There came a pivotal moment in my eighth consecutive hour of NCAA
tournament-viewing when I tried, while supine on the sofa, to
turn off the TV. I reached for the remote--it was marooned on the
distant island of an ottoman--but my index finger fell an inch
short. It looked like Adam's outstretched digit, on the ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel, straining toward God for the spark of
But I failed to make contact and instead succumbed to two more
hours of VERM-CONN, which sounds like an international convention
of exterminators but is in fact CBS scoreboard shorthand for
Vermont versus Connecticut.
For 48 hours over four days, I watched every men's and women's
game and highlight available on basic cable, including DAY-DEP
and RICH-WISC and PAC-PROV, and two dozen other matchups that now
read, a week later, like a Pentagon parts list. (We had lotsa
laughs, LALAF, but I no longer remember who you are.)
In one terrible, 12-hour interregnum of inertia, I didn't leave
the couch. On the way to One Shining Moment, I enjoyed One
Reclining Moment, instantly followed by 2,779 more. From Thursday
through Sunday I felt as though I really did eat, drink and sleep
basketball--gorging on Gumbelaya and Spanarkeling water and
passing out after midnight to SportsCenter highlights. This may
explain my weird, recurring fever dream of George Washington
women's star Ugo Oha, whistled repeatedly for flagrant vowels.
March 29, 2004
I had waking visions, too. What has 64 colors and comes in a box?
Crayolas and the televised tournaments--although I eventually
learned to tell Forest Green and Carnation Pink (they're crayons)
from Kerbrell Brown and LucQuente White (they're players).
Turquoise Blue? Crayola crayon. Nikki Blue? UCLA guard.
Like crayons, each team in the tournament's 64-pack was, at the
start, pregnant with creative possibility. I filled out my men's
bracket by flipping a coin for every game--heads the higher seed
wins, tails the lower seed wins--and my 1993 quarter prophesied a
preposterous final in which No. 8 seed Alabama would lose to No.
10 seed Nevada. What's more, the obverse of the coin was stamped
with the name of yet another underdog, Liberty, just above the
head of another low seed, Washington.
The coin's reverse bore what should be the tournament's motto: E
Pluribus Unum. Indeed, moments after Bob Barker--The Price Is
Right host, not the Xavier guard--urged me to have my pets spayed
or neutered last Thursday, CBS turned its Cyclops eye on the
tournament, in which, almost immediately, Gators and Wildcats and
Salukis were ritually emasculated. Already, we'd begun winnowing
the field E Pluribus ("from many") to Unum ("one").
My chronicle of the four days of house arrest that followed
belongs less in SI than in The New England Journal of Medicine,
as I voluntarily developed--in the interest of scientific
inquiry--the first clinical case of March Madness.
My mind began wandering within the first hour, when it became
clear that Florida forward Matt Walsh--his curly locks frothing
over his headband like a perfectly poured beer--looked exactly
like Willy Wonka, who in turn would have invented Terry Licorish,
if he weren't already playing for Mississippi State.
Speaking of hair, I admired the usual assortment of Joshes with
'fros (Childress of Stanford) and Joshes with 'rows (Boone of
Connecticut). But the tournament's finest tonsorial contribution
was the electrified (and electrifying) 'fro of Dexter Lyons,
whose Central Florida Golden Knights are themselves an anagram
of: Afro, dreadlocks lent lightning.
It was impossible to note any such nonsense last year, when war
in Iraq turned marathon viewing of the first two rounds of the
tournament--the guiltiest pleasure in all of sports--into all
guilt and no pleasure. Last Friday marked the one-year
anniversary of the war's start, and CBS briefly interrupted
basketball to update us on efforts to capture al-Qaeda's No. 2
man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But for the most part, we were free, for
the first time in two years, to blissfully indulge in full
televisual immersion in the tournament, with its Zakee Wadood and
its Boubacar Coly.
By Saturday I was, like the TV itself, in a permanent horizontal
hold. A curious delivery man, peeking into the living room, might
have reasonably assumed that I lay in state, like Lenin in his
It was scarcely possible to become more slothful. Nevertheless, I
did. I found myself watching St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc
Bulger watching his sisters, Kate and Meg, play for West Virginia
on ESPN against Ohio State, whose Michelle Munoz was watched by
her father, ex-Cincinnati Bengal Anthony Munoz, while I watched
him watch her.
It had come to this: I was now living vicariously through
athletes living vicariously through other athletes. Both Chris
Duhon of Duke and Charlie Villanueva of Connecticut were injured
this month after running into television cameras. By Sunday I
feared I had become the third victim of televised college
basketball. I was an unstartable force, immovable in my couch
And yet, my brackets looked immaculate. I'd ridden my quarter
nearly to the quarterfinals: Nevada and Alabama were safely in
the Sweet Sixteen, and I was eager to see them through. I've
already spent more time on the couch than Woody Allen. And the
remote remains obstinately out of reach. One more week couldn't
hurt, could it?
After 48 hours of watching the NCAA tournaments, I developed the
first clinical case of March Madness.