Giving it the new college try

March 23, 2006

I caught March Madness last week and didn’t even know it. It hit me when I ran into a friend at Wisey’s and asked him if he was excited about the basketball game.

“What basketball game?”

And then I realized it. Without even noticing, I had lost my usual perspective. For me, the heady combination of school spirit and sports had always been optional to the college experience, and maybe a little unnatural, like running for GUSA or trying for 99 days in the Tombs.

True, I was baptized at the Church of Boston, so I know what it is to love a sports team beyond all sense. Red Sox and Patriots games were the rhythm to my spring, summer and fall. But coming to D.C., those games were far away, and besides, I was literally too cool for school.

New Student Orientation was an opportunity to crack jokes about exuberant Orientation Advisors. Football games at Harbin field were an inconvenient Saturday morning alarm clock. The MCI center was a place to get a new phone. And blue and gray were colors, not an ideology. Saturdays were for work or going to see an obscure band or to a party, not watching the game. I thought I was too ironic for the old college try, and most of my friends felt the same way.

Then an e-mail went around at the magazine where I intern: $5 to get in on an NCAA tournament bracket. With office camaraderie in mind, I signed up, planning to outsource the bracket job to The Voice sports staff and stake my money on their expertise. But I forgot, and ended up filling the sheet out on the bus ride to work, demanding advice from a classmate and scribbling on my knee as the bus bounced downtown.

Nevada vs. Montana? Montana is “fool’s gold,” he counseled, pick Nevada. (Montana won. Thanks, Dan). UAB vs. Kentucky? UAB is “very dangerous,” pick them (they also lost). I thought Air Force might be plucky (they lost). Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison has a silly mustache? They’ll take the whole thing. And the Hoyas? The Hoyas are going to the final four.

Copy-editing at my desk on day one of the tournament, I checked the score. Then I checked it again. And again. And again. I had caught the bug.

Eventually, I gave up and went back to my apartment to watch the games with my basketball-knowledgeable roommates. I started off referring to lay-ups as subtlety dunks, but I learned real fast. What’s a trey? What’s a pick? A screen? And what is the deal with all these fouls? My God, it was thrilling—and almost all my picks were wrong.

The next day I watched Georgetown take apart Northern Iowa. Fully infected, I was screaming—at the TV, at my roommates, at the ref. Who is this madman? What had I become? Hoya Saxa, my life was awesome.

Over the course of that game and then Georgetown’s domination of Ohio State University, I developed a magical relationship with Roy Hibbert. I remembered Roy from NSO as the really, really tall kid. Now, I see him posting up in front of the bucket, taking balls out of the hands of opposing players, dropping another player with an elbow to the head—which clearly wasn’t a foul. I refer to Roy as “The Birdman.” I’m hoping it catches on.

Now, I’m living and dying by bracket permutations. I’m thinking of investing in face paint and one of those “Respect is Back, Fear is Next” t-shirts. Let’s talk about free throw percentages and team efficiency by possession. And Jesus God, is there any way to get a ticket to Minneapolis?

To think I almost went through Georgetown without picking up on this. Now I’m thinking about being an OA, or at least refraining from mocking them. It’s funny—for me, the price of sincerity was a $5 bet.

Now let’s trample Florida.

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