Do you hear that?
The mellifluous notes your heart plays on loop until some no-name sophomore from Wofford drains a last second three over your team’s senior captain (possibly playing through an injury?) and ruins your life.
March Madness, you mystical enchantress, I’ve been waiting for you. I know you will find new ways to break my heart like you always do. I know you will bust my brackets, give Melo Trimble a concussion, or maybe even make me watch Grayson Allen cut down a net with that no-lipped smile plastered across his very punchable face. And yet, like a siren most foul, I cannot resist you.
That song. It comes from every bar. Every household. Every TV set. Every March.
My God, it’s so beautiful.
I’ve even done us all a favor and written lyrics for it, which you can sing from your office or cubicle while trying to stream two games during a conference call on Thursday.
I’d rather be watching bas-ket-ballllllll
But I’m stuck here in my cuuuuuube
You’re welcome, America.
Today I woke up with that Selection Sunday feeling. That confident, righteous flutter of knowing we’re headed to The Big Dance, just waiting for Clark Kellogg to say it out loud. Fantasizing about the moment the camera cuts to my guys sitting in a row of folding chairs, their arms linked like they’re playing a high-stakes game of Red Rover.
You know that feeling, don’t you? You’ve been here with me. Filling out a kamikaze bracket, picking your team to win it all because your loyalty is worth more than the five dollars you give and pride you get for winning your pool. You’ve got nothing to lose. You’re all in.
But before I get carried away on clouds of confetti, I remember that this Selection Sunday feeling also comes with the uncomfortable, barfy anxiety hanging low in my gut, telling me that my beloved Terps will probably get a five-seed and face off against a surging Mid-major. You know, the kind of team that starts four seniors with very skinny arms and 3.2 GPAs. The scrappy team that plays disheveled basketball but wins games on hustle, heart, and over-trying. The team that is most analogous to how we see ourselves as human beings. The Everyman. The Underdog. The Cinderella.
The kind of team I would root for if they weren’t playing the Terps. But they’re going to play the Terps, and now I want them to die.
It’s also the feeling of watching poor Alex as he sweats out Vanderbilt’s fate, teetering between relief and disappointment of a team on the bubble. As a four-year manager of the Commodore’s basketball team, it’s even more personal for him. So many Selection-y Sunday-y feelings.
Together, we silently stress-eat an entire coffee cake, not in slices but bite-by-bite, sharing a fork that we’ve left in the box.
The Selection Show, a ritual ripe with the anticipation and nervous armpits of millions of proud alumni, has barely even started. It’s way too soon to speculate so obsessively about what will or could be, but I can’t help it.
My mind has already skimmed over all the good parts of the tournament and is drowning in doubt, thinking about how my Terps have been backsliding for a month. I have visions of losing in the first round, of that awful moment when we stop fouling and watch as the clock ticks down to zero, some other team’s guy hoisting the ball into the air while my guys eat their jerseys and look up at the scoreboard because they don’t want to accidentally make eye contact with their parents.
I have visions of that same moment where no one talks to me; they just let me stomp with heavy heels into the kitchen where I pick up a cleaning spray and just unload on everything in sight, passive-aggressively issuing instructions like rinse out your bowl to no one in particular.
And then, as I watch the brackets unfold across each region, the hope comes back. Strong.
I start believing again. I see the one-seed in our region and scoff. Overrated. Beatable. I think of the power of momentum and what might happen if we recapture that mid-season swagger. I think about the hearts we’ll break and the dreams we’ll dash if we relax and start having fun again. And then I think about how much easier it is to win when people wrote you off a month ago.
Yes, that Selection Sunday feeling. That dangerous combination of uppers and downers that may lead to a cardiac event.
I print out my bracket and start with the championship game, writing MARYLAND in all caps. I can’t wait to get my hopes up.