NCAA Tournament: 8 Rows Up From the Madness, Part I

Posted: March 20, 2012 in Sports
Tags: , , , , , , ,

When I came home on Friday I could tell that something was slightly amiss.  My wife was excited.  She’d told me, while I was grinding through a Friday that seemed determined to take the rest of my life, that she had a surprise and I could see that she was ready to go somewhere.  It was the second day of the NCAA College Basketball tournament and I thought that, perhaps, she had decided we could hit up a sports bar.

Immerse ourselves in the “atmosphere” that is so beautifully thick during The Tourney.  It sort of hovers over sports fans this time of year, a hazy afterglow tailing them wherever they go.  I was fully prepared to revel in this glow, quaffing beers and cheering on the upset-minded teams.

Then she handed me an envelope.

The excitement started to bubble within me, a hissing giddy cauldron, and I opened the envelope.  Glinting in the pale spring sunlight, beautifully crisp, beautifully gleaming pair of tickets.  Willy Wonka can keep his damn golden tickets (*Author’s note: and he can keep his creepy, midget-y orange indentured servants, too.) because I had what I wanted.  I was going dancing.

NCAA March Madness.

When the tournament rolls around I am always salivating at the chance to immerse myself into the sport.  To be honest, outside of watching the Huskers play, I don’t watch college basketball all that much during the regular season.  But, come March, I’m not only on the bandwagon.  You can usually find me at the wheel of the bus, recklessly piloting the bandwagon with all the gusto and insanity of Sandra Bullock in Speed.

I fill out an inevitably horrendous bracket, watch basketball until my eyes begin to glaze into full-on stupor, and devour all the commentary and hyperbole that the tournament has become.  I love it.

So when my wife presented me the tickets (*Author’s note: as it turned out, her mom had purchased the tickets for us.  And to think, some people cringe when their mother-in-law’s name is mentioned.) I grabbed them and held them triumphantly aloft.  I could’ve sworn somewhere “The Circle of Life” was playing.  We leapt into our car and headed down to the CentuQwest Center. (*Author’s note: Qwest Center/Centurylink/Whatthehellisthatplacecallednow?)

Due to the late start we arrived part way into the first half of the Purdue V.S. St. Mary’s game.  I was excited to watch a Big Ten school play, catch Robbie Hummel in action, and to see a Saint Mary’s team that is usually good and definitely never on TV here before 11 P.M. when they occasionally sneak in on ESPN2.

Our seats were approximately 8 rows up off the floor behind one of the baskets.  I had never sat this close for a basketball game and not been crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with college kids sweating vodka and cheering wildly.  We sat down, immediately engrossed by the action, and I referenced the bad-assness of our seats for what would be the first of 1,589 times in the next 5 hours.

It was a strange atmosphere at the arena.  People who, on the whole, had little rooting interest in either team but were just along for the ride were all around us.  Sure they were excited to watch the game but they were, by and large, sporting either Creighton gear or Kansas colors (the second game was KU V.S. Detroit). 

Here I was, a mercenary surrounded by mercenaries.  Rooting for “the game to be close” and trying to decide who I wanted to win.  It was a fascinating dynamic that would soon change once the heavily-followed Jayhawks took the court.

Throughout both games, the crowd turned out to be a completely interesting and fascinating experience.

A guy sitting a row up from me immediately tried to impress me with his blinding witticisms, by butting uninvited into my conversation with my wife.  He blurted out something about his vast knowledge of the game and I tried to smile, which ended up smearing across my face like a strangled grimace, and then the game mercifully interjected and he had to whip his Just For Men Gel-led head back towards the court.

From a few seats back a drunk Kansas fan who looked like a younger Judd Apatow was determined to taunt the non-existent Missouri fans in the building.  He was shouting out slurred taunts. 

(*Author’s note: 3 quick excerpts from the Apatow look-a-like’s book on heckling:

“Hey refffffghg!  Why can’t you groww any hairr?  Huh!?!” 
“I hate you ref, I hate you!” 
“Heyghghgh Missouri fans?  Why aren’t you cheerin!?!?!”)

His biggest fan was Mr. Midlife Crisis sitting in front of us texting on a phone so obnoxiously small that all I could think about was this:

Normally, these two blowhards blowing hard would’ve annoyed me.  Not at the NCAA Tournament.  It was all love, baby.  In fact, they sort of blended into the background like an awesomely bad comedy show playing in your picture-in-picture while watching hoops.

The first game was tremendous.  St. Mary’s was unable to stop the quickness of Purdue’s guards — turns out, the Boilermakers barely even needed Hummel — and St. Mary’s seemed to be out of the running for a while.  Slowly but surely they chipped away at the lead.  With about 5 minutes to play 2 things had become abundantly clear to us:

1.  St. Mary’s had kept it close enough that they now had a chance to go for Purdue’s jugular.  It’s what The Tourney is all about.  It’s about a crowd of people with no true rooting allegiance to either team suddenly inhaling as one in palpable preparation for what they hope is about to unfurl before them; about being able to sense that fiery, passionate will to keep clawing away until the end that goes from simmer to boil under the flames of March.

2.  St. Mary’s may have been named after a saint, but their entire dance team seemed to be an organization wholly intent on exploding any holy imagery that their school name might invoke.  The girls, who changed outfits 3 times from semi-dirty, to skanky, to skeezy, came out on the court several times during breaks to dance in their volleyball shorts and tight tees. 

The dancers had 2 tiers of go-to moves.

Tier one consisted of 3 go-to moves: I) flinging their hair around like they were onstage at a Poison concert in 1987 II) Slowly shaking their asses III) Shaking their asses faster.

Tier two consisted of 2 more go-to moves: I) Walking onto the court II) Shaking their asses.

All Saint Mary’s dance-moves aside, the game was incredible.  It came down to the wire and St. Mary’s ended up blowing the game.  My own personal theory on why he inexplicably moved after the ref handed him the ball for an inbounds and incurred a traveling violation, that he was distracted by all the wagging butts at his end of the court, may or may not have been the actual reason for the mental breakdown.  Purdue was able to win in thrilling fashion.

To Be Continued. . .

  1. Sue Tolles says:

    you have such a way with words

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