Saturday, March 21, 2009


Maybe it was because St. Patrick’s Day was on Tuesday, and everyone in the country spent Wednesday hungover. Or perhaps it was due to the national shock of watching the sitting President of the United States fill out a bracket on a live web feed. But for whatever reason, it seemed that March Madness this year got off to a slower start than in years past. Or maybe it was just that I did, after three years of planting myself in an  outdoor sports bar at 10am on a Thursday morning (one of the decided fringe benefits of having a working writer’s schedule). 

The early games started off with a bang. A confirmed collective gasp went out across the country when the Cal State Northridge Matadors played the Memphis Tigers to a 2 point match late on Thursday morning. The damage to brackets across the country would’ve been nearly impossible to calculate. Luckily, and I say that with all irony, Memphis pulled out the win. And that is the colossal paradox of March Madness, the greatest sporting event in this country, second only to the World Cup internationally. When the impossible seems possible, we should find ourselves cheering wildly. Instead, we accept the easy outcome in advance, then worry that an upset of the status quo will ruin our grand predictions. Truly the only way, in a Zen view of things, to watch the tournament is without a bracket and without a team. But that would be unthinkable.

In reality, to watch the tournament without a team is to watch the world from the perspective of the Dalai Lama, process without attachment. It must be a beautifully serene, joyful experience, but lacking passion. I went to North Carolina, and therefore the tournament is a yearly rite of passage, a time of reckoning and potential, as organic and regular as ancient agriculture. North Carolina had a #1 seed this year and a relatively good draw, so the first round gave me plenty of time to worry over other picks. I have Michigan going far, and they sustained my faith with an win upset win over Clemson. VCU failed to pull the upset everyone predicted, and Western Kentucky pulled the upset everyone considered and picked against. The first day had drama but no shocks. Many of the 7-10 and 8-9 brackets held true to form. There’s almost nothing in the tournament worse than the feeling of rooting for a team you dislike (or hate) because you picked them intellectually, only to watch them lose for you. Such a situation fell to me this morning when Tennessee (my home state, but not MY state university) lost to Oklahoma State. I have Duke making it to the Elite Eight, but if they lose along the way, it's one time I won’t be disappointed.

I took a lot of hits today. When I looked at my bracket ex post facto it seemed to suggest that I picked far more upsets on Day 2 (conjecturally feasible though they might have been) than on Day 1. This upholds a logic I find personally depressing. Despite its reputation for wild finishes and legendary upsets, the NCAA Tournament usually holds true to form. 

But tonight, in the best round of the evening, the impossible—or really just the wonderful—managed to happen. And it proved this is the best weekend of the year. With four games to go and our brackets already disasters, my buddy Finneus and I made a casual side wager on Ohio State-Siena. It was a classic 8-9 match-up. He had Ohio State; I had Siena. For the first twenty minutes I had never seen a sloppier, more hilariously entertaining game of basketball in my life. It was like the Apple Dumplng Game, The Harlem Globetrotters, The Bad News Bears and the Flint Tropics all joined forces and split themselves in two. Layups rolled off the iron, dunks flew backwards, were stuffed back and denied. Jump shots clanked wide and copious passes were stolen. I told Finneus, I want a DVD of this game to watch stoned forever. 

But then it got good. All we were playing for was five dollars and the glory of having a side to cheer on. Our joy spread across the bar, and it seemed everyone had chosen Siena or Ohio State, for no apparent damn reason. The bartender gave us fresh rounds on the house with each dramatic basket, as the game wore on through a tense final 2, to a last minute 3-pointer by Ronald Moore, to OVERTIME… All the while the camera focused on the wheelchair-bound father of Siena star player Kenny Hasbrouck, as Siena missed jumper after jumper… And then another huge 3 by Moore when defeat was all but certain. And then DOUBLE OVERTIME! When it was all over Siena had the victory and a date with Louisville, who will steamroll them so badly they’ll feel like they’ve been sodomized. But tonight they’re victors. Tonight, Ronald Moore is a hometown sensation in Consoshocken, PA. Tonight, Ryan Rossiter, #22, the snow white, gangly, buck-toothed center we called Chess Team, is getting laid. 

And it’s glorious. And it’s the Reason We Watch. So tomorrow I’ll cheer on my Tarheels against LSU and the drama will begin again. But tonight I picked Siena. D’yall hear that? I’m a champion. I picked fucking Siena… 

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