A LIFE TIME OF MARCH MADNESS...
by Jason Minear
March 11, 2012
March Madness is arguably the best sporting event each year. For me starting in college, the bracket pool and watching the tournament was one of the most anticipated times of the year – for some of us greater than Rush Week or even Spring Break. As I got older and as someone who worked in an office of a large company for more than 20 years, March Madness was absolutely one of the best times of the year and one of the most unifying events for the company.
As a kid, I always enjoyed the tournament with my earliest memories dating back to that undefeated Indiana team of 1976, that maybe…just maybe… will be joined by this year’s Kentucky team.
Magic vs Bird, Bird vs Magic: Could there by a greater inciting incident for the entire history of basketball then what developed in the 1979 NCAA finals?
The “Mike” Jordan (wearing Converse) bank shot vs. Georgetown and subsequent errant Freddie Brown pass to James Worthy to end the game - Who knew what was to come?
The 1983 NC State run which I appreciate now more than ever, having coached, because of the coaching by Jimmy V and the sense of comradery and oneness that all teams strive for. What basketball fan hasn’t been touched by this moment?
And then there was spring break of my senior year of high school, where my oldest brother Billy and I drove from Pennsylvania to Florida to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in his beat up Cutlass Supreme.
The three top memories from that trip were me slamming on the breaks at an intersection in Virginia as I cruised through a red light only to see every item we packed move from the back seat to the front and the car stall completely in the middle of the intersection. Traffic was stopped for five minutes. Being an invincible 17 year old asshole, I just sat there and laughed. Despite being an avid tanner, I got a little too much sun on day one (karma for stopping traffic) and was introduced to cucumbers for sunburned eyes.
And lastly, Villanova plays as close to perfect as possible and knocks off the evil empire of Georgetown.
And then came college….and the bracket pool.
There is so much anticipation with “your picks” and “Who did you take”? or more accurately in Western PA vernacular “Who you taking?”. Your picks, were then and always will be, a prize possession on par with the Ark of the Covenant.
And nothing gave me more joy in my freshman year than to see my trash talking roommate Mick from Aliquippa lose his number one pick Illinois in the very first game of the tournament. After days of hearing “You’re going down Minear”, we all had taken off the afternoon from classes to watch games on the big screen in the student center. Final Score: Austin Peay 68-Illinois 67. Mick’s bracket – with Illinois being picked as the champ – was destroyed, much like his soul for the duration of the tournament. Two hours into the madness and it was over. “Go Peay” (say it out loud people), I’m sure echoed in his ears hauntingly for years to come.
Does it get any better than having the bracket go down to the very last shot between roommates? It did in my sophomore year as we held our breath when Keith Smart put the dagger in the heart of the Orange faithful and Chris Novak. Congrats Gary Glynn on your bracket supremacy that year. Both were resident advisors leading by example.
Mick saw redemption by our junior year. Following his gut (often stuffed with Little Caesar’s pizza by the way), he took Kansas with Danny and the Miracles to end up in the money. I never heard someone that could work the phrase Rock Chalk Jayhawk into a conversation as much as Mick.
Senior year saw us move off campus. And without the support and frenzy of the entire dorm the turnout was low for that year’s pool.
Upon graduation, the pools became slightly more difficult to come by, but it was in 1993 when I reached the pinnacle of the bracket. I was scheduled to work late that night. It’s been the only game I missed on TV, but as I heard over the radio of a Chris Weber timeout and some Donald Williams foul shots later. I was $500 richer and “my system” had finally paid off.
“My system” was simple. Pick the higher seeds the entire way through. That’s right – it takes about 2 minutes to complete, and then go with your gut in the final four. However, always pick 9 over 8 in the first round. I was always around the money year after year, sometimes picking up a 3rd or 4th place spot along the line.
It was also at the beginning of my tenure with a Pittsburgh company that went through incredible growth over the next 20+ years…..which meant more employees…which meant a bigger pool of course.
Each year, Wayne from the mailroom became a guru of sorts. A fast talking sports savant from the North Side, he was outstanding at organizing and administrating the bracket pool. $10 to enter and payouts for the top 5 spots. And you had to have your picks in by Wednesday because Wayne also took off Thursday and Friday to watch the opening round.
It was one of the most cohesive times for the company each year where people from all departments united in a Fight Club like support of the pool.
After the first round, the list circulated with the scores and rankings for participants. Oh Shit. Am I really losing to Debbie from the IT department?
You knew most of the names on the ranking list, and it made for great elevator talk with a simple nod and a “How’s your pool?” Now I’m sure there was something against interoffice gambling but the Fight Club like acceptance of the pool from the mailroom to upper management to even the human resource department truly created a sense of community.
The rankings list itself had its own mystique. Delivered face down on your chair each Monday morning. I would review the list with the acumen of a Vegas card counter and immediately knew my remaining odds for success…or so I convinced myself.
And there were always people that had multiple entries (Dan Lewis1, Dan Lewis2, Dan Lewis3). And there were also the names that you didn’t recognize year after year near the top of the list like they were some kind of ringer.
Things evolved over the years. 2001 introduced the “play in” game – what the fuck was that? Game feeds on your computer only to be blocked by the IT department. To game feeds on your smart phone…well played, technology. Zero work gets done during the afternoon and a strategic late lunch at a place with a TV was just enough to wet the appetite for those of us that had to work. I also felt a certain sense of pride years later as I helped my son complete his first bracket pool. Oh…and don’t forget the tiebreaker!
And each year had Pitt. Yes Pitt, the crusher of our bracket dreams, and the albatross around the neck of every Western PA basketball fan. Damn you Barry Goheen! Damn you Scottie Reynolds!
…and can we please bring back Big East basketball with all the teams from its heyday. College basketball needs the Big East! – RANT OVER.
So enjoy the tournament and enjoy your bracket! From the first upset…to the first buzzer beater…to the run of the Cinderella…to some mid-size major success (can someone say Northern Iowa?)....from the Calipari’s to the Pitino’s to the Self’s to the Bennett’s to Coach K (don’t write off Larry Brown at SMU!)….to Kentucky being the first team since 76 to go undefeated….to the last note of One Shining Moment (can we have a Bruno Mars version of this? Please. Thank you).
We know all the pieces, but it is so refreshingly new every year. Enjoy!
Editor's Note: The shot! Indiana vs. Syracuse. 1987. National Championship. SuperDome. Syracuse was worried about Steve Alford getting the last shot, but it was Keith Smart who was the star in the second half, scoring 17 points. He was a leaping sensation, but he wasn't THE STAR until he hit the final shot. "Smart had made another bad decision on the court, made another bad pass. Bobby Knight, the explosive and hot-tempered Indiana University basketball coach, had already warned Smart once about making another mistake. He told him one more mistake and he's gone. Didn't matter that it was the NCAA championship."