The Most Glorious Time Of The Year

14 Mar

“Cornell vs. Stanford…the most intelligent matchup in the history of March Madness”

-Email from Jeff, March 19, 2008

 

On the eve of the second March Madness tournament since Jeff’s death, I am coming to the realization that there will never again be a year when my anticipation of this great event will not be tinged with profound sadness.  That’s because, of all the many things that Jeff was passionate about and derived intense enjoyment from, March Madness was at the very top of the list.  It had no equal.  If Jeff was alive today and was employed, he’d be taking vacation days tomorrow and Friday to watch the first round, just as he did in 2010.  If he was in graduate school, he’d be skipping any classes that conflicted with the tournament games.  And for Jeff, it was all about the upsets…

As far as Jeff was concerned, if a given year’s tournament did not have what he considered to be a suitable number of upsets, it was a severe disappointment.  And he constructed his brackets that way, caring little if doing so would seriously diminish his chances of winning.  Consider this classic email exchange I had with him on March 17, 2007, the morning after he had called and awakened me in the middle of the night to tell me, as a prank, that number one seeded Florida had lost:

 

Dad > Jeff:  “Jeff, you are in 23rd place out of 23 in the Domershick pool !”

Jeff > Dad:  “Yes!  $10 coming my way!  Anyway, sorry for calling you late last night.  The alcohol combined with March Madness made me a little emotional.”

Dad > Jeff:  “I don’t mind you calling if Florida truly did lose, but when Brett just told me the truth, I was disappointed.  I thought we had a huge upset there.”

Jeff > Dad:  “Yea, I was just so frustrated—what a lack of upsets.  Two 11 seeds and three 9 seeds?  That’s it?  That’s ridiculous.” 

And so it was.  As I will share in a blog post later in the tourney, Jeff considered the 2007 March Madness tournament one of the worst ever due to its lack of significant upsets.  But every season brings with it the promise of new upsets, fantastic finishes and overall great basketball, and Jeff exuded that optimism in the days leading up to that year’s tournament.  And so to combat my March Sadness, I’d like to share Jeff’s article from his J.K. Rolling column in the March 14, 2007 edition of The Middlebury Campus.  I hope you can feel the passion and excitement that ooze from his words, in anticipation of the event that he and I both considered the greatest in all of sports.  You know that Jeff is raring to go when he uses the word “egregious”, as he did in the second paragraph below.  Enjoy the article: 

 

          It’s that time of year again, ladies and gentlemen. The most glorious time of the year, the time that causes employees to miss work and students to “forget” about their assignments. In the words of Dickie V, “It’s March Madness, Babyyyyyyy!!!!!”

          This year, the field is ripe with considerable talent. Florida looks poised to defend last year’s national title, UCLA appears ready to avenge last year’s championship defeat at the hands of the Gators (despite an ugly loss to California in the PAC-10 tournament), and Kansas has more than enough talent to advance deep into the tournament after egregious first-round losses the past two years. But in our constant obsession with the “favorites” – the teams that get all the hype and media adulation – let me present you with an idea: root for the underdogs.

          George Mason’s remarkable run to the Final Four in last year’s tournament was not only unprecedented, it was unbelievably exciting. It captivated the nation; for at least a few short weeks, the Colonials were the most talked-about team in America. George Mason’s run also served as a wake-up call to biased sports commentators like CBS’s Billy Packer who only consider traditional major programs worthy of getting any attention and at-large consideration to the field of 65. Yes, the small commuter college in our nation’s capital provided limitless hope to all mid-major schools that they could live the dream, that they could compete with the big boys.

          Rooting for the underdogs is a lot more fun than rooting for the favorites. It’s the whole idea of the little guy rising to the occasion and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to emerge victorious. Think back to some of the amazing upsets that have occurred in March Madness over the past few decades. In 1985, a Villanova squad seeded eighth in the tournament upended a heavily favored #1 Georgetown team featuring future NBA great Patrick Ewing in the NCAA championship game. Nobody thought Villanova would win. That’s what made its victory over Georgetown all the more exciting when it actually happened.

Fast forward 13 years. Who can forget Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beating three pointer in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament to upset a heavily favored Ole Miss team? After the shot, Valparaiso collapsed in a heap on the floor like little kids. The exhilaration – the sheer joy of the moment – was palpable. Let’s move forward to the 2005 tournament. Two first-round upsets will probably be talked about for years to come. Behind the clutch play by guard T.J. Sorrentine, 13th seeded Vermont defeated 4th seeded Syracuse in an overtime thriller. Perhaps even more exciting was 14th seeded Bucknell’s one-point victory over 3rd seeded Kansas. Here was a Kansas team that had national championship aspirations. No one could have imagined them losing in the first round to a small liberal arts school with no standout players…but it happened.

          My point: upsets are amazing. They provide excitement and unpredictability. Some people might say, “Oh, upsets just make the later rounds less exciting.” That’s fallacious. Who can say after George Mason’s run, including victories over UNC and top-ranked UConn, that the later rounds weren’t exciting? Upsets make the tournament that much better. So I’ll definitely be rooting for, and expecting, some big upsets in this year’s tournament. Hey, it’s called March Madness for a reason. 

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