The tournament is HERE, people! Games started today at noon-thirty (EDT), so I hope everyone got their bracket picks in early!
My fascination with March Madness started in college, which makes sense. Although the Arizona Wildcats are always good, always make it to the tournament, and regularly reach at least the Sweet Sixteen; during my senior year of college, the Cats made it to the National Championships. That game day was one of the best days of my college life.
I woke up early, which is essentially unheard of. Hopped in the car with one of my friends and appeared at Maloney’s (our favorite college bar) as they were opening. That was the first and last time I got a front-row parking spot at Maloney’s. We beelined for a large booth in front of their largest TV screen. We staked our claim and ordered. I’d like to believe that I ordered food at that time, but I can’t confirm it. Within an hour, some more friends had shown up after finishing their classes for the day. I went back to campus to take a Women’s Studies exam.
After the exam, I got a ride with someone else back to Maloney’s and recaptured my seat in the booth. By this time, just after noon, Maloney’s was full. Not packed to the rafters, yet, but every table was taken. Tip-off would be at 6:18 p.m., so we had a lot of day ahead. We passed the time, as more friends arrived, with appetizers, card games and a lot of drinks. One of my friends, Kara, recently posted some photos from that day on Facebook. Another friend, Allie, reminded us that the card games devolved as the day went on. Eventually, it seems, we were playing this game:
“Guess what card this is. WRONG! DRINK!”
When the game finally began, Maloney’s was reduced to a sea of people. Getting to the bathrooms was an epic feat in maneuvering, but filled with high fives and cheers. Instead of the standard up-and-down of other patrons and scanning for one’s latest love while attempting to nab that perfect level of drunken joyousness, it was a room filled with friends. Everyone there was a fan and they were there for the sole purpose of cheering on our team. As cheesy as it sounds, it was such a beautiful feeling. The game was a nail-biter and kept everyone amped throughout.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats couldn’t quite pull it off and Duke bested us. The atmosphere of a room that is so filled with joy and energy suddenly dropping to a fog of sadness and disappointment is almost tangible. Admittedly, with a few less drinks it would have been more profound, but I can tell you it wasn’t a room full of hundreds of hearts aching. It was one united heart breaking.
There may or may not have been completely irrational “riots” following the loss, up and down 4th Ave (location of most of the college bars), including some overturned cars, the setting of one bar on fire and riot police that shot “flash bangs” and rubber bullets into crowds, but that just isn’t the point.
Remember my earlier mention of Kara, the one who posted a photo on Facebook? She was particularly entertained by the line of riot police. Allie, the one with the good memory, is standing between Kara and the police officer. Or perhaps that would be better described as Allie preventing Kara from hopping onto the back of the motorcycle? (My friends were the BEST. Be envious.)
Post-game silliness aside, it was that unity and feeling of community during the game that forever cemented my love of March Madness. While I certainly carry no responsibility for the greatness of the players who made it that far, or even the loss of that game, there was very much a sense of “we.” We made the National Championship game! We almost won the National Championship game! And in a school of over 30,000, it’s a way to feel connected and a part of something that is really, so much bigger than any one student.
(For an insider perspective on that emotionally charged game, check out Justin Wessel’s interview with ESPN, ten years later)
Let the March Madness reign!
And yes, I did pick Arizona to win it all this year.