April 2, 2003

The Birth of a Sports Fan

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I went home this spring break, looking forward to a socially deprived week of sleeping and television watching. Having spent the past month mired in athletic events and results, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t even touch sports — but I had forgotten about March Madness.

Of course, once March Madness hit, I forgot about everything else. Eating, sleeping, and even hygiene went by the wayside as I sunk further and further into my family room couch. I was hypnotized by the games, the skill and even the lack thereof. Even worse, watching teams like Penn and Central New York-rival Syracuse made me jealous. After all, I would probably never be able to cheer for my school in the rounds of 64 or 32.

This year, the tournament’s real beauty was captured in its unpredictability. Anyone who has filled out a tournament bracket can agree with that, including yours truly (I picked Kentucky to beat Syracuse in the final game — ha — what a mistake). Still, while teams like Butler and Marquette may be a boon to brackets everywhere, they are a blessing in disguise, providing unbelievable games which most can only dream about. Admittedly, I have and will continue to cheer for the underdog, simply because there is something about seeing an upset.

Still, David doesn’t necessarily need to slay Goliath in order to provide an exciting event. Case-in-point, the most thrilling tournament game to date came with the double-OT defeat of an old friend.

Gonzaga, the bracket-busting Cinderella team from Washington, was back in action this March against No. 1 seeded Arizona. The game was amazing, with several players from each team trying to play the role of the last-minute hero. It was to no avail, however, as free throws and missed baskets sent the game to one overtime, and then another. At the time, I wished I could have been there to see it happen.

My reverie soon ended, as somewhere in this ten-minute stretch, my six-year old cousin posed an interesting and impossible question:

“Who do we want to win?”

Try as I might, I wasn’t able to answer him. My dad, who was also watching the game, didn’t answer him, either. We couldn’t answer him, and somehow he couldn’t ask again. As the game wore on, my cousin grew to appreciate the beauty that was unfolding before us.

So there the three of us were, sitting spellbound for the next nine minutes and 59 seconds. The truthful answer was that none of us really wanted either team to win. Instead, we prayed for another tying basket so that the grand exhibition could continue.

We watched in amazement and marveled more and more with every made layup and free throw. While typically one wishes for a game to be over, to savor the win, we just wanted to stay in that moment forever — a man, a boy, and a child.

It didn’t happen, though. Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire hit a floater with two minutes remaining in the second overtime. From there, Arizona’s luck held out, as the Zags missed an open-three pointer, and then a five-foot follow-up. The buzzer sounded, and the dream ended.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs might have lost the game that Saturday, but they provided millions around the nation with one of the best team displays of athleticism in the past decade. Even Arizona’s players realized the replay value of their efforts, with Jason Gardner noting that the game “was definitely an ESPN Classic.”

In an even more brilliant event, something was awakened when the dream ended. While some cried and some cheered, others hungered, particularly my six year old cousin. You could see the amazement in his eyes and how he wanted more basketball … more sports.

March Madness will end next Monday. Three teams will suffer painful losses, and I will lose my tournament pool. Still, while some will forever remember the winner of this year’s final game, I will forever remember a different March Madness outcome. In an unpredictable and beautiful twist of NCAA tournament events, a sports fan was born on Saturday, March 22, and there was no wishing required. This time I was there to see it happen.

Archived article by Matt Janiga

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