There are few things that live up to the hype anymore.
Hype is its own industry and the actual event has too often become an irrelevance. Now we actually hype hype itself, placing our culture into a continuous loop of self-aggrandizing bullshit. In an ahistorical culture, everything is treated as an innovation.
Witness the generational difference in reaction to the recent Fab 5 documentary. Georgetown owned the Yeah, We Black - Deal With It space when Chris Webber was in 5th grade. Michael Jordan was the baggy-shorted, title-winning trendsetter we all wanted to be. UNLV exemplified the Outlaw Program Juggernaut (that actually won something) that the Fab 5 idolized, and Phi Slamma Jamma was unfiltered hoops exuberance a decade previous.
But, hey, black socks!
It's the natural outgrowth of a culture that too often foments celebrity without accomplishment and prominence without merit. Before I lament that more of us know who The Bachelor is than Jonas Salk in a predictable, dreary blog rant about popular idiocy, let's jog our spirits with the one event that almost never lets us down, reality television at its most authentic...
Name another event that more consistently lives up to its hype. Rack your brains. I can only come up with Battle of the Network Stars and Joey Buttafuoco boxing Chyna. Observe below how Tootie from Facts Of Life overcomes the kinesthetic disability of her massive jugs to run a blistering 2nd leg:
Heart of a lion. This footage also suggests that the sports bra was invented in 1986.
Back to my screed's thesis: March Madness is the most compelling event in sport.
Soccer enthusiasts writhe at this assertion as if they'd been gently brushed by a forearm on the pitch, Ken Burns weeps that I do not understand that baseball is the pastiche of cultural memory joining us all in a web of remembrance, and NFL fanatics are Googling Super Bowl viewership numbers with buffalo wing stained fingers to prepare their refutation.
March Madness pantses the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl's antiseptic corporatism. Waving around viewership numbers is the same logic used to advance Justin Beiber's superiority over Jack White or the Black Keys. College football is fantastic taken as a singular contest when the good teams actually encounter each other, but 132 bowl games named after lawn tools and debt relief service paired with the BCS cartel doesn't consistently deliver an effective culminating event. And yes, I was at the USC-Texas Rose Bowl.
Baseball is, objectively, Jane Austen in cleats: allegedly good, but not many males I know with identifiable testosterone levels can suffer through every chapter. Speed up the pacing, add some violence, and put in a car chase.
The NBA features electric organs being played during possessions - this is indefensible and negates anything you can offer as counterpoint - and hockey is played in bleak places on a surface best utilized in cocktails. MMA is often fantastic, but true tournament formats ended with the death of Japan's Pride organization. Boxing? Quickly - name the heavyweight champion of the world. Any male that couldn't answer that question immediately in 1975 would have been laughed out of the room. Now you're hitting Google.
Brackets are like blogs, giving every American an opinion in the great office pool of life. March Madness is both inclusive (68 schools) and elitist (seeding the best from top to bottom) and that appeals to my Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian sensibilities equally. Give a bunch of people a shot and let merit win out. What other event allows you to simultaneously pull for the underdog and revel in the crushing of the weak? Except for a Big 10 team in a BCS game?
Winning a college basketball national title is also the toughest achievement in competitive team athletics. Stay your objections, Women's Lacrosse Fan. The structure of basketball and simple mathematics make it so. The 2010 Auburn Tigers can play Princeton in football 1,000 times and they won't lose a game unless Cam Newton's Dad gets a fat envelope from Sinjin Beckwith-Crabapple III (Princeton '62). It's a physical impossibility, an iron law of athletic physics.
But national champion Duke will lose that game 3 out of every 100.
Risk creates stakes. Aggregated risk creates uncertainty. And placing that risk on the shoulders of 19 year olds is an actuary's nightmare. Every game is like the Russian roulette scene in the Deer Hunter.
Consider that Dean Smith only has two national titles. DEAN SMITH. AT NORTH CAROLINA. WHERE HE COACHED FOR NINETY SEVEN YEARS. AND COACHED EVERY NBA ALL-STAR EVER. I'M WRITING IN CAPS! AND EXAGGERATING!
So here's my confession on the sacred Wednesday before the tournament begins...
Football is my first love, but March Madness is my mistress.
I had kids with football and it's cheaper to keep her. I prefer football for its easy familiarity and the deep affection I have for it. Football was the sport I could play, basketball is the sport I wish I could have played. No right-thinking sports fan can deny March Madness' silky temptations.
Thankfully, football and I have a developed "an understanding" and our marriage sensibilities are Parisian. I'm going off on a fishing trip from Thursday-Sunday for the next few weekends. Ask no questions.