March Madness In Ford Nation

March 19, 2011

I write in the lull between what is turning out to be great tumult out here in my little piece of the Ford Nation. (Yes, they have proudly adopted the name for themselves. I await the imminent arrival of t-shirts and baseball caps.) It is March Madness in these parts. Some sort of statutory holiday where everyone (mostly men) gathers around television sets to watch hours and hours of basketball played by collegians. I had never heard of this before, have you? Perhaps it has not really taken in more urban areas of Toronto.

It seems that this year my presence here has added a little extra level of tension to the event. You see, after the 2nd round of play, I am the runaway leader in Larry’s March Madness Hoops Pool.™©® What is that, you say? A betting game, of sorts, where a group of people (mostly men) throw a set amount of cash into a “pool”, a “kitty” if you will, and pick teams they think will make it all the way to the finals, held sometime in early April. In years past, it was a field of 64 weeded down to 2 finalists but there was talk about 2011 being expanded to include an additional 8 teams who played off for the final 4 slots. Or something like that. I am new to this kind of convoluted sports chatter.

Exactly! I hear you saying. What do you know about sports, Acaphlegmic? There wasn’t a ball you couldn’t drop. A puck you didn’t slip on. A horse you weren’t afraid to feed a carrot to. How could you possibly be in contention in any sort of sports wagering set up? How shallow is the gene pool.. ha, ha… you are taking part in?

My answer is two-fold. You see, as devoted to fandom as the people (mostly men) are out here in Ford Nation — and do not underestimate just how important sports are — it is the first thing they read about when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they watch before falling asleep, sports are nothing short of a religion. As I’m sure I’ve written to you before, if we could turn politics into some sort of game that could be quantified, put into a bracket and bet on, these folks would be the informed citizenry that Thomas Jefferson dreamt the people could be.

But there are only so many hours in the day and only so many TVs in the household. There is a ranked order of importance to the sports that is followed and, as I am now learning, except for March Madness, college basketball is down the list significantly. Based on my observation over the last two days, no one here has watched a college basketball game since last year’s final, a thriller won by the Duke Blue Devils of North Carolina (their 4th national championship) over everyone’s favourite underdogs, the Butler Bulldogs, hailing from the basketball heartland, Indiana.

The problem is, the college basketball season, starting as it does in late fall/early winter, plays out in conflict with hockey, the conclusion of the NFL season capped in the Super Bowl and the beginning of baseball’s exhibition season (called the Grapefruit League for its location down in the sunny climes of Florida). Throw in the occasional mixed-martial arts event and there really isn’t time enough to stay on top of college basketball.

Until the 3rd week of March when everybody becomes a sudden expert on the topic. There is a flurry of conjecture as all scramble to fill out their bracket based almost purely on gut instinct, team colours and the number of times a logo is seen on a sweatshirt or baseball cap. Much like how they place their votes, I fear. An old retired friend of Larry’s, Wally, every year is absolutely convinced that this one will be the year that a 16th ranked team (the lowest a team can be) will upset a number one ranked team. “It’s never happened before,” he’ll yell. “It’s got to happen sometime, right?” A grasp of probabilities that explains the popularity of the lottery, I suspect. His choice, University of North Carolina, Asheville (who had squeaked into the tournament with a 4 point win in the 1st round) lost by 23 points. “A moral victory”, claimed Wally afterwards. Another 16th ranked team lost by over 40 points.

Like taking candy from a baby, right? After the 64 teams were set on Wednesday, I snuck out of the house, claiming it necessary to visit a sick aunt, found myself an internet café (some do exist out here in the inner suburbs) and pulled an all-nighter, crunching numbers and doing an exhaustive historical analysis of the tournament. The wealth of information out there is truly astounding. Even if you’re not a sports fan, the thrill of such in-depth research is intoxicating.

Who didn’t know that Georgetown was in line for serious spanking at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth? No one in Larry’s March Madness Hoops Pool™©®, I’ll tell you that. I made over $200 dollars on that game alone, guaranteeing a double digit victory by the Rams of VCU. Let’s face it, if you actually didn’t approach this year’s tournament secure in the knowledge that the power of the Big East was highly over-estimated, well, you deserved all the scorn I felt necessary to heap upon you. You had Louisville in walk over Morehead State?! Shame, shame, shame.

Overall, my lead is already almost insurmountable. With 5 rounds still to go! Such smashing success has not gone unnoticed, stirring some brewing resentment in the process. It has also seemingly triggered some sort of pride of possession in Darlene who, up to this point, has vigorously fought to keep our relationship clandestine from her kin (as she calls them) justifiably fearful of the derision she will endure if they were to find out. However as my victories have grown and my braggadocio swollen (I mean, how could it not?! Larry actually had St. John’s going to the Elite 8!! Another Big East sucker. I had to dance as Gonzaga romped!), Darlene has become disconcertingly openly affectionate, even sitting on my lap after my heady 1st day, 2nd round run of 15 correct picks of 16. This drew the stinkeye from a number of people in the room including Larry.

But this is what we do out here in Ford Nation. We win gracelessly and lose poorly. To triumph as spectacularly as I have and not crow, chant and finger point would be seen as spurning ritual. An offense. And besides, after months and months of enduring ridicule and name calling at the hands of these people, I am due my turn at the plate of gloating. I earned this. I intend to enjoy it to the maximum.

May everyone’s March Madness be as glorious as mine is shaping up to be.

brayingly submitted by Acaphlegmic