It's the time of year when a lot of people who have never watched a single game of college basketball fill out "expert" brackets, the work force suffers billions of dollars in productivity losses, and entire four-day weekends are spent watching commercials about fast food, life insurance and car rentals. Why do millions of Americans get wrapped up in this Madness?
I'm not sure when I first fell in love with the NCAA Division One Men's Basketball Tournament, but it probably was when I was still in elementary school. At that point, I didn't fill out a bracket, but I definitely picked sides: the team my older brother didn't choose. He loved Arizona, so of course I didn't. He went with the big name teams and I rooted for the small name teams. I believe we both hated Duke, which was a rare agreement.
During the day games, we would get so wound up our mom would practically throw us outside to expend our energy. Since the temperatures would be mild with very little snow on the ground, we would pump air into a basketball and re-enact our versions of the games we had just seen. Right around the base of the hoop would be a shallow pool of water leftover from the snowmelt. Either that or a goopy mess of mud. We would try to keep it dry as long as we could, but sooner rather than later, one of us would miss a shot. Splat. The dripping orange would pick up dirt and we would have to wash our hands after returning to the house. Then we would settle in to another round of choosing sides.
From those early years, I was infected with the Madness virus. It quickly spread and evolved in my system. I began to experience March in a different way. I would find myself cheering after each go-ahead three pointer, groaning after each missed free throw, and jumping up and down during the last two minutes of a close game. I don't know if my parents ever understood where I had picked up this curious malady. I would wake up like a normal human being and go about my morning like any other kid would. Then I would turn on the television, hear the NCAA theme song and Greg Gumbel's voice, and transform into a fanatic. I would be lost until the end of the day and the only cure was to go to bed.
The sickness has manifested itself in different ways throughout the years. For example, I am writing this column on a Microsoft Word document on my personal laptop and have it covering half of the screen. The other half of my screen is showing the Wichita State and Pittsburgh game on a live online stream. Moments earlier would have found me doing the same thing except with a television on in the background showing another game. You see, there is no escape. Once it has started, your only hope for survival is endurance. In high school and college, I would do the same thing except with my homework on the other half of the screen and not my work. Well, it's the same thing. In either case, the work doesn't get done.
In the unfortunate cases where I am removed from a television during the illness, I listen to the radio broadcasts. This can be particularly disabling when I am driving. Awareness is severely decreased when your favorite team is making a wild comeback, yet only has eight seconds left to win the game. Disregard for which driving lane you are in tends to occur when your team loses a heartbreaker and all you want to do is burn your bracket.
Sounds like the most wonderful time of the year, doesn't it? Black Friday has mobs ready to trample you in greedy mania and March Madness has mobs ready to trample you with fanaticism. The only difference is one is done in the name of school spirit. That must make some sort of difference, right? It does to me.
I love March Madness and I'm pretty sure I always will. I love the upsets, the Cinderella stories and the tales of redemption. The unpredictable nature of the sport is unequaled in all of college sports and is what will keep injecting the sickness into me every year.
The playoff system truly shows which team has what it takes to become a national champion. It's just the side effects that you have to learn how to deal with. For instance, if I get too involved with a game, I might never...