Fred Farris woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday morning. His excitement got the best of him.
The 76-year-old wanted to wake up at 3 a.m., but he knew he needed some extra sleep for the day ahead. Eight hours still remained before IU men’s basketball took on No. 11 Ohio State.
Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was only a mile drive from his room at the Biddle Hotel, and he already visited the day prior, but this time was going to be different. He’s watched countless games from his home in Leesburg, Florida, and always dreamed of making his way to Assembly Hall.
Fred lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, until he was 17 and has been an IU fan for 65 years. But he never thought it was possible to visit Assembly Hall. He lived over 900 miles away and was only getting older.
That was until his daughter, Michele Reed, and her husband Robert, decided to get him a special Christmas gift this year.
Robert came home after playing golf with Fred one day and told Michele they needed to purchase him tickets to an IU game. Fred had never attended a collegiate basketball game before, let alone one played by his favorite team.
Ohio State was an easy choice because it was on the weekend, and Fred and his wife, Marlene, were both from Ohio. Since Fred and Marlene decided to spend Christmas in Ohio, the gifts between them and Michele were exchanged a week early.
“It was exciting,” Michele said. “We had the tickets for a while. It was hard to keep a secret.”
Everyone else had already opened their gifts, but Michele had one final present for her father. She handed him a white envelope with a red bow on top. He didn’t know what to expect. His best guess was that it would be a gift card to Bass Pro Shops.
It took him a moment to understand what was in his hands.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Fred said. “I saw IU and red, but I’m looking at this ticket, and it’s just not going in. I kept looking and looking, and I couldn’t figure it out. Then it dawned on me what it was.”
It hit him all at once. Fred teared up as he read the words on the paper. He told his wife for years that he wanted to make it up to Bloomington someday. He now received that opportunity.
“I never in my life would have dreamed of anything like that,” Fred said. “It came so far out in left field that it just got me.”
Michele took a video of her father opening up the tickets originally to share with just her family and close friends. After she posted it on Facebook, her children mentioned she should publish it on Twitter and tag IU affiliated accounts. Michele decided to post the video Jan. 8 on Twitter.
IU Athletics saw the video and reached out to her. The men’s basketball account retweeted it and the primary IU Hoosiers account republished it. The original video and shared post have thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets.
Michele didn’t share the news with Fred of him going viral until they got on the plane to Bloomington.
“I didn’t want to tell him too early because I knew the excitement could’ve been too much,” Michele said. “I wanted to make sure he slept at night.”
When Fred arrived at Assembly Hall on Saturday with Michele, he could barely believe what he was seeing. He wanted the team to win but he more so wanted to see all the history within the walls. Fred didn't know where to go first, but it didn't take long for him to enter the door on the north entrance that led to the court.
Fred made his way down alongside the wooden bleachers. He took his time and glanced at every small detail. It was a moment he didn’t want to let go of.
“It’s unbelievable,” Fred said.
As he finally made it down to the bottom of the stairs on to the court level, he turned around and took it all in. Fred never believed he would see the five national championship banners in person.
“This’ll probably be the last time I’ll be here, and I want to make sure I do everything and see everything I can," Fred said.
He walked around the court and watched the players warm up. He pointed out the different IU players he had watched all season on his TV.
IU Athletics also upgraded their seats. Instead of sitting 35 rows up, they were two rows from the middle of the court in the red chairs.
When Fred first received his tickets, he told everyone he could to watch for him on TV. He said he’d try to wave at them. Right before the game, IU gave them a special shout out on the Jumbotron by showing the viral video of him receiving his gift, followed by a live shot of them in their seats.
The crowd cheered and Fred waved to everyone. He's not used to being around a lot of IU fans at once. Living in Florida, he doesn’t really have anyone to talk IU basketball with. In that moment, he was surrounded by thousands of others who share his same love of IU.
Fred took pictures of everything he could. The day wasn’t one he ever wanted to end. He planned to frame as many photos as he could and hang them in his den next to his other sports memorabilia.
He hasn’t lived in Indiana for a long time, but the distance hasn’t changed his love for the program. Fred has been a Hoosier for as long as he’s remembered, and that won’t ever change.
“It’s just in me.”
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