Southington couple wins trip to Final Four

Sitting in their car outside a laundromat in the middle of February, Michael and Mary Smith of Southington were listening to the radio when an advertisement came on that piqued their interest.

The advertisement featured the AT&T Final Four Sweepstakes, which included a four-day, five-night all-expenses paid trip to Dallas to watch the national semifinal and final games of the NCAA Tournament. Michael, 35, followed the instructions on how to enter the contest by texting the word “four” to a certain number.

About one month after that day, the married couple received a surprise phone call.

“I put it out of my mind,” said Michael, a taxi driver. “Then (on March 19), they called me and asked me if I was the one who took sent the text in, and I said, ‘Yes I did.’ And they said, ‘Congratulations! You’re the grand-prize winner.’ “

The Smiths won a trip of a lifetime, as they flew to Dallas on Thursday and will be present at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, tonight and on Monday for the semifinal and final games. They were chosen out of a nationwide contest that included 1,400 applicants from Ohio alone.

This marks the farthest from the area either Michael or Mary, 32, have ever been. Both have been to Tennessee, with Michael having lived in Nashville, Tenn., for a short time in the late 1990s, but Mary, an employee at the Walmart in Middlefield, hadn’t stepped onto a airplane before Thursday.

“I’ve never been to anything like this, and I know my wife hasn’t,” Michael said. “We don’t travel very much. We don’t like to stay at home, but we love this area. We like to be around this area. I haven’t been anywhere other than Ohio or Pennsylvania for years.”

The Smiths, who will be celebrating their second wedding anniversary this summer, will be staying at a five-star hotel in Dallas during their trip, and the benefits package gets even better. They will also have VIP access to pre-game cookouts and to Bracket Town, a fan-fest that will be outside the stadium. Bracket Town has autograph sessions with coaches and ex-players, the opportunity to watch a pep rallies involving all four schools’ bands and cheerleaders and other events over four days.

“While I’m down there, I’m looking forward to going to Bracket Town and going to the games – and the nicer weather,” Mary said.

Michael, meanwhile, is looking forward to seeing AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys since 2009 that has a seating capacity of 80,000. Although he saw Ohio State play in the first two rounds of the 1999 NCAA Tournament in Nashville, this will be a different atmosphere for him.

“I have a friend I know who has been there a couple of times, and he literally told me it’s a monstrosity,” Michael said. “It’s the biggest sports cathedral you’ve ever been at. So, I’m excited to see that.”

Although this trip is for the both of them, it seems even more special for Mary, who celebrated her birthday this past Tuesday. Michael had no problem pointing out this coincidence when they confirmed the trip more than two weeks ago.

“As soon as we confirmed everything on the trip, I just looked at her and said, ‘There you go – Happy Birthday!’ ” Michael said. “She smiled at me because I usually get her something for her birthday, but a trip to the Final Four, that’s something new.”

Considering what they will experience this weekend, Michael will have a hard time topping this birthday present in the future.