(to non-sports fans: the 1,545 words that follow are not so much about sports as they are about Ali)
(to sports fans: ignore what I just wrote)
This begins my 4-part series (offered to you over the next 3 days) predicting the 2007 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. My legendary 2005 predictions are here and here. My 2006 predictions are here (pointing to my head).
To those of you unfamiliar with March Madness, the "regions" of the tournament are often uncorrelated with the locations of its teams. So don't get too worked up and point out to me that Nevada and Maryland are not in the midwest. They're not. But they are in the "Midwest." So, here are my first round predictions for the "Midwest" Regional:
(#1 seed) Florida vs (#16 seed) Jackson State This is not the best pairing to start off my predictions with. I have little personal connection to either school or region. I do know this: the University of Florida is in Gainesville. Tom Petty is from Gainsville. He made Damn the Torpedoes, arguably the best album by a future Wilbury in all of 1979 or the 1970s for that matter. This, along with the fact that Florida won the national championship last year and they're one of the best 2 or 3 teams in the country, is enough for me to predict that Florida will win this game.
(#2) Wisconsin vs. (#15) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Aah... the University of Wisconsin, in the idyllic town of Madison, land of fully realized liberal ideals, parties where they overplay Bob Marley songs (please don't write in saying that you can't overplay Bob; you can), and a fine research-rich state university. Yes... Madison, land of puffy halcyon clouds, unicorn-befriending gnomes, faerie-cajoling gypsies, and earthy bakeries where the loaves are gilded with silver and the recyclable bags can be used for earthworm compost because that's they way they roll in Mad-town. Oh yes... Madison, future home of an upward career-arc-climbing advice columnists and LPGA prodigies. And... Madison, home of a damn good basketball team which will beat TA&M-CC by double digits.
(#3) Oregon vs. (#14) Miami (Ohio) I could tell you stories about a former grad school classmate in Minnesota who did her undergraduate work at the University of Miami in Ohio. She had a name that seemed almost fictional, a name that was too good to be true, a name I won't reveal here, to protect her privacy. She shared her first name with a seminal Elvis Costello song, one in which Elvis, after all these years, proclaimed his aim to be true, though she spelled it differently. Her last name was made up of two parts (those Dutch!), each of which was a word in its own right (one word was a noun, the second word both a noun and a verb.) I could tell you stories about her, like the way she enthusiastically read Abraham Lincoln biographies and brought the subject of Abe up at the most unexpected - but often most appropriate - times during class discussions. Not only could I tell you stories like this one, I've actually written a short story on the subject of this woman and her Abe fetish (in the story, the Ohioan eventually perishes in a fire; in real life, I'm sure she's doing just fine, probably raising horses near Louisville, though I don't know for sure because she's un-Google-able.) Anyway, her alma mater will lose because the Ducks have Aaron Brooks, that's why.
(#4) Maryland vs. (#13) Davidson Maryland wins. I have no story here. No, wait! I do have a story. Have you heard the story about my favorite belt? I'm wearing it right now. It's a brown belt, constructed from thick brown leather, with a fat metal buckle, a belt that is sturdier than a thousand Allman Brothers Band guitar solos. I love my belt. I've had it since September of 1996! I've worn this belt approximately 300 times per year for over 10 years. That's over 3000 times! And where did I buy this belt? In Maryland? At freaking Abercrombie and Fitch in the effing Owings Mills Mall, for god's sake! The mall in the suburbs of Baltimore, not really close to the university that I'm projecting to win this game. But it's close enough. Have I told you how I had to take a bus back from the mall to my Baltimore hotel because the one cab company in Owings Mills wasn't answering their phone at 9:30 on a Saturday night? Why was I taking cabs and buses in an around Baltimore in the first place? Why indeed?
(#5) Butler vs (#12) Old Dominion I really have no story here. Butler's a good team though. They win.
(#6) Notre Dame vs. (#11) Winthrop I have a friend named Jim. I haven't talked to Jim in nearly six years (hey Jim, check your e-mail!) I've written about Jim before. Jim went to college at Notre Dame. He actually started out at Trenton State University in New Jersey (a surprisingly interesting college back in '85, with architecturally appealing dorms and great nearby pizza places) but transferred to his beloved (he's Irish, you see) Notre Dame. But the story I tell of Jim doesn't involve Notre Dame or Trenton. No, it involves a girl he liked in high school. You see, Jim had a crush on a girl. The girl - let's call her Marybeth because back when I went to high school, girls were either named Mary, Beth, or Marybeth - already had a boyfriend. The boyfriend was the star of the football team. One day, Jim and I were driving around Doylestown, PA in my Mom's Mazda GLC (stands for "good little car") and Jim wanted me to drive by Marybeth's house, ostensibly to see if the football star's truck was parked there. But he didn't want to be seen driving by the house. I suggested he just slink down a little in the front seat. But it was a summer night and the sun hadn't gone down yet and Jim feared he'd be noticed. So - and this was Jim's idea, not mine - Jim decided to hide in the trunk of the car while I drove past Marybeth's house and looked for the football player's jacked-up truck parked in the driveway or on the tree-lined windy street in front of the house. I'll say it again, in case you missed it. He hid in the trunk of the car! And yes, I was a willing co-conspirator, if only so I could later mercilessly tease him for hiding in the trunk. Anyway, at my wedding (the last time I saw Jim), he made a very touching toast to me and my late father but preceded it by coyly mentioning the name of the street and the model of the car involved in the trunk incident, a reference no one (except me) got. What's the moral of this story? Jim hasn't had the healthiest relationships with women, the football player Marybeth was dating injured his knee as a senior and his presumed scholarship to Michigan State never came through, my marriage ended in divorce, and Notre Dame will be upset by Winthrop.
(#7) UNLV vs. (#10) Georgia Tech Wow. UNLV. the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. THIS is as good a time as any to tell all of you the story I've only shared with a select few: The Sbarro Incident. But I've already written 1,251 words today. This entry is getting long. The Incident, which occurred in Las Vegas, deserves its own post. It's like the Geico Caveman commercials. As ads, they're really great. But they deserve their own time, their own show. So what should I write about instead? I could again make reference to my friend Jason, an advice columnist actively seeking questions, who went to UNLV. Or maybe I'll take the Georgia angle. Georgia Tech is in Atlanta. I used to go to Atlanta a lot, on business. I stayed in the finest hotels of Buckhead and the lesser ones by the Perimeter Mall. I liked Atlanta. I liked its underbelly, its preponderance of Chick-Fil-A's. But this isn't about chicken. This isn't about pizza. This isn't about advice. This is about BASKETBALL. And UNLV will win.
(#8) Arizona vs. (#9) Purdue
Tucson (where the University of Arizona is located) is a lovely place. I've heard good things about it. I went there once in the early 80s but I've told that story before. It's time for a new one. Well, you see... there was this woman living in Tucson and she ended up in San Diego and before too long, she found herself in Orange, California, not too far from the Trader Joe's and the frozen custard place and a little too close to this. Today, she'll read this and recognize herself in the story. She'll smile because that's what she does. Yesterday, she was talking about memories... about change... about the bittersweet (symphony?) feeling one gets when a time of year, a smell, a texture triggers a thought, a reminder... like the way a song, heard under the right circumstances, hits you right in your heart (in a good way). Or maybe I'm getting it wrong. Anyway, I miss her. Arizona wins.