March Madness to the rescue
Just like every year, the NCAA Tournament showed up in your living room last weekend and convinced you that it’s still OK to love sports.
You had just about had it.
You had winced at the headlines last August when it was reported that since-resigned Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss had tried to implicate that Patrick Dennehy – one of his former stars – had received large sums of money from dealing drugs, instead of from Bliss himself.
Dennehy, as you know, wasn’t available for a rebuttal after his body turned up in July with two gunshot wounds to the head – the accused murderer being his former roommate and teammate.
There was some good in the fall and early winter sporting season – the Marlins beat ‘The Evil Empire’ in Yankee Stadium to win the series, the Pats and pretty boy quarterback Tom Brady held off the upstart Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, and college football’s national championship went to two deserving teams.
But then February hit you like a clean right hook.
You were already knee-deep in Kobe when the BALCO mess broke on the 11th and spoiled spring training for you. Instead of asking ‘Do you think the Rockies can go over .500 this year?’ you found yourself wondering, ‘Could Barry really hit 73 home runs and not be on steroids?’
Before you could even catch your breath, your own state university’s beloved football program was in the eye of the media hurricane. Players and coaches alike were under attack for allegedly using sex, drugs and alcohol to attract blue chip recruits – this after a forgettable 5-7 season, nonetheless.
If that wasn’t enough, head coach Gary Barnett went on to say that former female kicker Katie Knida – who had alleged that she was raped by a teammate while at Colorado – was an awful football player.
“Katie was a girl and not only was she a girl, she was terrible. OK?,” Barnett said on Feb 18. “There is no other way to say it.”
Suddenly that Big 12 Championship in 2001 – the same season of the now infamous recruiting party – didn’t seem so perfect after all.
March came with aspirations of spring renewal, of warm weather and sweet storylines, but you got suckerpunched by Todd Bertuzzi’s attack on Avalanche rookie Steve Moore.
Fighting and hockey seemed to be the perfect couple, but seeing some guy get his neck broken on national television didn’t sit too well with you. Seeing it replayed 50 times didn’t make it any better.
You wondered, ‘What’s wrong here?’ You were at odds to figure out why aside from war coverage, the pending presidential election and a controversial new Mel Gibson movie, sporting news had become the news.
No longer were you tuning in to find out what the winning score was, but instead to see if another Colorado victim had come forward, or whether Bertuzzi would face criminal charges, or if MLB Commissioner Bud Selig would finally step up to the plate against steroids.
Sports to you were corrupt, perverted and most notably unenjoyable. Sports was for bullies, liars, chronic gamblers, adulterers and cheaters.
Sports didn’t make your pulse speed up anymore, it just made your stomach turn.
For some reason, though, last weekend you found yourself in front of the television doing what you hadn’t done in so long, indulging in something so familiar, yet so forgotten.
I know you’re sick of me telling you what you were doing or thinking – but I also know that I’m right – that I wasn’t the only person in America cheering on the UAB Blazers – their mascot is a fire breathing snake – or swallowing hard after Gonzaga got dropped by Nevada.
I know I wasn’t the only one who cared about that Syracuse-Maryland game, that I wasn’t the lone soul sweating over a Mississippi State loss.
Finally, there was a reason to smile again, or to gasp or to scream out in the middle of a crowded restaurant, ‘Oh come on, he wasn’t fouled!’
Maybe it wasn’t all good. Maybe conversations that started out like this one were missing something.
Guy 1: Can you believe gas prices?
Guy 2: Yeah, I know. Can you believe that Alabama beat Stanford?
Personally, I think it’s all great. Away from all the problems that are currently plaguing big time sports, last weekend was a revelation – a healthy injection into what had become a very sick animal.
I’m not saying that sports can save the world. I’m just saying that sometimes sports can save sports – that a beautiful last second jumper from some kid we’ve never even heard of to knock off the No. 1 seed can make us forget about a recruiting scandal or a steroid investigation, if just for a minute.
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you don’t.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.