What finally did it to me—what finally forced me off the couch and on the road for those first few days,, when the NCAA tournament is at its most beguiling—was ESPN's Championship Week. Or rather, ESPN's Energizer Battery Championship Week. That's when Dick Vitale and the Energizer Rabbit, indubitably the two most overexposed creatures on television, appeared on my screen. At the same time.
March Madness supplies insanity enough. Why compound one's dementia? The NCAAs deserve to be seen unaltered, through no medium. Let others be led around by some drone in a CBS control room; I would grab my draw sheet and my flight guide and five changes of underwear and pray that a winter storm getting position in the Northeast wouldn't powder me with a backscreen during my journey. I would keep going and going and going....
Wednesday, March 18, Washington, D.C., 7:30 p.m.
The men's tournament doesn't start until tomorrow, but I can't wait. So I hop a flight from my home near Boston for this intriguing first-round NCAA women's game between George Washington and unbeaten Vermont. The Colonial Women feature 6'4" center Mary K. Nordling, just your average English-biology double-major who had enough credits to graduate in December. (Women's hoops is rife with such well-rounded monsters.)
Nordling has pluck. The team motto—"Refuse to lose"—is especially applicable to her. Ten times during the second half she wheels into the lane and drops her lefthanded half hook over Vermont's 5'11" Sharon Bay, propelling the Colonial Women to a 70-69 triumph.
Thursday, March 19, Milwaukee, 10 a.m.
I left D.C. this morning after an anxious glance at the USA Today weather map. Blue means trouble, and the color is safely confined to the North. So here I am at the Bradley Center, which shares a downtown block with the Ambrosia Chocolate Company. The factory's odoriferous emanations must have certainly reached the nostrils of 6'9", 290-pound Oliver Miller and 6'8", 265-pound Popeye Jones, the pivotmen for Arkansas and Murray State, respectively, who'll hook up in the opening round of the Midwest Regional this morning. I catch up with our photographer at courtside and make sure he has his wide-angle lens.
A number of subplots have brought me here: Murray State's rookie coach, Scott Edgar, had been an assistant to Arkansas's Nolan Richardson. (They'll both get teary after Arkansas's 80-69 win.) And two Racer players and three Razorbacks, all Memphis products, know one another from that city's summertime hoops showcase, the Bluff City Classic. ("This game'll be just like the Bluff City," says Murray State guard Maurice Cannon, "except we'll have to play some defense.")
I sit next to an NBA player personnel director for the second half, as Popeye (17 points, 15 rebounds, three assists for the game) and Oliver (21 points, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks) finish up their day's work. "I wouldn't feel good about drafting either one in the first round," the NBA guy says. "They're pretty light on their feet—if that's possible. But each is about 30 pounds too heavy."
It's 3:15 p.m. I'm on Interstate 94 South. During my 90-mile drive to O'Hare, WSCR in Chicago reports that the East Regional game between Missouri and West Virginia in Greensboro, N.C.—my next destination—has been halted because of a power failure caused by thunderstorms. I'm chagrined to find Judge Wapner on the tube at the bar near my departure gate, but I learn from the barkeep that the Tigers won 89-78—in three hours and 10 minutes.