Emotions and personality traits I haven’t experienced since hitting puberty and beginning to date resurfaced awkwardly this month as March Madness hit full stride. Bittersweet nostalgia once again made an appearance, as did sweaty palms and pointless insecurities about my bracket. Cheeks flush with excitement, I picked my winning teams for the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, hiding behind false confidences and smug smiles and thinking I knew better than any sportscasters’ predictions. After all, what did they know? Certainly not how to match a tie to a button-up shirt and suit jacket.
Really, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy should have never been canceled.
My college picks were flawless for awhile, albeit superficially. I went into the first day of the tournament with only two losses. Those sportscasters’ balls may have dropped years ago, but they still didn’t have the balls to pick Colorado for a win, I remember thinking snobbishly last week. As my number of wins increased, so did my intense need to win the Pizza Hut gift card my department would present to its bracket winner. I could already taste the free cheesy breadsticks. The only thing hindering this fantasy was the momentary thought that my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. But, thankfully, neither is my body image.
Those who loyally follow the tournament or have filled out a bracket fully understand the instantaneous angst that presides over their lives for the following four weeks. With a little help from fate, luck, prayer and good-ole statistics, hand-in-hand with silly jinxes, bubble-lettered posters and face paint, the world only slowly starts its spin again on the off-days when teams hit the road, driving ever closer to an adamant and surely tumultuous victory.
I was delightfully ignorant going into this year’s March Madness festivities. Little did I know my courtship with these teams would be as fleeting as a schoolgirl’s first crush. In many cases, the single-elimination tournament has already broken my heart coldly and impersonally, and I have no doubt it will continue to do so next year, and the year after that. We never quite learn, do we?
Creighton was my team of choice, although I knew odds weren’t good that they’d make it too far into the tournament and that my adoration would soon turn to another. One of the underdogs from the Missouri Valley Conference here in Nebraska, they were invited to the Big Dance for the first time since 2007. It was official. (SQUEAL!!) One of the most watched and prominent sporting events of the year, it’s an honor to be asked to the tournament and in this case, it was not so unlike the quarterback of the football team asking the girl with braces and unruly hair to prom. More smack talk. Less hair product.
Sadly, with so many eligible and skillful teams, Creighton soon found themselves out of the running. With accusations of breaking UNC point guard Kendall Marshall’s wrist, it certainly didn’t help that Creighton Forward Ethan Wragge was light-years away from winning any popularity contests.
Like many of you who are active participants in brackets, tournament watchers or simply basketball lovers, I’ve already run the gamut of adolescent feelings over the games. Cliquey of my favorite teams. Irritable upon watching Missouri, whom I had picked to be a top two contender (don’t judge!), lose to a team that was predicted to trail by 15 points. Clingy and stubbornly tied to Creighton, even though I knew they were bad news for me, and more so – my bracket. I’m sure my friends and family all disapproved of that pick.
If there’s one behavioral trait I AM proud of regarding my reaction to all the madness, it is that I have never, ever overreacted to a win or loss, and why? Because I am a mature adult. Those tears you may have seen in my eyes as Creighton lost? Allergies. The pollen count is outta sight this spring. That obnoxious screaming coming from my downstairs apartment? My first spider spotting.
The tears, fist pumps, passion, teamwork and dedication of every single player I’ve watched thus far in the tournament, however, have been very real. Truly fascinating and awe-inspiring to watch. Heartbreak in seeing seniors proudly leading the last play of the game – and their college careers. Delight in witnessing an underdog win a game in which no one considered them a contender. Courage in daring to take the ball down a lane covered in guys 20 pounds heavier. Creighton Center Gregory Echenique going for that rim-
crushing final dunk to show a number one seed he’s not threatened? Or, just Echenique wearing pink shoes day after day for that matter? Ballsy.
Only second to the raw emotions that have surfaced so far during this wonderful month are the heart attacks that we as viewers have. Fueling the fire of insanity are those heart-stopping passes through a sea of opponents, that heart-pounding free throw to tie the game, and the heart-dropping ninth of a second that crushes everyone’s hopes as a last-ditch lob at the basket falls short at the impatient drone of the buzzer. In those moments, thousands of fans unknowingly hold their breath and await glory or monumental loss because come April, there can only be one victor.
Then, it’s time to exit the stadiums, shut off the televisions and rejoin the real world, making money like an adult – gambling your kids’ college funds away at the casino.
On a side note, anyone want to go in with me on some cheesy breadsticks?