SAN ANTONIO -- The Alamodome has become a house of the holy, and a 98-year-old nun seems to have already won the NCAA Tournament.
Arguably the biggest media event in America took place Friday morning at the Alamodome: Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt's press conference. In the bowels of the dome, at media breakout room No. 3, the Loyola-Chicago team chaplain held court for nearly 20 minutes as she took questions about the Final Four, her faith and her thoughts on the spectacle that she has become.
"Even in the morning, I wake up and I say, 'Is this real or is it a dream?' and I say, 'No, it's really for real,'" she said.
Sister Jean's press conference was packed to capacity. More than 50 television cameras and 150 members of the media squeezed into the room. It was unlike anything I've ever covered.
At one point, Loyola-Chicago senior Clayton Custer was in a golf cart, slowing past the media room. He started laughing when he realized the room was packed to the gills for Sister Jean.
Inside, she took it all in stride and tried to put into words how dreamlike all of this has been.
"This is the most fun I've had in my life," Sister Jean said.
Imagine getting to 98 and saying -- and experiencing -- such a thing. Sister Jean has gone global. She's been team chaplain for Loyola-Chicago for decades, but the Ramblers' run to the Final Four -- where they face Michigan on Saturday -- has brought about a story the likes of which we've never seen in sports.
With this, she's also veering into some additionally commentary. She was asked if God was a basketball fan. She used the question to stump for college hoops over the pros.
"He probably is," she said. "And he's probably more of a basketball fan of the NCAA than the NBA. I'll wager that your viewer audience is very large this time and that if you compare it to the NBA when they're playing, it will be different. And I say that because these young people are playing with their hearts and not for any financial assistance."
She handed out life advice to all in attendance.
"You're great people," she said. "Don't let anyone put you down at any time."
In this year of college basketball's FBI cloud, the NCAA could ask for no better antidote than having a charming nonagenarian woman of the clergy come along and take over one of the biggest events in sports. This is a special Final Four not just because of Loyola-Chicago's inclusion, but the international attention that's come with it.
The sport and, yes, the NCAA have been given a PR gift with this cheery nun in a wheelchair. It's easy to find room for cynicism given the horde that has glommed onto the Sister Jean story, but it's hard to justify dismissing the woman herself. And amid all of the Sister Jean frenzy, it's key to remember that this doesn't happen unless Porter Moser's Ramblers win four games, and make history in the process.
This tournament's got a surreal -- if not divine -- feel to it.
'Worship, work and win," Sister Jean said. "And so you need to do all those things. God always hears but maybe He thinks it's better for us to do the 'L' instead of the 'W,' and we have to accept that."