Trying To Write A Few NCAA Tournament Tales On A Whim

Everything is happening so fast. These are the most fluid of negotiations. Buzzer beaters and upsets, and expectations met and exceeded, are, along with hopeful birds returning to survey winter’s damage, the call of early spring. As is making impromptu plans to see your favorite teams strive to move forward, to cut down nets, to celebrate with hideously designed hats and t-shirts.

Last year at this exact time, I made the relatively easy trek north to Manhattan, for a sweet sixteen matchup between my beloved Michigan State Spartans and the Cavaliers of Virginia. It was a bit of a shit show, a nail biter, a dirty mess of a game, but the good guys in green advanced, barely. Then came the biting of more nails as I deliberated a return voyage by rail to see, potentially, the Spartans cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden and move on to the Final Four. The upstart Huskies of UConn were all that stood in the way. Gulp.

In the end, I don’t regret the $100 I spent on a choice seat, even though I watched the college careers of Adreian Payne, Kalin Lucas and Gary Harris come to an abrupt conclusion, even as I watched what I feared was Coach Tom Izzo’s final game patrolling the MSU sideline.

Fortunately, coach returned (thankfully! because that moment above, in HIS driveway, would have never happened otherwise) and, surprising, this scrappy, decidedly-less-talented-than-last-season group of Spartans, have returned to the sweet sixteen. And the games are a mere 4 hours from my driveway. How can I not? If they come away victorious from tonight’s game versus Oklahoma, I’ve decided that I will be in Syracuse to watch them try again to cut down nets for a trip to the Final Four. But I might not be leaving for upstate New York from my own driveway.

My middle brother turned 50 in January and I didn’t give him a gift. Nothing. I did, however, just a couple weeks ago, arrange for a pair of hangouts in Philly, for drinks, dinner and live music. The first of which is tonight. But he is a Notre Dame fan, and they’ve just advanced to the Elite 8 last night, setting the table for an epic showdown with mighty Kentucky…in Cleveland, the home of a different group of Cavaliers, and a mere 6 hours from my driveway.

I’ve spent much of this morning texting him, cajoling him, damn near begging him to throw caution to the wind (his Fighting Irish may very well get hammered — but they might also pull off an amazing upset and famously climb that ladder with scissors in hand) and take a road trip with me, as an extra special, extra impromptu 50th birthday three-state party. Three, because should my Spartans prevail late this evening, we’ll leave Cleveland early on Sunday morning for Syracuse, to see ’em take on the winner of the NC State / Louisville game. I’m trying to create an NCAA moment on a whim, with my brother, with nary a few minutes more than a moment’s notice. I’m trying to write a few Real Strength: Tournament Tales of our own.

Dove Men+Care, a brand that has been so kind to me over the past few years and so wonderful for countless dads and other men has teamed up with The Players’ Tribue, Derek Jeter’s new media platform, to share athletes’ Real Strength stories in their own unique voices. What began at the Super Bowl and has continued through Georgia State’s amazing opening round father/son buzzer beater win and Albany’s Pete Hooley’s game-winner weeks after his mom passed away, kept going recently at a SXSW Interactive roundtable with Alonzo Mourning, Jason Collins and Bo Kimble, as each former player shared their own Real Strength stories of heart, soul and spirit in life on and off the court.

So, even after having driven 10 hours with my family to see our first Spartans bball game at home, at the Breslin Center, in December, to ultimately see this same Michigan State team lose to quite possibly the worst college basketball team in the history of forever, I will once again put my fandom first, be a bit mad in March, and brave whatever potential terrible, heartbreaking performance may lie in front of me.

I hope this road trip to see Notre Dame and (fingers crossed) Michigan State comes together, win or lose, so that my brother and I will have our own Tournament Tales to help bond us forever.

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