The first two days have concluded in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, the Big Dance or “How I Wasted Endless Hours Glued to the Tube.”
The tourney is so compelling that millions of gainfully employed workers will mysteriously call in “sick.” It’s estimated that 70 million Americans will fill out a bracket and tens of of millions of dollars will be wagered in office pools. I won’t be participating because I’m a die-hard UCLA fan and am currently in mourning. You see, my Bruins didn’t make the NCAAs and not even the NIT. Woe is moi.
It seems like only yesterday the Bruins stunned the basketball world by beating No. 1-ranked Kentucky at Pauley Pavilion, 87-77. At the time my mind raced with possibilities of greatness, thinking maybe the Bruins could get a high seed and go far in the Big Dance. And then losses began to crop up and I started my descent into the Six Stages of a Fan’s Denial and Acceptance.
During Stage One, I convinced myself that regardless of how low the seed all that mattered was for the Bruins to get into the tournament because, who knew what could happen? But then there were more regular-season losses.
During Stage Two, I fell into the delusional thinking that maybe UCLA could win the Pac-12 tournament and qualify for the Big Dance that way. In fact, UCLA lost its opening game to USC, making it the Bruins’ third loss to their crosstown rivals in the same season — something that hadn’t been done since the 1953-1954 season. Ouch.
While in Stages Three through Six, my thinking devolved into “At least the NIT will be some consolation.” That led to “You’re losing your mind,” which led to “You need therapy,” which led to, “Maybe, but I can’t afford it, so I’ll write a Snide World column.”
On the bright side, by not watching the Big Dance, think of all the free time I will have. Unfortunately, when you’re in mourning, free time just means more misery and contemplating, “How did this happen?” I thought this UCLA team had talent. To paraphrase Marlon Brando, “They coulda been a contender.” It turns out they were more like pretenders. Ouch No. 2.
But not all Bruin fans are taking it as hard as I am. Fellow columnist Charles Andrews has “moved on.” He’s such a basketball junkie that he parks himself in front of his big-screen TV and watches practically every minute of every game. God forbid, if I call him during the action he greets me with all the affection Donald Trump has for Ted Cruz.
My friend Danny is also a big Bruin backer. He insisted that the right thing to do was to root for USC, who faced the Providence Friars in the first round. “After all, ’SC now represents all of Southern California,” Danny says enthusiastically. I explained that it would be impossible for me to do that. You see, my favorite team is UCLA and my second favorite is “anyone who’s playing ’SC!” Two words: Go Friars!
Part of the problem in my coming to terms with UCLA’s dismal seasons in the past and now might have been the unbelievable success during the late John Wooden’s era: 10 national championships in 12 years! Being a UCLA alum meant the Bruins would be in the NCAA Tournament as certain as death, taxes and rotating your tires. Wooden retired in 1975 and it appears I’m still going through my “adjustment to reality” period.
One advantage of UCLA not being in the tournament is I don’t have to spend time going over my bracket, obsessing about where the Bruins might get derailed. During the glory years, 1964-1975, I would constantly worry about some unknown point guard having the game of his life. (Only to make me consider ending my own.)
Late-breaking update: After leading for 38 minutes and being up five points with 2 minutes to go and the ball, USC lost to Providence, 70-69. In fact, the Friars scored the winning basket with one second left on the clock. I guess I’m not the only one feeling March sadness.
Jack also writes Laughing Matters, which appears every Friday. He’s at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and firstname.lastname@example.org.