I’m not sure when it first began — perhaps when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird stars of their representative teams Michigan State and Indiana State, squared off in one of college basketball’s most memorable showdowns for the men’s championship trophy — and the bragging rights therein.
Whenever it first occurred, I can’t seem to recall a time when I wasn’t a hardcore fanatic, a diehard lover of those “Derby Dandies” — just plain crazed and lost in a world of three-point shots, high-flying slam dunks and calculating timeout strategies — that week each spring when the best teams in college basketball lock heads during magical, mind-blowing and sometimes last minute miraculous antics some call “March Madness.”
I remember shortly after entering the business world with Fortune 500 giant IBM, the ink on my college diploma barely dry, when the “dance” began again — my first time as a member in corporate America. Throwing caution to the wind, I took a week of vacation so I could see each and every game. Thank goodness technological advances wouldn’t make that necessary for long — I could see the games at my leisure — recorded on new gadgets and safely stored away.
Those were the good old days when coaches like John Thompson, Jim Valvano, Bobby Knight and Dean Smith reigned supreme while players gave their all not for signing bonuses, a throng of women or flashy cars and homes, but for the game they genuinely loved. Those were the days when names like Isaiah Thomas, Bill Walton, Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson and Michael Jordan held fans young and old under their spell like the mythical Pied Piper of Hamlin.
Some teams advanced with ease to the final game as predicted like talent-laded tandems of super heroes playing against a misfit menagerie of pint-sized little boys and girls, physically and mentally unfamiliar with the game. Others would pull off historic upsets, forever leaving their mark in the annals of college basketball — Davids slaying Goliaths, Cinderellas finally getting a chance to go to the ball.
No one was guaranteed a victory as it only took one game to be eliminated. One game could bring young men to their knees in total defeat and emotional surrender, allowing others to partake of the succulent, sweet taste of victory temporarily ensconced in newfound state of unprecedented euphoric ecstasy.
This year, on the eve of March Madness, my alma mater, the University of Michigan, the lowest-ranked team in the tourney, would shock all who stood in their path, from top-rated Purdue to their longtime nemesis, Wisconsin, taking the Big Ten crown and receiving an automatic bid to the “dance” — one of the NCAA’s coveted collection of 68 playoff-bound teams.
I shouted, sang the fight song, “Hail to the Victors” and put on every piece of “Go Blue” paraphernalia that I could find urging my team to victory in the final few minutes — even praying that they would not squander their lead and lose.
There’s nothing like March Madness when two basketball teams challenge one another in a winner-takes-all encounter with some teams emerging victorious despite not being the most talented group on the court.
In many ways, it’s like the game of life — when you’re prepared, put everything within in to the task at hand and come totally psyched up and believe in yourself, nothing’s impossible. Here’s to March Madness 2017 when the unthinkable occurs, the favorites of gamblers fail to win, place or show and when even the most remote dreams come true.