Monday, March 17, 2008

So, the NCAA tournament is again upon us. I'm sorry that I haven't been posting much lately, but I haven't really had all that much to say. I'm staying away from commenting on the Celtics because my comments on the Red Sox throughout last season looked fairly ridiculous when October's travesty finally played itself out. And I just haven't really been all that motivated to watch a lot of college basketball these days.

One of the problems, I suppose, when it comes right down to it is that I hate Duke and I hate North Carolina. I just don't want to see either team do well. Nor do I want to see announcers grovelling at the feet of the coaches and players associated with either team. And unfortunately, while one can never escape the latter (especially where Duke is concerned), there was far too much of the former for my taste this season.

And then at the end of last week, Illinois launched an improbable, history making run in the Big Ten tournament. Too bad they fell short, but it was still a great story. And you can tell it was a great story, based merely on the reaction of the Chicago media's one man answer to the bubonic plague, Jay Mariotti.

I realize I spend a scandalous amount of time in a blog devoted (ostensibly, any way) to the Boston sports landscape shredding a columnist from Chicago. But if ever there were a person who deserves it, it's Mariotti. And since not every one has the time to read fine sites like Jay the Joke and Boise Wants Jay, there's always room in this space to let Chicagoans know that a few people on the East Coast feel sorry for what they have to endure.

I've been thinking this for a long time, but I am now just about convinced that Jay Mariotti is the biggest douche in the continental United States. It seems improbable that a moderately trained chimpanzee could spend a decade or so covering sports and manage after all that time to fail to understand why we watch sports. And yet Mariotti has not developed the faintest inkling of the curious appeal that a team like this season's Illini can have over even the most cynical, relentlessly negative, unpleasant people in America (i.e. me).

Illinois had, up until this month began, been one of the big disappointments in college basketball. They could do a few things effectively enough to hang in most of the games they lost, but they didn't do enough of those things well enough to win, or even be a particularly watchable team. And all of that changed this week, at least except the bit about being particularly watchable.

Although, as an aside, I should introduce this anecdote. I have a friend who did a semester abroad at St. Andrews in Scotland, mostly for the academics, naturally, but he managed to get in a round or two of golf. He came back with a term he picked up from the natives to describe what we might call a wormburner. In Scotland, some people call it a Sally Gunnels shot, after some female track star in the distant past. The rationale, as they put it: "She's not pretty but she sure can run."

Leaving aside for a moment that which is Scottish and very likely sexist, that was this season's Illini in the Big Ten tournament. In the words of Victor Frankenstein, it wasn't supposed to be this way, it was supposed to be a thing of beauty. But for three and a half games over the course of four days, Illinois reminded us that we look to sports as the last remaining area where David has a shot against Goliath.

In every other aspect of our lives, some one some where is probably micturating upon you in some sense and expecting you to believe that it's raining. It may be your boss. It may be Uncle. It may be the guy who lives three doors down from you and brings his dog to drop a deuce in your wife's flowers while you're just trying to get some damn sleep. Who knows. But odds are some one in life is making your life more difficult than it really ought to be and you probably can't do all that much about it.

And go figure it had to be Wisconsin who stopped Illinois. If ever there were a team custom tailored to play the modern American Goliath, it's Duke. But Wisconsin's a close second. In fact, I hate the Badgers and Bo Ryan second only to Duke in the NCAA landscape today. And for a lot of the same reasons. Wisconsin players flop shamelessly and whine incessantly.

If they wore blue and white instead of red and white, all Wisconsin would need to play Duke's mini-me is a Coach who looked enough like a certain German dictator to make me think there might have been something more than meets the eye behind the plot of the classic Gregory Peck film The Boys From Brazil. Too bad they have to settle for a cheese ball who looks like a frustrated, failing lounge singer, right down to the lame wardrobe and giant bald spot.

Not so in sports. Every once in a while, there's a team like Illinois that, despite all signs to the contrary, manages to pull off an inspiring run like this weekend's trip through Indianapolis. And when that improbable run occurs, there's going to be some douche like Mariotti out there to try to ruin that for the rest of us. He's the guy who's going to sit through the sub-prime meltdown, the Bear Sterns China Syndrome and the damn recession that's falling down around our ears right now and rip to shreds the few bright spots that might give us a reason to smile for 15 minutes. Even I won't do that/

I guess the lesson here is that if you find yourself on the other side of what the guy I go to for my Red Sox info blithely refers to as "the douche trade" and I'm not standing there with you, you must really be king douche. So once more, congratulations, Jay.

In other matters, I have decided to revive last year's failed experiment. If you want to enter the Sedition in Red Sox Nation bracket challenge and prove that you can pick college basketball games better than a bitter dude whose motivations stem from bizarre, yet deep-seeded, personal antagonisms against coaches he's never met on campuses he's never visited in towns he can't spell, have at it.

Go to this link, and sign up:
The group password is s3dition

And I promise to cheat only if I lose.

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