The voyage of Mini: one fan’s story

Cailin Brophy

Mario Birardi has two passions in life: basketball and cars. It is his love of both which has brought him to Norman, Okla. in the midst of March Madness. Making the 1,400 mile trek from his hometown of Bensalem, Pa., Birardi and his ‘Nova blue Mini Cooper have quickly become the number one fans of Villanova women’s basketball during their run through the NCAA tournament.

Ironically enough, Birardi had his first encounter with the Wildcats as an opposing fan.

“I saw highlights of [Connecticut women’s basketball] on TV and was fascinated with them,” Birardi said. “Their style of basketball is similar to the way men used to play, when basketball was more of an art form.”

Once Birardi was hooked, he bought tickets to see the Huskies do battle with Villanova. Although UConn would defeat Villanova and add yet another win to its belt that day, the Wildcats gained something which would prove to be perhaps even more valuable.

“I watched [Villanova] and said, ‘Wow! I really like this team and the way they play basketball,'” Birardi said. “They just play with so much heart.”

From then on, Birardi and his wife Kathy attended the remainder of the ‘Cats’ home games. Birardi’s new Mini, which he purchased as a result of a life-long obsession with sports cars, became his companion on the road, where he made trips as far as Virginia Tech and West Virginia to watch ‘Nova play. Throughout his travels, Birardi forged a friendship with Tony and Carol Rediger, parents of sophomore center Jana Rediger, whom he sat next to at games.

After attending a few games, Birardi was disappointed at the lack of fan support shown to one of the best Villanova teams in recent memory.

“I can’t stand when people don’t support their school,” he said.

Thus Birardi began a “mini” crusade of his own, with his Cooper as his ally. A veteran of the graphics and decal business, Birardi decorated his tiny car from bumper to bumper with stick-on signs applauding ‘Nova’s amazing season, including decals to commemorate the ‘Cats’ Big East Championship, their destruction of UConn’s 70-game win streak and their third-straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.

“I got a little carried away,” Birardi admits of his decorative efforts.

Birardi and his Cooper have been on “recruiting trips” throughout campus before games in an attempt to garner more fan support. So far, Birardi and his Mini have brought nothing but good luck for the Wildcats, who are undefeated when the Mini is in the parking lot.

The dynamic duo will be on the road again when the Wildcats square off against Colorado in the Sweet 16 in Knoxville, Tn. And they will be sure to travel to Atlanta, Ga., with the team, if Villanova were to reach the Final Four.