Editor's Note: Be forewarned: this rather lengthy piece has more than a touch of memoir to it. If you are looking for a quick way to help The Generation Project, PLEASE vote for us on Rugby.com here. If you are looking for in-depth sports analysis, you're obviously in the wrong place.
Happy Tournament Tip-Off Day. For sports fans, it really doesn't get any better than this. From noon today through Sunday night, we'll be treated to 48 first and second round NCAA tournament games, and all the action, upsets and buzzer-beaters those games inevitably entail. By the end of the weekend, brackets will be busted, one or two Cinderella teams will likely be ascendant, and the number of contenders for the Division I men's basketball championship will be whittled down from 64 to 16.
For as far back as I can remember, the start of the tournament has been my Christmas morning. I grew up as a rabid sports fan in the sports-crazed university town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and my elementary school years coincided with the arrival at the University of Michigan of five fabulous basketball-playing freshmen. Even after the Fab Five left town, and Michigan's basketball program seemingly fell off the face of the Earth, I still loved watching the tournament. I was a basketball player myself, the tournament was an opportunity to watch the game played at its highest amateur level, by players not much older than myself. The passion with which college basketball players compete in March is unparallelled, and the games are a joy to watch for any fan of athletics.
As I look back on March Madnesses past, though, I can only remember a few specific games, a few specific runs through the tournament, a few specific Cinderella stories. (George Mason immediately comes to mind). My strongest memories from March are gathering with a group of close friends, a bunch of unhealthy food, and settling in to watch game after game after game on the opening weekend. For much of my scholastic career, these friends--and thus, my tournament-watching companions--were my teammates on whatever school basketball team I was playing on at the moment: middle school, high school, college.
Those of you who participated in competitive athletics know what I'm talking about: for months on end, you spend hours a day with your teammates. You are with them in practice, at games, on the team bus, in film sessions, in the weight room. On longer trips or tournaments, you might stay in hotels with them, four to a room, playing cards, shooting the breeze, goofing off past bed check and on until four in the morning. And all this time together is the compulsory stuff, the stuff that's a necessary condition to being on the team. But at the end of the day--past the end of practice--you often don't leave your teammates. Maybe you'll stay in the gym afterwards, shooting H-O-R-S-E or making trick shots. Maybe you'll head over to your point guard's house, raid his parents' well-stocked fridge for Gatorades, and watch TV in the basement. Maybe you'll just sit around on a bench outside school, talking about basketball, school, girls, whatever. More...