to the Marriot and take one last picture together in front of the gigantic bracket at the JW. We know this isn’t the last time we’ll see the name “HOUSTON” on one of these brackets. I can’t wait until the Fertitta Center is packed again this fall and we’re cheering on the Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark led Coogs to another tournament run.

final photo in front of the JW Marriott bracket

When my wife and I land in Houston, we decide on Sweet Green in Rice Village for dinner. She’s excited because it’s one of her favorite places to eat and I’m excited because I know that instead of heading home to Beltway 8 from Hobby, we’re going up 45. I get to see my alma mater on the left, the gorgeous Houston skyline on the right, and the Coach Sampson billboard at the 45/59 interchange.

Houston skyline at dusk on Sunday

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to end the weekend as I’m reminded that our boys do indeed play #ForTheCity.