Emerge from thy caves, sports fans. Hibernation is over!
Cue the French horns from the CBS “March Madness” theme. Love a good theme.
Take it from a guy who gets to talk about sports every day — the launch of the St. Patrick’s Day weekend/NCAA March Madness Thursday-Friday means that we, a sports-loving society, have finally emerged from our long winter of discontent, otherwise known as weeks of post-Super Bowl scuffling that feel like one big NHL All-Star Weekend.
(No offense to my NHL All-Stars out there. It’s just, you know…)
As I hunt-and-peck out this Jock Blog, I am watching Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s Gaels pull away from VCU to advance to the weekend — after which I will have my buffet choice of a close-ish Marquette/Vermont tilt, or the early stages of a potential-laden Creighton/NC State bout. Is it true that play-in Pitt is dusting Iowa State?
All of these games would normally mean nothing to you, the 49ers-obsessed NFL free agency fan; or you, the road-worried Warriors fan; or you, the still-dubious, but somehow-hopeful Giants fan.
But they do mean so much! It is truly the mark of March Madness’ magic that I can name virtually no one involved in the Furman basketball program, yet was going Paladin-sane (I’ll trademark that) when the scrappy school from Greenville, South Carolina stole a pass, drained a 3 and knocked out ACC power Virginia.
Why does this phenomenon occur? Why do seemingly sane people corner others at the workplace to discuss Drake’s chances of upsetting Miami?
Part of it is the nature of the format; single-elimination is inherently life-or-death, and life-or-death is good box office. Part of it is sheer volume; on the Thursday and Friday, we get 32 games, for the love of whip around coverage. Part of it is the memories of college for most of us; particularly if your alma mater is involved, there is an unquantifiable emotional pull that makes you young again. Part of it is filling out brackets, of course; like fantasy football fueling the NFL, anything that can make you into a part-time gambler juices some kind of adrenaline gland into all of us.
I was at Golden One Center on Thursday night for the UCLA-UNC Asheville game, and despite a fairly arduous rush-hour commute from the Bay, and a later-than-ideal bedtime upon return for this gray-haired morning host, I’d do it again 1,000 times out of 1,000, just for the feel and energy and the cowbell player from UNC Asheville.
That’s right. I was checking out the tiny little UNC Asheville band and was taken by the stout cowbell player who banged that bell with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. It’s a long trip from Asheville to Sacramento, made even longer when your team loses by 33 in the first round and you have to turn around and fly back to Asheville.
But the band played on, and the cowbell dude rocked it. I filmed him and sent it to the boys from the morning show. Paulie Mac, as you might imagine, was quite taken with the verve with which my cowbell bro worked. March cowbell madness, indeed.
Meanwhile, I wore my custom Jaime Jaquez, Jr tee shirt — ordered from JJJ’s web site, don’t you know. And yes, I’m a grown man with a wife, two kids, two dogs and a mortgage. When Jaquez made one of his many steals and buckets, I’d show off the tee — and made pals with an early-20s student in the neighboring section who would stroke his fake JJJ goatee in celebration.
Northwestern fans in purple sat nearby, sated by their big win over Boise State prior to the UCLA game. Princeton fans in black and orange still hung out from their stunner earlier in the day. I didn’t see many Arizona fans still loitering after their disastrous flame-out, but hey, sometimes March Madness comes with a huge dollop of pain. I get it. Been there, done that.
My first March Madness was 1989 at Atlanta’s Omni. I was a senior at UCLA and the Daily Bruin flew me and my pal Tom Sullivan to the South Regional to see the Bruins beat Iowa State, then lose to North Carolina. We adopted South Alabama’s backcourt, nicknamed “Peanut Butter and Jelly”, as they upset rival Alabama. We still get a kick out of it. Six years later, I was at the Kingdome in Seattle, losing my mind when UCLA won the national championship, first beating Oklahoma State in the Final Four and then Arkansas in the championship. I bought my finals tickets from some friendly Oklahomans after the Saturday Final Four. Ten years later, I was in Indianapolis at a TGI Friday’s bonding with fans from LSU, George Mason and Florida.
No one was angry, even if their school lost. There was a festivity to it all, an appreciation for the drama and the fallible young players and the memories we’d keep forever. We all felt spring in the air. One shining moment, all that. You know the deal.
So, emerge from thy caves. Baseball starts soon. The Masters is on the horizon. School will be out before long. We’re starting to roll now, kids. March Madness leads the way.