March Madness 2009: An Apathetic Fan's Perspective

by Phil Kehres

For years, the only thing March Madness meant to me was getting angry about being inundated with constant hype over schools I didn’t go to. How could people care so much about a sporting event where 90% of the participants will never sniff the pros? I couldn’t fathom it. Then I went to Greensboro.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men's basketball tournament never stoked much interest in me. Sports to me has always been about pride in my city as much or more than it has been about the love for the games or specific players. I’m a fan of the symbolism attached to sports teams and events — the way a logo, a uniform or a stadium can represent pride in your hometown or state. I have a closet full of Cleveland sports jerseys, and my personality is unbearable any time the Indians, Cavs or Browns are on TV. I’ve given my heart to Cleveland sports, only to watch it burn repeatedly like the Cuyahoga, and I keep gladly coming back for more. But I didn’t go to a Division I college? And doesn't my city have real pro sports teams. Why should I care about any of these teams just for the sake of March Madness?

Lacking ties to any of the participants in a sporting event, my rational side takes over. This is why, in general, I prefer pro baseball and basketball over pro football and every college sport. Due to their rigorous seasons and playoff format, I feel Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) crown a deserving champion more often than not. Though the New York Giants are one of my favorite football teams, something felt wrong about seeing them be crowned National Football League (NFL) champions over the previously undefeated Patriots in 2007. It’s pretty easy to see, then, why March Madness — a single-elimination, do-or-die tournament — never appealed to me.

Then I went to Greensboro. I saw the University of North Carolina (UNC) play Louisiana State University (LSU) and Duke play Texas. I saw a sea full of Carolina blue shirts. I heard Carolina fans cheering raucously for Texas, reveling almost as much in Duke’s near misfortune as in UNC’s victory. Most importantly, I felt it. From the second I stepped into Greensboro Coliseum, the irrational, emotional fan took over. UNC, a team I had only tacitly rooted for previously, suddenly became the source of jubilant clapping, high fives and raging enthusiasm. It didn’t matter that most of these guys won’t make the pros. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t gone to UNC. It mattered that I was part of something so big and so seemingly unstoppable. These people — and I’m not just talking UNC fans, I mean Duke, LSU and Texas too — had poured their hearts into something so seemingly simple as a 64-team tournament. Whether it was school pride, city pride, state pride — it didn’t matter. These people believed in something bigger than themselves — it was very nearly a religious experience. I realized that sports, at their best, give you something to hope for even when times are tough.

March Madness is the embodiment of hope in sports. I may never watch another college basketball game after this year, but the emotional fan in me has a new-found respect for the tournament.

(Editor's Note: March Madness resumes with the Sweet Sixteen round of games beginning Thursday, March 26. In that round, Duke plays Villanova in Boston on March 26. And UNC will take on Gonzaga in Memphis on March 27. CBS broadcasts the tournament. The full television schedule can be found here. Various satellite systems and the NCAA online also feature full coverage of the tournament.)

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(For a commentary on the first round of tournament action, please see: "March Madness 2009: First Round Excitement.")

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Suzie said...

I'm glad you have seen the light. Go Heels!!! (I'm also just a tad jealous)

Jeff Siegel said...

Want to know how to really not care? Work on a sports desk during the tournament. That will take all the fun out of it. You'll want everyone to lose.

I saw Michael Jordan's North Carolina beat Patrick Ewing's Georgetown in 1982 in New Orleans, and even that didn't help. Could still care less.

PJ Kehres said...

Suzie -- I'm sitting here wearing a "Turn it Blue" wrist band in support of Carolina. I'm fully converted.

Jeff -- I could see how that would ruin it for you. Though I'd love to work on a sports desk and have the chance to find out for myself!

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