I fondly remember going with a couple friends to Buffalo Wild Wings on the Saturday of St. Patrick’s Day last year. This outing stands out for me because it epitomizes the spirit of the Madness. We were simultaneously watching three games when I realized the Indiana-Wichita State game was heading down to the wire. Over the next few minutes, the entire restaurant shifted its focus to this battle. When the Hoosiers made a game-winning layup for the 64-62 victory, my friend Ted briefly smack-talked me and some of the inebriated patrons made a beeline for the bathroom. Then, we immediately turned towards the invigorating Wisconsin-Vanderbilt clash. After all, the show must go on.
The tournament also creates a great opportunity for friends and family to bond through the shared experience of quality unscripted entertainment. If you have not filled out a bracket, it is not too late to try your luck and compete against your friends for pride or cash prizes. This often leads to smack talk, angst and laughter, emotions that guys rarely share in the span of two hours. A large group of buddies can take advantage of the Madness and watch the games at a Manhattan restaurant before a night of further shenanigans. If your parent or parents support a team, the tournament is also a great way to show solidarity with them and watch the games together. Sometimes, these are the most memorable tournament moments.
My mother rarely watches basketball, but you would not have known that in March of 2005. UCLA was playing Gonzaga in a primetime Sweet 16 matchup, and Adam Morrison’s heroics (the fact that I remember when Morrison was good makes me feel old) had the Bulldogs in front by seven with two minutes remaining. Despite the best efforts of future pros Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmar and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the Bruins were destined for defeat. My dad got home at this time and saw the disappointment on our faces. He decided to endure the ending, but only to offer consolation.
However, a funny thing happened those final two minutes: UCLA played some inspired basketball and Gonzaga choked. As the Bruins scored layups, Gonzaga missed several free throws. The game reached a crescendo when a Luc Richard layup with nine seconds left gave UCLA an improbable 73-72 lead, and Morrison missed a potential game-winning shot. The agony and ecstasy of the Madness were present in our living room that evening. As my family jumped for joy, I noticed Adam Morrison crying on national TV after the gut-wrenching loss, and I will never forget that image. My mother has never displayed such emotion for a sporting event before or since, but the tournament has a way of producing these “shining moments.”
People usually have to choose between quality and quantity, but the NCAA tournament gives its viewers the best of both worlds. With 32 games in 36 hours, there is no shortage of quantity. With the single-elimination format, each contest showcases the intensity, passion, hustle and determination seldom seen in professional sports. For sports fans wandering in the post-Super Bowl desert, March Madness represents the Promised Land.
Still, the tournament’s opening weekend has a broader influence as an American cultural phenomenon. In that sense, it’s like a one-weekend music festival with performances in locations throughout the nation. I plan on celebrating the sweet jams that define March Madness, and I hope you will join me. After all, it’s not really March without the Madness.