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in like a bulldog, out like a blue devil
yes, it's time for march madness
by michelle von euw

It’s March. I tend to go a little mad in March.

Of course, I have my reasons. There’s March Madness, and spring training and spring break, and “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” (It was 66 degrees on March 1 in our nation’s capital this year. That’s spring. Spring isn’t scheduled for another two months…I’m wondering if God got that memo, or if he’s too busy listening to the inanities our President seems fond of spouting.) Now that we’ve seen the lamb, I wonder if April will roar in with two feet of snow?

So back to that spring break thing. (Has MTV officially copyrighted the name yet? And is there anything left for the kids to show this year that won’t elicit a string of bored “been there, pixilated that” yawns? Forget this year –- what will the generation currently in Baby Gap do to rebel? In twenty years, will see-through skin be the latest craze? “Check out that aorta! Wow, you’ve got a hot stomach cavity, Madison.”)

My theory is that spring break is wasted on college students. Those kids have perfected the art of partying year round, and it’s somewhat quaint to believe that the majority of them spend only one week chugging gallons of cheaply made alcohol, hooking up with people whose first names they’ll never catch, and committing a plethora of unseemly acts that will cause their parents to later sue shady video companies. Spring break would be so much more fun if the twenty- and thirty-somethings were allowed a piece of the action. Can you imagine? Martinis would be made with Grey Goose, we’d rock out to U2 and Aerosmith, and there'd always be plenty of sunblock.

But back to the real reason why March is so mad, and that would be –- sports. There is nothing in the world like spring training. For the most part, games are played in comparatively tiny parks, the pace is relaxed and jovial, as players stretch out long-neglected muscles and enjoy the camaraderie of being on a team again, and scores don’t matter much, as the Brewers can pound the Marlins 22-3, and no one will become concerned about the status of last year’s World Series champs.

For the fans, spring training is hope, the brightness of a new beginning, a year when anything can happen, when even the Yankees look beatable. It’s a time for fans to get used to new faces (hello, Curt Schilling) and rekindle the romance with old ones (Manny, are you still here?). As a citizen of Red Sox nation, I’ve come to cherish the one month where pitch counts and on-base percentages don’t signal joy and elation or gloom and despair among us masses. Spring training, we’re all a little more relaxed.

Of course, the opposite of the calm, laid-back atmosphere of spring training is March Madness, a term that describes not only the national college basketball tournament itself but accurately portrays the weeks leading up to it. Overheard last night:

He: This might be the weakest year for number one seeds ever.
She: Are you crazy? It’s possible that we’ll have two undefeateds at #1, plus a team whose only losses are to those two teams. Throw in Duke or Mississippi State, and that’s pretty strong.
He: That’s idiotic. I wouldn’t call St. Joe’s strong. They are weak. They play no one.
She: Well, you’re an elitist conference snob.

Maybe not everyone delves into name-calling when it comes to college basketball predictions. (Of course, hanging around the Intrepid corporate offices during the first two days of the NCAA tourney proves otherwise.) But there’s good reason to. There’s a lot a stake here. Such as, why is a school whose team is nicknamed the Cardinal have a tree for a mascot? Isn’t Stanford supposed to be for smart people, and, therefore, capable of providing a representative that matches up with its nickname? At least they don’t pass off the Latin translation of “What Rocks” as a name, then apply it to a vaguely annoyed-looking bulldog, like the school also for supposedly intelligent people here in D.C.

Speaking of Bulldogs, this has got to be Gonzaga’s year. No longer the tournament’s favorite Cinderella contender, this team seems poised for a top seed and a run at the final four. It helps that the usual suspects are having a down year – Kansas has Self-destructed under their new coach, Duke’s showed signs of faltering, and last year’s champions of Syracuse have struggled. The PAC-10 is having a down year, the Big Ten is having a down year, the SEC is having a down year, the Big East is having a down year…it’s gotten to the point where Maryland, with an unspectacular 5 wins in the ACC, believes they can still garner an at-large bid.

My final four: Pitt, Gonzaga, St. Joe’s, and NC State. Or Mississippi State. Or Kentucky. Or Oklahoma State. Or the Salukis of Southern Illinois (simply because their name is just so much fun to say). OK, I suck at this. I’ve never gotten a final four right –- or even a single winner -- in my history of picking teams (1989, the year I picked Duke to win it all, a couple years before they actually did -- which means that Gonzaga is looking pretty good for a victory in 2006).

Right, so as much as I devour college basketball like Barry Bonds chugs steroids, I am the absolute last person to ask for assistance in filling out your brackets this March.

Of course, predicting the winner of the whole tournament is about a millionth as much fun as picking the right teams in the early rounds. In the first weekend alone, 48 games will be played, many of them simultaneously. 48 games! Talk about bringing crack to the masses. There is nothing more fun than watching coach Quin Snyder’s hair grow even more out of control with every Mizzou point; betting on the chances that Bobby Knight will knock over an official; watching Arizona and Georgia Tech trade baskets into overtime; praying that Holy Cross will finally pull that 16/1 upset over Duke.

So settle in for another year of destroyed brackets, broken dreams, confusion in the East, chaos in the West, and the potential answer to the most enigmatic question in college sports: exactly what is Western Kentucky’s mascot?


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

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trey askew
3.5.04 @ 1:05a

You had me at March Madness. I've pretty much decided all productivity will cease during tournament games. Especially if NC State is doing well.

david damsker
3.5.04 @ 9:34a

How many ACC teams are gonna get in this year?

trey askew
3.5.04 @ 9:47a

5 teams for certain. 7 is a possibility with Maryland coming on strong and Florida State having a good year.

tracey kelley
3.5.04 @ 11:10a

I WISH I could take spring break! That would be fabulous!

That being said, I can honestly say that every workplace I've been in over the past 15 years pretty much stops working during March Madness anyway. Itty bitty tvs everywhere, 3 hours lunches, the works.

joe procopio
3.5.04 @ 1:05p

Trey, you're being conservative. After Maryland's win over NC State, unless they get crushed in the first round of the ACC, they'll go, making 7.

jael mchenry
3.5.04 @ 1:40p

Nobody around the office gets insane about March Madness except me. But I make up for the rest of the slackers.

sandra thompson
3.5.04 @ 4:55p

There are four sports I will pay actual money to go watch: baseball, tennis, polo and dressage. I will allow myself to waste twenty bucks watching horses race with each other around an oval track, but I almost always win enough bets to break even or come out a little ahead. Basketball, football and hockey are not things of which I'm even aware most of the time, except when one of them (gues which?) makes "Sixty Minutes" half an hour late and messes up my Sunday night viewing schedule to the teeth gnashing point. Not only that, but all three of those sports make their players wear the most outlandish costumes imaginable, and should be on the worst dressed lists somewhere, I'm not sure where. I dated one of our quarterbacks my junior year in college and he was fun and very pretty and could dance up a storm, but that's as close as I've ever gotten to any of those sports SINCE THE BASTIDS WOULDN'T LET ME, THE BEST RUNNING BACK IN THE COUNTY, PLAY FOOTBALL IN JUNIOR HIGH JUST BECAUSE I WAS A GIRL. I reckon you could call it sour grapes but I'd rather you thought of it as snobbery. (Nose in the air, barely a look of tolerance on my alleged face.)

So y'all go ahead and go mad in March. I'll once again stay by the phone with the bail money just in case. Sigh.

michelle von euw
3.8.04 @ 9:54a

Around here, they claim that UMD's win over Virgina yesterday puts 'em in. Of course, "around here" is Terpland, so who knows.

Anyone else bold enough to give a Final Four this soon?

jael mchenry
3.8.04 @ 11:14a

Hell, around here, they were claiming MD was in regardless of yesterday's outcome. But yeah, they're in.

As for a real final four, no, I don't have the gall. But I can say...

Zags, baby!

jael mchenry
3.10.04 @ 2:37p

Oh, geez! How did I forget to answer Chelle's final question???

Of COURSE, WKU's mascot is the Hilltopper. If you reload my picture enough times on the "about" page, you'll see a picture.

It's like a thinner red Grimace, and it's incredibly distracting. You're trying to watch the game, but you're all, "What the HELL is THAT?"

michelle von euw
3.14.04 @ 6:44p

Ok, already my predictions are shot. Pitt and St. Joe's are in the same bracket, so both can't be in the Final Four. The committee honored the top of the ACC with five top-four seeds; they broke the bubbles of UVA and FSU, however.

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