I meant to start this blog post a week or so ago when the NCAA tournament was actually starting. Here we are at the Sweet 16 and I’m just getting to it. This has been a strange tournament for me this year for several reasons. 1) After a very disappointing season Pitt is not in the Big Dance. 2) There haven’t been any huge upsets. The Lehigh win against Duke was not an upset. It was simply divine intervention as the Devils needed to be cast out and put in their rightful place. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a UNC Tarheel fan. Pitt is my #1 team, but they normally stress me out and living in Charlotte it was easy to jump on the Tarheel bandwagon. It was nice to finally pull for a winner. Remember, Pitt was mediocre at best until this past 10 years. Also, on a personal note the Lehigh win was surreal because in our last home we lived 2 blocks from Lafayette College (Lehigh’s main rival) and were only about 15 minutes away from Lehigh’s campus. But again, I believe in the goodness of God so I’m not surprised to see Duke go down. 3) We now live in Bloomington, Indiana home of IU and the Hoosiers. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement and I have a new team to pull for. Go Candystripes!
I usually like the earlier rounds much more than the later rounds. I know that as the tournament goes on and the stage gets bigger, the games take on more significance and you could argue the games are better. But there is something magical about the early rounds. All the teams with a chance, some more than others, to go on. All the games seem to be on all the channels all the time. It’s exciting. A #16 seed UNC-Asheville can scare a #1 seed like Syracuse. By the way, I did pick UNCA in my bracket. Not good as Syracuse is now in the Elite 8. I like that everyone, even a team like UNCA, still has a chance and hope as the tournament begins.
I also love the humanity and the emotion that bubbles to the surface during March Madness. The passion and love of the game from of the guys on Michigan State. The tears from the Murray State players. The sheer joy of the Lehigh team. It’s a reminder of why I loved sports, and in this case basketball, as a kid. The competition. The guys on the team. The pure joy of a game that would cause my dad to force me inside on a summer’s night because my bouncing the ball in the driveway would wake up the sleeping neighbors. For me, there is an innocence that the NCAA tournament evokes, especially as the shenanigans of the New Orleans Saints comes to light. I’m not naive or blind to the ills of college athletics, as Penn St. and Syracuse reminded us this year. But still. This is a game. Games are meant to be played and enjoyed. In this case it’s played by passionate young men who will jump up and down and into each other’s arms as they celebrate. They will also cry on national television in defeat. Maybe it’s the pastor in me, but I’m always moved by the bench guys who provide a comforting arm, hug, or word to their hurting teammate as the clock winds down on the dream of playing another game. I remember how I cried in the locker room my senior year in high school as my team lost in the state tournament. I knew then that playing basketball would never be the same again. It would be pickup or intramural or something at the YMCA from here on out. I’d never put on an official uniform to represent a school/team again. I think that is the reality for most of these non NBA players too.
As a new dad I have really come to live into the mantra of “survive and advance.” Worry about the game/day in front of you and don’t look too far down the bracket. The babies don’t let us do that. I think Jesus talks about this too. Today has enough trouble of its own. Don’t worry as much about tomorrow. Easier said than done. Some days it feels like Mihee and I are upset victims, knocked on our heads by two little people. Other days it feels like we are cutting the nets down as we laugh ourselves silly. Like the tournament, it’s a wild ride to say the least. March Madness is full of the stuff of life. There is joy, laughter, passion, celebration, heartache, disappointments, surprises, tears, endings, and new possibilities. At the end of the day, the tournament reminds us that we are alive…and we should embrace it. It’s a gift to be able to keep on dancing.
Now, let’s go Hoosiers!