Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

March Madness creates magical memories

Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010

My first exposure to the NCAA tournament took place at a Lenten dinner at church. While my parents doled out bowls of soup to parishioners, I was behind a curtain on the stage playing Nerf ball basketball.

One of the older kids was pretending to be Patrick Ewing and swatting all us little kids shots away.

I had no idea who Ewing was or where Georgetown was located. It was only years later that I had any appreciation of what Villanova accomplished that season.

The following year I fell in love with March Madness. Cleveland State had a young freshman named Mouse and shocked the world with its “Run and Stun” style under coach Kevin Mackey.

Unfortunately that was the year my parents decided to give up TV for Lent. I never got to watch the Sweet Sixteen game against Navy until STO reshowed it a few years ago.

My brother and I would shovel the driveway, cut the finge tips off our gloves and play basketball from the time school ended until my mom would turn off the backyard light and force us inside to go to bed.

Starting that season and for several years after, my brother and I would recreate the entire bracket. We had an old egg timer and would play the final minutes of each game.

It took forever to do this because more often than not the game would break down into fisticuffs and we would be forced into a mom’s timeout before we could sneak away to play some more.

One year we had it exactly right as in both the backyard and real life Indiana beat Syracuse with a buzzer beater. Other years schools like Wyoming or Austin Peay would be playing for “our” title.

The Monday after the Sunday Selection show used to be one of my favorite days. It was the one day of the year I would buy a USA Today and then several local papers.

Of course this was pre-Internet and I would pour through all the information I could find to fill out my brackets. I was always too heavy on upsets.

Every year I would have one or two shocking first round upsets right but I was too young to realize that Cinderellas may be beautiful on day one but the magic wears off by the time the Final Four rolls around.

Through all of high school and college I would strangely develop a cough on the first Thursday of the wtournament. It was my favorite day of the year. Watching basketball, cheering for underdogs and just enjoying the bliss that is March Madness.

After college I was a school teacher. In order to not miss any games, I would use the tournament as a learning tool. I would create a study guide and ask my grader schoolers questions.

If they got it right then they would get to pull a team from a hat. The winning team would earn some lucky student a prize. It gave me an excuse to have the games on in the background and kids would develop a new favorite team.

One year as athletic director we sold mugs with NFL, MLB, NBA and NCAA logos. My principal was surprised so many kids were buying out of state NCAA teams. I just smiled.

Another year I was on break and went to Daytona Beach. What I remember most is that while I was out in the sun on the beach, I missed watching Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew drain his famous buzzer beater.

Now I am older. The Internet allows you to discover almost too much information.

ESPN just overwhelms you with so many talking heads much of the joy drains out of you. There is little mystery left. I find myself picking more and more chalk every year. And getting less and less excited.

That is until the games start and some low seed starts hanging with a big dog and Gus Johnson begins babbling with excitement. And I get transported back to my backyard, my finger tips frozen standing on the line with the front end of one and one.