Confessions of a March Madness Fan Whore [California Seething] Mar28

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Confessions of a March Madness Fan Whore [California Seething]

I have no idea where Butler is. I don’t know how many students there are, what they major in, which frats they rush, how much a turkey club costs in the student union and where they go drinking on the weekends. For a few hours this Saturday, though, I cared more about Butler than any school in the country. I cheered for them, screamed at them, pleaded with them, held my breath as the game went down to the wire and rejoiced with those gritty, dedicated athletes as they gutted out a hard fought victory with heavily-favored Florida. Last weekend, I hated Butler and desperately rooted for those gangly, buck-toothed farm boys to lose as they knocked my then beloved Pitt out of the tournament and hopelessly fucked up my bracket.

I am a March Madness fan-whore.

For some people, the NCAA Tournament is a chance to re-affirm long term commitments with their favorite schools. They put on the ancient t-shirts, get together with the balding college gang and fan the old spark still burning in their hearts into a white hot flame of crazy-fan-passion. It’s a romantic second honeymoon cruise and every game is a vow-renewal ceremony with their beloved alma mater.

Since my alma mater had no real sports, my March Madness is more like MTV Spring Break in South Padre Island. A blur of crazy flings and one-round-stands with schools I barely know from around the country and may never see again. With every game, I fall in love, cheer like crazy, get my heart-broken and fall in love again. Sometimes, I don’t even know the coach’s last name. I’ll go from grinding on Morehead State’s lap in the club as they shock mighty Louisville in the first round of the tournament to making out drunkenly with VCU in the motel pool as they rocket from the First Four elimination round all the way past mighty Kansas to doing body shots of Goldschlager out of Butler’s navel in the as they improbably make their second Final Four in a row.

Every game, every round, every moment brings fresh hope and every buzzer brings fresh opportunities for jubilation or heartbreak. My sense of self-worth rises and falls as the choices on my bracket are validated or rejected. Sure there are more important things in the world, but for three weeks in March I have a damn hard time trying to figure out what they are as I sit in my sweatpants (or in the office) (or both) watching shot after shot, game after game, buzzer beater after buzzer beater and keep falling in love with the wrong teams over and over again. I feel like Rhianna.

The problem is, I’m a sucker for Cinderella stories- and no sporting event pumps out more of these stories per hour than the NCAA tournament. (NOTE TO NCAA: What’s with all the girly marketing terms? Big Dance, Sweet Sixteen, Cinderella story. They might as well call it the Hoopsy-Daisy Pink Pony Princess Pageant and give the winner a Cabbage Patch doll shaped like John Wooden, droopy ears and all (too soon?)) Nothing gets me cheering like a rag tag bunch of scrappy underdogs overcoming adversity — as long as I didn’t pick them on my bracket to lose. The pundits don’t help, filling my heart with tragic and inspiring stories of dead parents, impoverished childhoods and comebacks from cancer as well as concocting improbable upset scenarios to cloud my judgment and screw up my bracket (eat shit, Doug Gottlieb.) Of course, the trouble with cheering for loveable losers is that, at the end of the day, they’re losers and so, no matter how great the tournament is along the way, it’s ultimately an exercise in futility. The schools I hate end up winning (i.e. Duke), the people who care the least about the tournament win the office-pool (i.e. by picking Duke) and I’m left with nothing but broken dreams, humiliation and failure.

Fortunately, I’m no stranger to broken dreams, humiliation and failure. At different points in my life I’ve failed personally, professionally, artistically, socially, politically, financially, theatrically, and academically. The road to success may be paved with failure, but I’ve failed to get a license to drive on that road (CORRECTION NOTE: The road to success is actually paved with dumb luck, inherited wealth and child labor. It is paved through the homes of failures seized under eminent domain.) The failure that has stuck with me the most, though, is my athletic failure — specifically the failure to make the Bethlehem Central High School Freshman Basketball Team in 1997 (PATHETIC OLD GUY LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE NOTE : 1987)

In Middle School, I was a pretty good Power Forward for the Hebrew Academy Day School Intramural After-School Halfcourt Boys 3 on 3 League (there were 6 boys in my class.) This was due in part to my post-up moves and tenacious defense but mostly to the fact that my classmates were afflicted with a debilitating genetic ailment known as “Short Ass Useless Fucking Jew Syndrome” (SAUFJS) which meant they couldn’t run, jump or perform simple home repairs. Puberty had come early for me, so I had already rocketed past the 5’ mark and had the armpit hair of a young Kevin McHale. I should admit, too, that I was also kind of a dirty player, not afraid to throw an elbow or knock off a yarmulke to throw off my opponent. They called me the De-kippah-tator. I was on top of the world. I had every reason to expect great things in high school.

My optimism was buoyed by the fact that Bethlehem Central was an upper-middle class suburban school hardly known for its athletic prowess or diversity. The school colors were orange and black, which was ironic since those colors were nowhere to be found in the student body (fake tans aside.) The slogan of our Varsity Basketball team was “whatever, dude. You should see my house.” The only sport we excelled at was Men’s Swimming since a lot of kids had pools at home and rich, white boys naturally excel at floating to the top.

I was in for a rude awakening during Freshman Basketball tryouts. Everyone was better than me. They could run, they could shoot, they could jump — a couple of kids could even dunk a tennis ball! The only time I heard “nothin’ but net” was when I jumped as high as I could and failed to touch the rim. I was cut during the first round. Determined to avoid this humiliation the following year, I spent the next twelve months working out, jumping rope and practicing on my frozen driveway during 0 degree weather. I played anyone, anywhere, any time. I was determined. I was ON FIRE! I was fucked. During the first round of JV tryouts, I was cut and learned the valuable lesson that hard work, determination and heart don’t mean shit if you just plain suck. I did, however, have a lot more free time on my hands to explore other interests like computers and theatre. I chose, of course, to focus all my passion and energy on theatre, but that’s a story of financial failure for another time.

Because of my own athletic failures, I’m doomed to be not only a hopeless fan-whore but a total loser-magnet. While all the cool fans are riding around in limos with traditional winners like Kentucky and North Carolina eating lobster and drinking champagne while racking up wins on their brackets, I’m sitting in Syracuses’s dad’s tan El Camino with my pants off surrounded by In & Out wrappers and empty wine cooler bottles reassuring them that, it’s ok, every team’s offense goes a little flat sometimes while crossing off one loser after another and watching my potential for victory fade away. This year, though, things were going to be different for me. This year, I decided to ignore my heart and pick a winner. I picked Duke to go all the way on my office pool bracket.

Duke is an ethically recruited classy team coached by a humble, intelligent leader who loves the game as much as he loves god, America and apple pie and teaches his players to respect their teammates, value academics and win the right way. Vomit. There are only two reasons why you might root for Duke:

  1. You’re a colorless, soulless, elitist Grinch with no room in your undersized heart for love or poetry and no capacity for independent thought or creativity in your bean counting little brain.
  2. You went to Duke (see reason #1)

Picking Duke was a major compromise of my values. It was like picking the Stepsisters to screw the Prince, the Nazis to conquer the British or, God help me, the New England Patriots to beat the Jets. Still, I held my nose and made my deal with the devil hoping that, for once, I wouldn’t embarrass myself in the office pool. After all, if I can’t even win the pool in a theatre company, where most people only care about basketball when planning the marketing strategy of Air Bud: The Musical (starring Raul Esparza and Brooke Shields, with Mandy Patinkin as mean old Norm Snivley and Neil Patrick Harris as Bud!) what kind of pathetic loser am I? (see story above.) This was going to be my year to break out, to come out on top, to be one of the winners swarming the court and not the losers on the sideline staring blankly at the court as the buzzer sounds and they realize that their college career has ended in ignominious defeat.

Naturally, Duke lost this year in the Sweet Sixteen. My bracket was busted by the second weekend of the tournament. I was hopelessly out of contention in the office pool for the sixth year running. By backing Duke, I single-handidly turned a perennial winner into a scruffy loser and, instead of living together happily ever after in our glamorous mansion of victory, I’m coming home every day to our single-wide trailer of defeat after a double-shift in the diner only to find Duke on the couch, swilling Gatorade, watching reruns of Christian Laettner’s legendary game-winner and wondering what went so horribly wrong with their lives. Hmm, maybe I should cheer for the New England Patriots after all.

Anyhow, the good thing about having my bracket busted is that I can follow my heart and cheer for my true love in the Final Four: Butler. Or maybe VCU. Or, wait, doesn’t UConn have a one-legged cancer survivor who lost both of his parents in a plane crash and was raised by his grandmother in a leaky shack eating dirt starting at Center? I might have to cheer for them instead. I don’t know, don’t ask me, I’m just a dirty fan-whore. Leave me alone in my dirty sweatpants. There’s still one great weekend of games to come.