Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Butler Didn't Do It

This was the game that millions of fans waited for an entire year to see, and yet it wasn't much of a game at all. Last year, when Butler played Duke, even though man for man Duke was probably a better team, Butler hung with them and almost won. This year, UCONN was the better team, and well, they played like it.

Butler’s shot a pathetic 18.8%. You want it to sound worse? Okay, they missed 81.2% of their shots. More than 8 out of 10! I can miss eight out ten shots, and I haven’t been practicing for four hours a day for eight months. UCONN didn’t shoot all that well, either, but at least their game didn’t make you wince.

Even she thought the game stunk.

Obviously, when you watch a big game like this and it turns out to be a dud, you’re more disappointed than if it were just a regular season game. Our expectations were too high. We were waiting and waiting for a fantastic game, and then when it didn’t come, well, it was a little depressing for all but the UCONN fans.

And if we felt bad because it was such a crummy game, imagine how the Butler players felt. For some of them, this was the last game of organized basketball they’ll ever play. I mean, how many of them are going to play in the NBA? And even for those who will still be at Butler next year, don’t count on them being in the Championship Game again. The basketball gods might give you two chances in a row, but not three.

I wonder about the impact this game will have on their lives. Actually, I wonder about the impact on the UCONN players’ lives, too. Often, we’ll hear that a night like this – playing for the National Championship – will be the biggest event in these kids’ lives. And if you perform so dismally in the most important thing in your life, that’s got to be depressing.

Of course, not every athlete holds onto his sports days as the best possible days ever. Some find other things that are fulfilling. But some don’t. And it’s no wonder. It’s doubtful any of these kids will ever hear 70,000 people cheer for them while millions more watch them on TV – unless they find a cure for some horrible disease or figure out how mattress stores make money.

Some on Connecticut may very well turn out to be those guys who are still bragging about the big game long after it’s an emotionally healthy thing to do. Whenever there’s a lull in a conversation, they’ll bring out that game DVD that they always carry with them. And what about those guys on Butler? Will they still be haunted by missing shot after shot when they’re grandfathers?

Most of us know deep down that continuing to obsess about their sports careers for the rest of their lives indicates that their personal growth stopped the night of the big game. We know that being a good person, falling in love, or becoming a parent “should be” the most important thing in one’s life, not the score of some game. It’s somewhat pathetic for someone ten or twenty years after a game to still feel it was the most important thing they were ever involved in. Those of us with families, friends, and real adult lives know what’s really important.

Despite knowing all these wise things about life, how many of us wouldn’t change places with these athletes just to play in that one game? Even with the guys on Butler.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Basketball Hangover

Nobody gets off Scott free after watching two amazing basketball games in one evening with only a 40-minute break in between them. To one degree or another, all of the 75,421 people who were in Reliant Stadium Saturday night and saw Butler beat VCU and UCONN’s triumph over Kentucky are suffering from a basketball hangover right now. Semifinal Saturday is always elating and deflating. It’s also draining. That’s not just from watching the ups and downs of two great basketball games. It's also from having to sit through a trombone blaring into your ear for more hours than an auditory nerve was meant to be tortured; it’s having to watch some sweaty student inside a dopey costume dancing at seemingly random times; and it’s putting up with the person next to you checking for emails. After the final whistle blows, you leave the arena, thirsty, simultaneously sweaty and chilled from the air conditioning, yet still calculating how many hours you’ll have to wait until Monday night’s game.

Those fans who watched the games at home are not immune to the hangover feeling. Watching a double header is just as draining for them. They also have to deal with things like family members who don’t care about the games and actually talk during them, the phone ringing and nobody answering it, and their TVs suddenly losing reception for ten seconds when the score is tied. They know they should conserve their strength for the Championship Game, but sometimes they’re weak. They’ll record the games, and then sneak down and watch them again after everyone else is asleep.

You want to get over the hangover so you’ll be ready to focus on the next game. I chose to go cold turkey. I knew if I even drank in one more rerun of the game, one analysis on TV, or one heated discussion about who’s going to win the next one, it would all be over for me. Sure, I thought about Saturday night’s games. I had trouble falling asleep. When I closed my eyes, I’d see Kemba Walker making that spectacular pass and Matt Howard making yet another put-back. However, I didn’t let things like that control me.

Whenever I’m in a situation like this, I know what to do. I try to stay busy, and I drink plenty of water. I spent as much time away from the hotel on Sunday as possible. I knew there were NBA games on TV, and I didn’t trust that I could resist watching them if I stayed. I went to what is perhaps the opposite of a basketball game – an art museum. By the time I got back to the hotel, the games were over. I had avoided temptation and become that much stronger for the big game ahead.

I felt really good about myself. Then after dinner, as I was walking through the lobby, I saw a bunch of people watching something on TV. It was the UCONN-Notre Dame women’s game. I knew I never should have sat down. Now I’ve got another hangover to get over – and the clock is ticking.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Killing The Clock Before The Clock Starts

I’ll bet you think that writers just kill time all day, waiting for a 5:00 P.M. game. Not true. I spent most of the day watching other people kill time. It's a few hours before game time, but that hasn't stopped fans going to the arena. They aren't even allowed to go in yet, but they seem perfectly happy sitting on the grass in front of Reliant Stadium. Like everything in Texas, the stadium is big. How big? It’s slightly smaller than Rhode Island. One fact about the stadium that will probably surprise you is that it’s the only stadium with a retractable roof, and natural grass that hosts both an NFL team and the rodeo. Really? I thought the White House gym was set up like that, too. (By the way, now I’m seeing the players warm up, and they definitely are not playing on real grass).

It never seems like it’s a big sports event until I hear our national anthem. Okay, our second national anthem which is: “Who needs two? I’ve got two right here.” Well, I heard this called out many times by guys in dark glasses today, so this is officially a Big Event. There are rumors that another illegal activity takes place during the Final Four. People bet on who’s going to win, how many points are they going to win by, end even whether the two teams in the game will have a combined higher or lower score than the bookies predict. That last kind of bet is called, "under and over." I was just walking around for about an hour or so, and I have to tell you that the under and over for the temperature and humidity is about 182. If I were a betting man, I’d go for the over. This is a rare situation in which the fans who walk to the stadium might actually sweat more than the players.

As I watch Butler and VCU warm up, I can’t help wishing what so many other people have been wishing for ever since these teams made it to the semi-finals. Like most fans, I wish that it were possible for these two teams to meet in the Finals. That’s what America would like to see. That way, an underdog-ish, mid-major school would be guaranteed of beating the big guys. But Butler and VCU are on the same side of the “draw,” so one of them won’t be playing on Monday for the Championship. That dream Championship game can’t happen. Or can it? It was “impossible” for VCU to win one game, let alone be in the semifinals. It was impossible for Butler to get this far without their star from last year. So maybe something “impossible” will happen in the next couple of hours to make these two teams play for the championship. Maybe the NCAA will disqualify Kentucky and UCONN for some violation that nobody ever heard of.

Speaking of the NCAA, they always claim that they are open to suggestions and that they try to make the game better. Oh, really? Well, this year there are a couple of things that can cause so much confusion that I think the Competition Committee should consider changing the rules. First of all, three out of four of the teams have the same colors – blue and white. Isn’t that a big excessive? Is there any wonder that there are turn-overs? It also causes problems outside the stadium. Three-fourths of the people walking around town are wearing blue and white T-shirts. I have to look at their chests to see which team they’re rooting for. It’s gotten me some very dirty looks. VCU had the common sense to wear black and gold.

There’s another confusing T-shirt that people are proudly wearing. It says, “Coach Cal.” The question is, do they mean Coach Calipari or Coach Calhoun? Maybe they’re hedging their bets. Regardless, it is confusing. VCU fans wouldn’t have the same problem with their coach. How many “Coach Shakas” do you know?

Before Tipoff: Against All Odds

The games haven’t even started yet, and it's already among the most exciting Final Fours in memory. It’s obvious that this will go down in history as one of the most amazing Final Fours even before the tipoff of the first game. Ever since these four became The Four, sports fans' pulse rates haven't gone back to normal. Up until a couple of weeks ago, millions of people wouldn’t have been able to tell you whether VCU was a college or a mobile phone carrier. Similarly, it was only a year ago that the Butler Bulldogs became the nation's underdogs. According to predictionmachine.com, before this year's tournament started, the likelihood that these four teams would face off in the Finals was 1 in 93,297,507. Even if these guys are off by 10 or 20 million, those are still pretty long odds.

So instead of trying to beat odds like that to make a few bucks, I’ve got a sure thing to share with you. Every February, buy stock in companies like Ticonderoga, Eberhard, and Art Gum, Inc. That's right. Put all your money in eraser companies. That way, you're guaranteed to make money each year when all those people show up at work dubiously shouting, "I had it all the way. Check out my brackets." If you look closely at their brackets on the piece of paper they don't want you to look closely at, you'll see that their real picks were erased. If you bring a forensic team in this year, they'll be able to tell you that his Final Four were actually Ohio State, Duke, Kansas and Florida. So the sure way to make money during the NCAA tournament every year is to buy eraser futures.

Every year when I arrive at the Final Four city, I try to get the flavor of the place on the bus ride from the airport to the hotel. One of my observations after arriving in Houston is that it's a good city to get sick in. There seems to be a hospital or medical center on every block. Maybe that's why there are so many gun and weapon stores: people feel that if they accidentally shoot themselves, it’s no big deal. There’s a gun wound specialist just around the corner.

I saw a great billboard on the way to the hotel. It was an ad for a lawyer whose phone number is 713 – WASN'T ME. I'm not kidding. After seeing this, I kept hoping that the next billboard would be from the prosecutor’s office with the phone number 1-800-OH YES IT WAS. Unfortunately, the second billboard didn't pop up. It shouldn't have surprised me. I mean, what are the odds that those two billboards would be on the same street? I can’t do the math and answer that question, but I'm pretty sure the odds of that happening are a lot smaller than the odds of seeing these four teams play this weekend.

Enjoy the Final Four.

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by