New York It's Friday night in the Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. Home of world-class restaurants, theater, jazz endless opportunities for wild and crazy nightlife.
So why are all these people in a crowded, noisy sports bar called Blondie's eating chicken wings and drinking beer? It's because this Upper West Side establishment is the only place to be if you're a KU fan in the tristate area at tournament time.
More than 200 boisterous "Noo Yawk Jayhawks" were packed like so many sardines into the back two rooms Friday for the March Madness "watch party" of the season KU vs. Illinois.
Expectations were cautiously high.
Minutes ago, the KU mob was waiting outside Blondie's for a pack of Michigan State fans to vacate the premises after their team's victory in the earlier game. Blondie's also serves as "official New York alumni home" to Michigan State, Penn State, Oklahoma, Virginia, Northwestern, Indiana and Tennessee universities.
This is the largest group ever assembled for a KU watch party and it's no small task to get everyone seated and served. Many of them have made pilgrimages from Connecticut and New Jersey.
They come for the hoops, of course, but there are other reasons these birds of crimson and blue feathers flock together.
"It's so different living here in New York," explains Jenifer Dodd who was born in Lawrence and now lives in Brooklyn. "It's reassuring to find Kansans to cling to."
Carrie Williams, a 1997 graduate from Leawood and the events director of the NYMAC (New York Metropolitan Area Chapter) alumni group, says watch parties are often the only way to see the home team play. "You know the (KU) games are never going to be on TV at home. It's been really hard to find a place in Manhattan that will air Kansas games."
Chris Gannett, class of '95, agrees. "Everyone I work with has no conception of KU sports. It's all about East Coast teams here. I have my Jayhawk poster hanging in my office and everybody looks at it and goes, 'Huh?'"
As you might expect, New York fans are a vocal bunch. And loyal to the bitter end.
The crowd hangs with the Hawks until the last excruciating seconds tick away. There are no boos, no raspberries, no obscene gestures. Just some consolation hugs, a few last slugs of beer and that mantra, universal to Jayhawks everywhere:
"We'll get 'em next year."