Friday, March 31, 2006

Nostalgia for the Present Moment

Shaking my head at what was left of my bracket, I remarked to myself that irrationality is a beautiful thing. If it didn’t land George Mason University in the field of 64 to begin with, it’s certainly kept them, as the man said, free and clean. Thanks in large part to these patriotic gentlemen, the average seed of teams in this year’s Final Four is a whopping 5.0. But that’s just the average. Those of you who know basketball would point out that the actual 5’s were mostly eliminated by the 12’s long ago. However, for Florida, UCLA, LSU, and George Mason, basketball’s pinnacle and holy shrine awaits, appropriately enough, on April 1.

More so than the championship game itself, the Final Four as a whole is a thing of majesty. I think that many NCAA hoops fans would acknowledge that whoever wins the whole thing is really of secondary concern. These four teams represent the best America has to offer, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters. Everybody sing along now. The fact that three of the four teams come from the Southeast and one from the not entirely beloved confines of Los Angeles is of small import. The Final Four transcends geography. It transcends logic. It transcends just about everything – except, of course, alliteration. Until now, these four teams belonged to the people. Today they belong, like Lincoln, to the ages.

2006’s Final Four is an odyssey yet to be sung. Reflecting on the last half-decade of NCAA tournament glory, however, is like a visit to the things in the back of my refrigerator. Their time has passed, but an indescribable fondness remains. The memories, man. The crazy, sweet memories.

For starters, you always pulled for Duke to lose. This much was certain, and, legend had it, the day they fell in the first round to a sixteenth seed, Dick Vitale’s hair would grow back and time would be reversed. It always happened if you hung on for the daylight long enough – except in 2001, when the daylight never came. After jumping out to a 22 point lead in the first half of the semifinals, Maryland seemed on the verge of redeeming themselves for having eliminated Stanford the week before. Alas, it would be one more year.

And 2002 certainly had its share of moments. For instance, Duke lost – and in the sweet 16, on a missed free throw followed by a missed putback, against accidental tourist Jared Jeffries and an Indiana squad so white and Midwestern that corn would sprout from the earth at the softest whisper of the name Dane Fife. Third place finisher Oklahoma had some great ballplayers as well, guys like Aaron McGhee and Hollis Price for whom the question of ever suiting up for the NBA game was almost an insult to the legend they forged in college. In the end, though, the turtles won. It was 1989 all over again, only Splinter was renamed Gary Williams and even more grizzled than the original.

There’s no sense going in sequence, though. It’s not so much the chronology or the history that matters as the seconds and tenths of a second of tournaments past, just so there would be time to inbound or hoist a final three. Hakim Warrick’s block as Kansas sank into the gloaming. Mateen Cleaves wielding the Claw without a thought for the NBDL. Marvin O’Connor of St. Joseph’s fouling out with 37 points, to a standing ovation. Casey Calvary, a Gonzaga forward for the common man. The “Fighting Wadoods” of East Tennessee State. And lest I forget, what in God’s name is Dick Bennett doing here?

But finally, and perhaps ultimately, this pronouncement from the redoubtable Lee Lightfoot as Arizona outlasted Illinois to advance to the Final Four, buoyed by the infectious spirit of a forward listed at 6’6”, 240 lbs, and every last bit of it Afro:

“Eugene Edgerson ... is the MVP of everything.”

4 Comments:

Blogger Mithril Gold said...

Yoh Gabe,
It's always so amazing to read your posts, because they are practically the most literary works that I've ever read. It's like poetry and better.

Hope you're doing well. I'm stuck in an office in the army doing HR work, which basically kinda sucks. But it'll all end in a bang, when I get out of here and give the army the finger! =)

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gabe, it's been almost a month. please write.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WRITE MORE!!!

Love,

G$

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Lee said...

nice piece.

9:59 PM  

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