Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two Words: March Madness: A Nevin Barich Blog Experience

OK, I'll just say this right now: If you don't like sports, you won't like this week's blog. You'll be bored, roll your eyes, sigh a lot, and that's before you get to paragraph 3. So just go to another Web site and tune in next week when I'll write about going to yoga (more on that later).

For those of you who are living under a rock -- and in today's economy, that may be more people than we think -- this week was the beginning of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, where 65 of the top college basketball teams in the nation compete in a single-elimination tournament and people like me fill out brackets trying to figure out who is going to win each game, following the games online at work, watching nothing but basketball at home, ignoring our friends, loved ones and co-workers for three weeks, etc.

It's fun.

It's exciting.

It feels like life and death.

And you can win lots of money.

And that's why they call it March Madness. :-)

Now, last year I did a running diary of the first two days of the tournament. But this year, there was something different that I just couldn't ignore:

Cal State Northridge.

CSUN, my alma mater, was in the tournament for only the second time in school history, facing a Memphis team ranked No. 2 in the nation and favored by many to reach the Final Four. It's rare that my school gets a shot on the national stage, so I made an executive blog decision:

This year -- while writing about trying to follow the games at work, interacting with friends who also have many brackets, and dealing with idiotic questions from co-workers who have no idea what a basketball is -- I would focus my blog entirely on the few hours that my Matadors (CSUN's mascot) were in the spotlight.

It's 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Let March Madness begin.

(note: Names of certain people have been changed to ensure privacy. And if anyone from my company's management team is reading this, I got all my work done that day. In fact, everything I'm writing is fiction. Fiction, I say. I remain a model employee.)

8:32 a.m.

Me to my co-worker Timothy:


He rolls his eyes. It's going to be a long morning for Tim.

8:46 a.m.

Phone conversation with my dad, a fellow CSUN graduate:

Me: Dad, we're gonna get destroyed, aren't we?

Dad: If we can just keep it to 15 points, I'll be happy.

Ah, the eternal optimism of old people. They've lived long enough on this Earth to see some sport of athletic miracle happen and thus make us think that we have a chance to win (or in this case, keep it respectable). But the fact is: Memphis is a powerhouse, predicted by many to reach the Final Four and maybe win it all. CSUN's team is full of junior college rejects, thugs and the requisite 7-foot-tall white guy who is only on the team because he's 7-feet tall and can't even take his warmup pants off without tripping, let alone play basketball.

9:01 a.m.

A statement from my co-worker Amy:

Did you know that the Angels are 15-4 in spring training this year?

This brings me to:

March Madness Etiquette Rule #1: On the first day of March Madness, NO OTHER SPORT MATTERS!! Baseball, football, hockey, even my beloved boxing: These all take a backseat to college hoops. When you see a guy with half-a-dozen brackets practically jumping out of his chair every 12 seconds because he's itching for March Madness to start, you can't mess with his mind by letting him know that other things around him exist.

Bad form, Amy. Bad form.

9:14 a.m.

I send a text message to my friend Joe, a fellow March Madness obsessor:

Me: CSUN only has two starters over 6-4. Memphis doesn't have a starter under 6-5. Hold me, Joseph.

9:16 a.m.

Joe's reply:

Um...hold you where? There's certain body parts of yours I won't touch. On principle.

9:24 a.m.


Which broughts the following reply from co-worker Amy:

It's going to be a long hour and a half.

9:27 a.m.

(Note: Because I was at work and because I couldn't download the live game video on my computer, I followed the CSUN-Memphis game on ESPN Stattracker)

CSUN is up 2-0!!!

Text message to Joe:

They can't say we never led.

9:28 a.m.

CSUN is up 7-2!!!

Amy: Are you going to be like this the entire game?

This brings me to:

March Madness Etiquette Rule # 2: If you're not an obsessed March Madness person, you are allowed one -- and only one -- snide comment per day. If you recall, Amy already had her "it's going to be a long hour and a half" comment earlier in the morning. That's all you get. Any more snide remarks is just plain mean and spiteful.

9:32 a.m.

CSUN is up 11-4!!! And I officially have my "hold on to the one positive thing" moment; the moment a sports fan gets when his team is playing the underdog role and has found something he can always remember if his team ends up getting blown out.

For me, CSUN was up by 7 in this game. So even if we spontaneously combust right now, I can hold on to that moment for all eternity and remind myself that the game wasn't all bad.

9:36 a.m.

Memphis ties it up. TV timeout, according to ESPN, so I run into the hallway and call my dad, who works from home and is thus watching the game.

Me: I know it's tied. How we lookin'?

Dad: Well...we're scoring a lot, but now so are they.


Me: Dad, I can get such deep analysis watching the numbers update. But how do they look? What's the feeling you get? Have we come to play? Do our uniforms look good on TV? Do we look like we belong? Is the court shiny? I can't watch the game. Jesus, give me something!!

Dad:'s tied...


When it comes to March Madness, it's not just the players who have to come prepared. It's the fans. You need to know every detail of every game that's currently going on, in real time, because inevitably some crazy fan will ask you some random thing about some random game, and it's incumbent upon you -- as a March Madness enthusiast and as a man (that's right: I said it) -- to answer his ridiculous question.


Last year, Joe asked me what the mascot was for Western Kentucky. Why? I don't know. But I didn't ask him why. I didn't judge him. Because when it comes to March Madness, no detail is too small, no March Madness-related question too ridiculous to ask. And did I know the answer? Of course!! It was the Hilltoppers. Now, what's a hilltopper? I don't have the first %$#@%$$# clue!! But it's March Madness, damn it!! You need to know these things.

Me: Hey Dad, news flash: March Madness has begun. GET YOUR GAME FACE ON!!!

9:50 a.m.

The game is back and forth. Every time Memphis tries to break it open, CSUN answers back.

E-mail from my friend Michelle, a former classmate of mine from CSUN and who has let March Madness into her soul for one day.

Oh my God!! It's so close!! We can do it!!

And this brings me to one of the inevitable tragedies of March Madness:

See, March Madness has the power to affect anybody, from the biggest fan to the most curious random observer. In the case of Michelle, she hadn't followed CSUN all year, but when she found out her school was on the big stage, she found her Matador pride and decided to live life-and-death with the rest of us.

But here-in lies the problem: Such a fan doesn't realize that, deep down, we won't win this game. At some point, Memphis will make a run. At some point, CSUN will run out of gas. You've seen it in sports too many times. Inevitably, the better team finds a way to win, and the underdog team is left to find the moral victory in all of this. I have prepared myself for this moment, but I know Michelle -- and others like her -- have not.

I know Michelle will be OK. Still, I wish I could spare her some of the sorrow....

10:15 a.m.

CSUN down 34-31 at the half.

For reference: Every sports expert expected Memphis to be up by 20-25 points at this point. I rarely believe in morale victories, but today, I got mine.

10:17 a.m.

In the span of two minutes, I have received 16 e-mails, texts and phone calls from friends all essentially saying the same thing:


March Madness: Feel the love. :-)

10:37 a.m.

In games like these, the better team -- Memphis -- typically makes adjustments and blows the game open. But guess what? It ain't happenin'!! CSUN just will not go away!! Every Memphis lay-up is answered by a CSUN jumper. Every Memphis 3-pointer is countered by another CSUN bomb!!

I look up at the ceiling, the March Madness basketball Gods high above, the ones that decide when to create such a miracle...

...and I start to wonder...

10:56 a.m.

OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!! CSUN IS UP 62-56 WITH 10 MINUTES TO GO!!!!!

And it's official:

I now believe we can win.

I have given up all reason, all rationality. No more "I just want to keep it respectable." I want a victory. I want to pull off the upset of upsets. I want to scream and shout and rub in everyone's faces that my school -- MY SCHOOL!!!! -- is the best in the land for a day. C'mon CSUN!! God damn it, C'MON!!!!

10:56 a.m.

With CSUN up 6, I give Timothy a big bearhug across his shoulders. That brings me to:

March Madness Etiquette Rule # 3: All physical contact between men is allowed during March Madness. It's OK. Perfectly acceptable. During March Madness, no one looks at you funny if a man embraces another man in the thrill of victory or agony of defeat. For the power of March Madness can only be truly felt if you let down your walls.

11:02 a.m.

Timothy has figured out how to get the live video of the game!!! And we get it just in time to see a CSUN player do this ridiculously sweet spin move to put the Matadors back up by 3!!!

Television announcer: "SPIN BABY SPIN!!"

I start to spin.

11:04 a.m.

Instant messenger conversation between me and my co-worker Rachel:

Me: CSUN is winning!!

Rachel: CSUN? Do they even have an athletic department?

Now, here's what pisses me off about this conversation: Rachel went to UCLA. And I -- although a CSUN grad -- grew up cheering for USC, UCLA's rival. So I know that Rachel's little snide comment stems from our USC-UCLA rivalry.

This brings me to:

March Madness Etiquette Rule # 4: Put past grudges aside. Any trash talking during March Madness has to stem from the games at hand. You're not allowed to make any comments where the root of such comments stems from something irrelevant to March Madness.

See, if Rachel had picked Memphis to win it all, then fine. Her CSUN crack is justified. Because it has to do with the March Madness game at hand. But she didn't. Hell, she's not even in a pool!! Her comment stemmed from the fact that I love USC -- who isn't even playing right now -- and her UCLA heart can't stand to see a USC fan like me happy.

That's why UCLA fans are stupid.

11:12 a.m.

And finally...the inevitable. Memphis has retaken the lead. And unlike earlier, CSUN won't get it back. Although CSUN would keep it close, cutting the lead to four with 2:30 to go, Memphis would hit a 3-pointer 30 seconds later to go up by seven, and that was essentially all she wrote.

Final score: Memphis 81, CSUN 70.

A couple of final thoughts:

---After work, I went back home and watched the game (I had recorded it). And you know it? It was still awesome!! My school -- for one game -- was legitimate, playing with heart, determination, swagger. And even though I knew what the result was, I still went crazy on every big play we made. It was that cool.

---I got some words of wisdom in the form of an e-mail from my friend Kevin, who also went to CSUN with me:

We may have lost today, but you know what? We represented. We went toe-to-toe with one of the best in the land, and for that we should be proud. This is not a sad day, this is a happy day. Hold your head up high.

My eyes got a little misty when I read that.

It's OK.

It's March Madness.

Emotion is allowed.


And now for this week's:


A preview of next week's blog:

Last weekend, I went to a yoga class.

Where one is asked to breathe through their torso and see out of their third eye.




Ramona said...

folks, he's not kidding about the spinning part. every time he tells this story he yells out ``Spin baby Spin!''

Carlos said...

UCLA fans are stupid?
The fact that you write about CSUN sports would only justify that idiotic comment....

P.S. Anyone who does a pool involving high school sports and is 30, NEEDS A LIFE!!!!!

Feel the love Nevin!

Amber said...

Great post Nev.

My roommate in the Army was a huge fan of basketball (and played on the women's team at some college in the frozen tundra, U of MN or ND or something). Her excitement during March Madness was contagious. She once broke our ceiling when jumping on the sofa during an especially good play.

I'm not a sports fan, but I respect the excitement.

UCLA RULES said...

I will never abandon an opportunity to throw USC under the bus. NEVER.

Rule #1- UCLA is better than USC. No matter what sport you are watching. You should always make snide comments.