This is my favorite sports week of the year
Published 3:05 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2019
As much as I enjoy The Masters, football season or sports in general, there’s nothing that beats the first week of the NCAA Tournament.
Nothing else can compare due to the numerous last-second finishes, buzzer beaters and images of joy and jubilation. But there’s also something special about the finality of it. When a last-second shot goes in, one team goes crazy, while the other team — regardless of the year they’ve had — sees their season end in an instant. It’s tough.
I’ll never forget my first taste of the “madness,” the moment that really sparked my interest in college basketball.
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As a kid living near Birmingham, I remember watching television at a skating rink in 2004 as ninth-seeded UAB played Kentucky, No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament that year. UAB had a couple of incredible moments in the game, including a behind the back pass between twins Donnell and Ronnell Taylor. I remember the whole team, from “Squeaky” Johnson to Demario Eddins.
The Blazers hero in that game was Mo Finley, who grew up right down the road in LaFayette. Finley made a 17-foot jump shot with 12.2 seconds left to put UAB ahead, and the Blazers held on as Kentucky missed two shots on their final possession. Later that weekend, Alabama knocked off another No. 1 seed in Stanford.
And just like that, a college football state turned into a college basketball haven for one weekend. Sports Illustrated produced a cover the next week with both Alabama and UAB on the front, a magazine I still have. The headline read “Sweet Alabama.” The Birmingham News headline the next morning read “UABelieve” with an iconic shot of Finley on the front page. I’ve got that tucked away too. That was 15 years ago.
It was then that I realized how special the NCAA Tournament is.
It’s also when I started an annual tradition of filling out as many brackets as possible, hoping just once in my lifetime to fill out a perfect bracket. I’ve tried flipping a coin, I’ve tried looking at historical trends, I’ve picked with my heart — none of it has gotten me close. But that’s what makes it so fun.
My wife, who hasn’t watched a full college basketball game all season, has about the same odds of winning a family bracket challenge as I do. So, does my 1-year-old.
I will give one nugget of advice though, just for anyone who still hasn’t filled out a bracket this year. It’s easy to pick all of the top seeds, but more than likely you’ll be wrong and you won’t have as much fun. Since 2010, at least one team seeded fourth of lower has made the Final Four, and since 2013 teams seeded 7 or lower have made up 7 of the 24 Final Four spots. Something crazy is going to happen and the fun is trying to figure out what that “something” is.
More than likely, we’ll all be tearing up our brackets about halfway through Thursday’s games, but that’s what makes it fun. Good luck everyone.