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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our National Championship

Let the games begin.

Our country has a lot of great sports traditions. The Super Bowl, College Football Bowl Season and Opening Day to name just a few. But none of them come close to the glory that is the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament -- March Madness and our one true national championship.

I don't think I really understood the significance of the Tournament until I saw the effect it has on the American workplace. Even if just for a few weeks, the LEED certified high rises in San Francisco become a veritable 12-year-old boys' clubhouse. The banter at the automated coffee machine is at an all-time high. After a few days, you see so many college-theme polo shirts that you memorize every co-worker's alma mater. And that woman from Finance who has never even made eye contact with you let alone speak to you all of a sudden comes to your cube and asks in her low, hushed voice, "Hey. Who you got coming out of the Southwest?"

"Huh?? Oh, Kansas."

It's the one time a year when the entire country has a reason to watch. No longer is the spotlight reserved for teams from Los Angeles and New York, Chicago and Miami. Instead, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers lead on Sportscenter. It's the time of year when Northern Iowa's win matters outside the town of Cedar Falls. It matters to everyone living outside a major-sports market, the millions and millions of sports fans without a pro team within driving distance who finally get to see why they matter too. Fans in Morehead, Kentucky and Manhattan, Kansas, fans of the St. Peter's Peacocks and Indian St. Sycamores -- this is their annual chance to make us remember their name.

And even for those fans in Alaska and Montana and the states without a tournament representative, they will always have their bracket. That immaculate piece of paper can create die-hard interest out of thin air. People go the entire year without checking a single box score in any sport. But when it comes to their bracket, they're in it to win it. They want to win for the glory, for the pride and for the Wii that their office pool is giving away.

So enjoy these next few weeks. The Elite 8 and Final Four are great, but it's really the first two rounds that make this tournament what it is. It's the 6 games happening simultaneously. It's the uproar in the cafeteria when Bucknell shocks UConn. It's streaming 4 HD games at once all while trying to finish that freaking expense report. It's flipping back and forth between games and the Boss Button so quickly that your computer freezes and your actual boss walks by to see a frame of Kemba Walker stuck on your screen.

Any other day he would scold you. But not on this day. Today he doesn't care.

Today, the only words out of his mouth as he motors back to his office to catch the second half are "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk."

God, I love this tournament.

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