BEST TOURNAMENT EVER

(This article was first published by Basketball Times as “Avenging The Grinch who stole the NCAA Tournament” – 5/2020)

Here’s an actual email that I received at about 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020:

“Dave, are you alive?”

In case you are wondering, the answer was yes. I’m not sure what the expected response would have been had the answer been no.

But within minutes my inbox became filled with similar concerns for my mental well-being.

“Dave, are you catatonic – like Ferris Bueller’s friend Cameron?”

You see, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament had just been announced. And I’m a little nutty for the Tournament. You know, much like Bill Nye is a “little nutty” for science.

For example, as an attorney I filed many motions to continue cases due to a “religious obligation”. I failed to mention that the “religious obligation” was actually the NCAA Tournament. I swear that is true. Unless you are a member of the Board of Bar Overseers, then I swear it’s not true. 

The Tournament is, without question, a holiday in my house. My daughters say it’s second only to Christmas. They are wrong. It’s number one.

We actually exchange gifts and decorate every inch of the house with wall-sized brackets. My neighbors can’t understand why we take the time to put them up. Whereas I can’t understand why we ever take them down.

My daughter once wrote in her first grade class journal, “This weekend we will be celebrating Selection Sunday.” But her teacher did not follow college hoops. So that Monday we received a call. “This is social services.  Have you joined a cult?”

Then that damn COVID-19 hit. 

As I sat nearly comatose, my youngest daughter tugged on my shirt.

“Daddy, why don’t we be like the Whos?”

“Huh, I do like The Who.”

“No the Whos”

“Whose what?”

“Not what, Whos.  You know, from Who-ville.”

“Where?”

Clearly I should have added “First base.” But instead, like the stellar parent I am, I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t you remember Who-ville and the Grinch who stole Christmas from the Whos?”

“I’m really not in the mood . . .

“Well the coronavirus is kind of like the Grinch, and we could be like the Whos.”

Then all of a sudden I had a wonderful idea – we could be like the Whos!

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss  . . .)

            To heck with that Grinch called COVID-1

We’ll have the best Tournament the world’s ever seen!

            Yeah there’s no brackets, which is quite a pity.

            But we’ll be our very own selection committee!

            We’ll come up with something that’ll be fun you’ll see

            And it will keep our minds off the lack of TP.

            It’ll be a big party, one hell of a bash.

            But don’t tell Mom I ate the last can of Who-hash.

            Now let’s put up decorations to get in the mood

            And prepare for the arrival of the Selection Sunday Dude.

Uh Dave, what’s the Selection Sunday Dude? 

As I’ve told my daughters many times, the Selection Sunday Dude brings presents to children every year. But not to all of them, just the good ones. 

You know, who watch no less than 8 college basketball games per week.  And most importantly, they have to live in my house. 

See, he’s much like Santa. But instead of coming on Christmas Eve in a sleigh colored red, he comes on Selection Sunday Eve in a van that says Amazon.

And come he did with gifts, all college and basketball related, piled under our Fisher Price hoop. This led my wife to openly question whether the Selection Sunday Dude stuck to his budget. No. No he did not.

But we had gifts and were quite happy, just like those Whos from Who-ville.

“Uh Dave, weren’t the Whos from Who-ville happy even though they had no gifts?”

That makes no sense.

So I started calling my girls Cindy Lou 1 and Cindy Lou 2. (There may be evidence that I need to reread some Dr. Seuss.) 

I then told them that just like the Whos from Who-ville sang “Welcome Christmas” we should sing “Welcome Selection Sunday.” I got them started. 

“Fahoo fores dahoo dores . . .” 

And then they did what they do best –  ignored me.

The real gift on Selection Sunday, however, has always been the revealing of the bracket of 68 teams. So I came up with another wonderful idea. A wonderful, amazing idea: I’ll create a way to play all the games in a bracket that I’ll make myself! The response from my family was unanimous.  

“That’s an awful idea.” 

A wonderful, awful, idea? 

“No, a completely awful idea!”

Apparently they all wanted to participate. This led to another family holiday tradition – fighting.

Cindy Lou 1: Iowa should have a much better seed.

Cindy Lou 2: Can you even spell Iowa?

I stopped the fight there because I feared a response of no.

We were all able to agree to include our favorite teams. I chose my alma mater, St. Bonaventure. My wife chose hers – that other Catholic school, you know, in South Bend. My daughters also chose St. Bonaventure, you know, because they love their dad.

Then we concocted a way to actually play the games with dice and with team cards that note the results of each possession.

“Uh Dave, that sounds a lot like Dungeons and Dragons.”

No. Dungeons and Dragons was a game dorks played with dice that determined the results of . .  Ok, maybe it was a little bit like Dungeons and Dragons.

Though actually it was more akin to the old Strat-O-Matic or APBA baseball games. My mom always thought I was wasting time. Little did she know that 25 years later I’d use what I learned from those games to, well, waste more time.

But first, we had to fill out the brackets. This very much confused my wife.

“Why would we fill them out before we play?”

“Because making the picks is the fun.”

“What about the games?”

“Well that’ll be fun too.”

“That’s good to know because I was afraid that playing 60-some games might just be insane.”

After I finished my brilliant bracket, I took a peak at my wife’s picks. I tried not to scoff when I saw she had New Mexico State besting Dayton in round 2. I should have tried harder.

“You do realize that Dayton has Obi Toppin?”

“You do realize that Obi Toppin will not be rolling the dice?”

My wife then made another seemingly keen observation.

“This basketball game you’ve created appears to be missing something – basketball.”

“Have no fear. The Selection Sunday Dude has us covered!”

I pulled out a huge stack of brand new basketball movie DVDs. You name it, the Selection Sunday Dude brought it: Hoosiers, Fast Break, White Men Can’t Jump, and even Slam Dunk Ernest.

“Did the Selection Sunday Dude know that we could have watched them all for free on Prime and Netflix?”

No. No, he did not.

But it was time to let the first play in game begin which pitted my beloved St. Bonaventure Bonnies against my wife’s Notre Dame Something-or-other. ND really needs to a get a more memorable and masculine nickname, you know, like Bonnies.

It did not go well. Before the first half ended the Bonnies trailed by 25 points. Reports that I accused my wife of cheating are not wholly unfounded.

I will, however, dispute any assertion that I overreacted when she rolled the dice off the table. See, she has a history of doing so at a place where doing so is frowned upon – Vegas.

Yes, she rolled the dice off a craps table, and not once, but twice in a row. Well it turns out that when someone rolls the dice off a craps table in Vegas – twice – the pit boss and security will promptly arrive. And when they asked her who she was working with the correct response was nobody. Yet she opted to point at me.

Unfortunately, my dice rolling proficiency was not assisting my Bonnies. Mid-way through the second half, ND still led by 20. We desperately needed a stop. So I did the only logical thing – I looked my wife dead in the eye, stood up, and slapped my hands on the floor.

“What is wrong with you?”

“You’d think someone from Notre Dame wouldn’t have to ask obvious questions.”

And then the Bonnies went on a roll. (Pun not intended or even noticed until the third rewrite.)

After draining three on top of three, St. Bonaventure made the greatest comeback in the history of the NCAA Tournament – Dice Version. My daughters and I broke into a raucous and Purell-less round of high-fives.

            Yet the joy miraculously continued somehow, someway

            For Villanova and Auburn, the Bonnies would also slay.

            They then beat KU and UK to make the Final Four.

            “Unbelievable!” my girls yelled. “Have they ever been there before?”

            “Only one time prior.” I said with much glee.

            It’s time to party like it’s 1970!

            They then made it past Baylor to face mighty Duke.

            The pressure was too much, I thought I would  . . .

            (If only there was a word that rhymed with Duke.)

            Though the Bonnies would try, it would all be for naught.

            Yeah that’s exactly what I originally thought.

            But somehow, someway St. Bonaventure proved too strong.

            Because, as my wife likes to say, I’m often wrong.

            Shouting, “They won! They won!” we ran upstairs and slid down railings.

            I then said sorry to my wife for Selection Sunday Dude’s budgetary failings.

            She simply gave me a kiss and said, “Whatever.             Honey, this has been the best Tournament ever.”

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