The year was 1992. Several rounds into the Ohio state high school basketball tournament, Springfield’s underdog Greenon Knights traveled to the University of Dayton to take on powerful Dayton Dunbar. Yours truly captained the cornpone Knights, while Dunbar was led by the otherworldly smooth Richard “TuTu” Brown.
Dunbar was an up-tempo, athletic squad, and common wisdom held that we would have to slow the game down to a crawl to have a shot at victory. As it went, we lost 91-84 in a barnburner that people (albeit terminally bored people in the Greater Dayton area) still talk about. One of my former teammates has trouble with his eyesight to this day from a detached retina he suffered via TuTu’s errant index finger at the end of the game. Whenever he updates me on his latest surgery or visual challenge, the conversation always devolves into a passionate dissection of what could have been.
No doubt, I’m a stereotypical ex-jock who still, in my mid-thirties, pines for the good old days. I’ve been a rabid sports guy since I was very young. I played sports in an above-average way, but I was also a geek—I memorized the backs of thousands of sportscards and pored over the statistical tomes of Bill James for hours on end. Given unbridled access to sports information enabled by the Internet and the iPhone, and the competitive (uh, financial) incentives of fantasy sports, I should love sports and devour related content more than ever.
However, these days I often find myself spiritually detached from the sporting world. The live fan experience is uniformly poor across professional sports. A recent sojourn to a Warriors/Nuggets match-up left me wondering how on Earth any family could afford or enjoy a night at the arena or ballpark. Companies, several of which I’ve been fortunate to work for, gobble up the best seats and boxes, leaving the typical fan to drop hundreds of dollars on stale food, uncomfortable seats in the stratosphere, and lines, lines everywhere. Sportswriters have the ability to engage eager readers day and night, yet instead of trenchant observations about the abilities of top athletes, I’m bombarded with endless asinine recounts of why Tiger’s a jerk and Lindsay’s a babe.
But, alas, it is March, the time of year when all disgruntled sports fans embark upon a ritual cleansing of their gripes and groans. Sport becomes pure each spring, coincident with the selection of 60+ institutions and their eager representatives who dive immediately into defense of their universities’ proud traditions. Goddamn, I love college basketball in March.
But I won’t pour my heart into a trite, lachrymose account of March Madness as exemplary sporting event, the last vestige of truly interesting competitive contests. There are many of those, including this fine one.
I was born in Iowa, and thanks to some hard-working lads from Cedar Falls, I’m damn proud to say so these days. On Sunday, while the University of Northern Iowa’s Koch brothers jubilantly soaked up their shining moment, several defeated Kansas Jayhawks wilted and shed tears. My female viewing companion asked in shock, “Are those guys crying?”
Of course they’re crying, I said. They actually give a shit—a huge shit—about what they’re doing. They love the sport they play and the institution they represent, and right or wrong, they have a singular focus on winning. When you don’t win, you cry, like I did in the locker room way back in 1992 when we lost to Dayton Dunbar.
I’m an Ohioan through and through, so I’ll naturally be pulling for Evan Turner and the Buckeyes from here on out. Enjoy the rest of the tourney, and go ahead and cry if the mood hits. No shame in it.