The magic of the NCAA tournament
Over the course of my 15-year career, I have lived the dream. My dream. I've covered all four major sports; attended multiple World Series and All-Star Games; surfed with
And yet, for all the high-profile goodies I've been a part of, the answer to "What's the single highlight of your sports existence?" has never changed.
I know ... I know -- how is this possible? I've rubbed shoulders with
The admittedly cheesy answer: Joy.
Whenever March Madness approaches, I instinctively return to the unadulterated joy I felt (egad) 17 years ago when, as an assistant sports editor at Delaware's student newspaper,
Yet ... who cared? We were going -- we were actually going. Our freshman point guard,
I still recall walking into the enormous arena, a press pass dangling from my neck like a .45 from my hip. Delaware was a big underdog -- but I knew better. During an interview with Wright a few days earlier, the junior forward insisted the Hens were more than mere lion's feed. "Our goal is to win the tournament," he said. "Who says we can't? We're as good as anyone else here? I truly believe that." (I later learned that the endearing Wright, who was known around campus as "Sweet," had wisely picked North Carolina to win it all in his pool).
Being 19 and naïve, I believed it, too. Perhaps that's why, as I sat down at my courtside seat for the tip-off, my knees were shaking and my teeth chattering. "They're gonna do it," I whispered to
He nodded. "Sure," he said. "But they have to keep it tight early."
The game started.
The game ended.
Delaware didn't keep it tight. The Hens trailed 38-21 at halftime, cut the deficit to 11 with 8:58 left, then scored a single field goal the rest of the way. I've never forgotten looking toward the Hens' bench and seeing
Yet by then, I had moved on. This was my first trip to an NCAA tournament, and I cherished every moment of it. The colors. The sounds. The smells. The Howard pep band and the Michigan State cheerleaders. Though, from a skill standpoint, Delaware's players had no business being on the same floor as Cincinnati's, they were there nonetheless. They were a part of it all.
And so, for a glorious day, was I.