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Hail to the Victors--all the way from Bogota

April 07, 2013|By Jack M Silverstein | For RedEye

A few hours after Michigan knocked off Florida in the Elite Eight on March 31, a group of my Big Ten-affiliated camp friends began firing off emails among the group, particularly between the guys who went to Michigan and our one friend who went to Syracuse.

One of these Wolverine friends is Mike Swiryn, a Chicago native and Michigan alum who watched the game with his wife and fellow UM alum, Robin, in a bar in Bogota, Colombia, where they are beginning some post-wedding travels. Curious to hear about what it's like to watch the NCAA tournament in Colombia, I skyped Mike to get the scoop.

Mike Swiryn: We went through this huge travel week last week. We put all our stuff in storage and scrambled around to like, change our lives. Got here on Tuesday [March 26, three days before the Michigan-Kansas game] and in my head, I was like, "We should definitely find a place to watch that game on Friday."

And then, you know, we got into the swing of things here. This friend of a friend was like, "Do you want to go on this road trip out of town?" Because it's Holy Week here, so people have like six days off for all of the special Catholic days leading up to Easter.

They're like, "We're going to hop in the car, everybody's going to come, and we're going to go check out this lake and ride around on a boat," and then there's a lagoon in the mountains that's famous because it's the site of the Legend of El Dorado. So we're like, "Of course we're going to do that." Completely forgot about the game. Had an amazing day. Walked back into the hostel literally the minute the game was ending in overtime, and I opened my computer and saw a friend's G-Chat post that said "Go Blue."

I immediately was like, "Oh my god, what happened?" and we found out that one of the greatest games in recent decades of Michigan basketball had just went down. So I had this mixed emotion of like, "that's really awesome," and I'm kind of crushed that I didn't see the game.

When I was driving around the country in '05, I was at the University of Oregon the day the Illini played Louisville in the Final Four. Didn't know anybody, so I just drove around until I found people who looked like they would know where to watch the game. Saw these three dudes in shorts holding a basketball, and so I pulled over and asked them, and they were like, "The Barn, man! Go to the Barn!" So I did, and it was fantastic.

So tell me about how you guys found your spot for the game against Florida.

Mike Swiryn: This was a little bit more high-tech and less social. But also a great way to do it. We just hopped on Google and said, you know, "basketball bar Bogota." You find all those posts where somebody's already struggled with what you're wondering, and they're like "I'm gonna be in Bogota for four days and I really want to catch this game! Does anyone know where to go?"

Everybody, time after time, said, "You've got two choices." There's a TGI Fridays. And there's also a place called the Bogota Beer Company, which brews their own beer and then has a bunch of bars where they serve it up. It has sort of a sports bar feel. They serve great pizza and have great beer. And we had actually already been to one with friends, so we found the closest one to our hostel and walked over. Got there five minutes before the game.

We were the only people in the place because it was Easter Sunday in like a 80 or 90 percent Catholic country, so no one's at the bar at like 2:30 except for two bartenders sitting there chatting. There's a TV with sports on, and Robin was like, because I'm still learning Spanish and she's got it handled, "Hey, is there any chance we can put on the American basketball?" And they were like, "Sure!" So they popped it on, we sat down at a table, ordered some good beer, and had the place to ourselves the entire time.

Is there a place in Chicago that you could compare it to?

Mike Swiryn: To me, it had the feel of a Colorado non-pretentious ski mountain bar. Dark. Nice wood. Good beer. Warm feel. And it sort of reminds me of a lot of the sports bars of Lincoln Park, but without 22-year-olds. Something like that.

What was the TV on when you got in there?

Mike Swiryn: Soccer. There was a bunch of important South American league games going on. Nobody cared about [the NCAAs], which was definitely emphasized by the fact that we were the only people in the bar. And we hadn't spoken to anybody who had any intention of watching any basketball at any point. But there's tons of discussion all the time about Colombia games, South American games. Colombia just lost a World Cup qualifier last week, and everybody's pretty crushed about it. That's what people are talking about.

Did the waiters have any idea of the implications of the game or what this league was or this tournament or anything?

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