The Best Month in Sports, Part 1: The NCAA Tournament

Thank you to the first week of NCAA Tournament for proving my point. We have started the best month in sports and I’ll get back to this year’s action in a few minutes.
Over the years, this tournament has provided us with so many special moments. It started the Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird rivalry in 1979. It introduced the world to Michael Jordan in 1982. Only a year later, NC State shocked the basketball world by defeating a seemingly unbeatable Houston squad and provided us with one of the most unforgettable scenes as Jim Valvano ran all over the court just looking for a pile to jump on. (Quick note: If you haven’t seen the 30 for 30 special on ESPN covering this team, please give it a watch. It’s absolutely wonderful.) Villanova beating Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team in 1985 remains one of the biggest upsets in history. Two years later, Keith Smart’s baseline jumper dashed the hopes of Syracuse as Indiana claimed yet another crown. Danny Manning puts on a show in 1988 as Kansas takes the title. Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice lead Michigan to a title in 1989. The UNLV squad that started the 90s, Laettner takes down Kentucky, The Fab Five, 40 Minutes of Hell, Mateen Cleaves leading Michigan State, Melo leading Syracuse to a title as a freshman, George Mason’s improbable Final Four run, Mario Chalmers at Kansas, Shaka Smart leading VCU to the Final Four and last year, John Calipari leading Kentucky to the title to finally silence his critics. While these are legendary moments with legendary figures that will never be forgotten, they are only the tip of the iceberg. What makes this tournament so special are years like this one.
Yes, we have the big names back in the Sweet 16. Coach K and Duke, Izzo and Michigan State, Pitino and Louisville, the return of Indiana basketball as a threat. And history tells us that more than likely, the favorites usually do win. But let’s be honest, the fun and beauty of this tournament usually lies in the stories that develop over the first week and this year, there is no shortage of stories. Harvard wins their first tournament game ever. Wichita State lived up to their nickname, shocking No. 1 Gonzaga in the round of 32 to advance. But let’s face it, Gonzaga almost didn’t even make it that far as they were pushed by No.16 Southern in their first contest and they weren’t the only one. Kansas survived a scare as well, which leads me to believe that we are getting ever closer to the year where a 16 seed knocks off a 1 seed. The team I feel sorry for is La Salle. They had to fight just to play in the round of 64, beating Boise State in a First Four matchup, then beating Kansas State and Ole Miss by a combined four points and yet they’re not getting a lot of press. And the reason they’re not is because America has completely fallen for Dunk City and I’m on board.
Florida Gulf Coast University is exactly why the NCAA tournament is great. These are a bunch of kids that nobody has heard of that attend a university that has only existed since 1997 and what do they do? As a 15 seed, they completely take it to Georgetown, including probably the most exciting play of the tournament thus far. So what’s the big deal, we’ve seen that happen before. But instead of getting smoked in their next game as every other 15 seed has, they decide instead to run San Diego State and championship winning coach Steve Fisher out of the gym. And it is moments like these that have always made this tournament so special and it’s not only FGCU that I’m talking about.
I see it every year and I never get tired of it. These kids care. Whether it’s a senior on a losing team that knows he’s going to take off his uniform for the last time or a freshman that hits the big shot to send his team to the next round, these games are something that they will never forget. From tears of joy and triumph to tears of heartbreak and defeat, you can’t help but be swept up by the emotion that this tournament produces. And this is why we continue to watch game after game, round after round, and year after year. The Road to The Final Four has begun and what a ride it has already been. The Sweet 16 starts Thursday and only promises to bring more excitement and more drama.
The best month in sports is upon us. Enjoy the experience.


Upcoming Series: The Best Month in Sports

Starting on Monday, I will be starting a series entitled “The Best Month in Sports”.  Just look at what this month has to offer. We are already being captivated by the madness that is the NCAA tournament.  Early April brings the return of baseball.  Soon after, one of my favorite events of the year occurs at Augusta National in the form of The Masters, quickly followed by the start of the NBA playoffs.  With each segment of this series, I’ll take a closer look at what makes each of these events so enjoyable.

One quick note: For you NHL fanatics, I did not forget about you. The reasons that I did not include the start of the NHL playoffs in this series are these: 1) This year’s playoffs do not fall within the month I’m referring to. But more importantly is 2) I am not going to pretend to attempt to write about a sport that I do not follow all that closely. Believe me, it would be an insult to you.  I can tell you, however, that even though hockey is not my favorite sport, there are few sporting events more exciting or more intense than a Game 7 in the NHL playoffs.

And one small rant.  This month does also not include the NFL.  I am completely aware that we live in a country where the NFL is king and when football season rolls around, I’m sure I will discuss it at length. I love football just as much as the next guy. But for now, I really don’t want to hear about it when there isn’t a game that matters for five months. If you want your fix, just turn on ESPN Radio in the morning and listen, believe me.  With so many other stories going on in sports, do I really need to hear a two hour conversation about how The Tuck Rule is finally going away?  The answer to that riddle is no.  We all know that Raider nation is still pissed off so how about paying some attention to something else.

I’ll talk to you all on Monday with “The Best Month in Sports, Part 1: The NCAA Tournament”.