The ‘Madness’ Continues

by Bob Sparrow

2020 Headline

We thought we knew what ‘March Madness’ was until last March when suddenly restaurants, schools, bars, churches, gyms, salons, etc., etc., etc., were suddenly closed for the better part of a year – now that’s MADNESS!

Last year’s ‘other’ March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, was cancelled due to a new thing called the Coronavirus Pandemic.  This year, in our effort to return to ‘normalcy’, the tournament is back, albeit with a few restrictions around Covid and woke correctness:

  • All players must wear a mask and a shield while playing
  • Coaches over 55 cannot attend the game in person, so must coach from home via Zoom
  • While on the court player must socially distance, making sure they get no closer than six feet from anyone
  • The ball must be sanitized following each team’s possession
  • During the game, all players must be able to show proof of a hook shot, a jump shot and a Pfizer shot
  • Cheering is not allowed, as it could show favoritism to one player over another
  • There will ultimately be no winner and more importantly, no losers – all players will get a trophy

OK, perhaps I’ve stretched the truth a bit, but there are some real restrictions:

  1. To prevent excessive travel, all games will be played in the Indianapolis area
  2. Capacity of games will be limited to 25% of arena capacity
  3. If a team can’t play due to Covid, it will be treated like a loss and that team will be elimination

Former UCLA Coach John Wooden

Most know that the ‘Final Four’ is the last team standing from each division – they play for the championship.  However, the ‘First Four’ is made up of eight teams that are on the ‘bubble’ of getting into the tournament; they play the week before the tournament starts (which was last week) and the four winners advance to round out the 64-team field.

The classic match up in last week’s ‘First Four’ game was UCLA vs. Michigan State.  These two schools have historically been perennial basketball powers and would typically be in the Final Four, not the First Four.  UCLA has made 49 appearances in this tournament, made it to the Final Four 18 times, won the tournament 11 times and was undefeated for the year four times.  Michigan State has made 33 appearances in the tournament, made the Final Four ten times and won the championship twice.

UCLA won last Friday’s ‘First Four’ game in overtime and thus receives an invitation to ‘The Dance’.  Aside from the overtime game, the other three First Four games were decided by 1, 1 and 8 points – this is going to be one great tournament!  Michigan State will be joining  a couple of other basketball powerhouses, Duke and Kentucky, on the sidelines this year.  The last time those two teams were NOT in the tournament, Gerald Ford was president – that was 1976!   A “does-history-repeat-itself” aside: As many of you will recall, Gerald Ford’s assent to the presidency is unprecedented. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned due to charges of extortion, bribery and conspiracy, President Nixon appointed Ford, who was then the House Minority Leader, to be vice president.  Then, less than a year later, the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resigned, making Ford president.  Does the absence of these teams from this tournament mean we’re going to see some unprecedented movement at the top of our government? Or have we already see it?

But enough about those who didn’t get voted in.  One of the favorites in this year’s tournament is the Gonzaga University Bulldogs, a school with an enrollment of around 7,000 undergraduates in Spokane, Washington.  They are the only undefeated team in the tournament, as well as being a #1 seed along with Baylor, Michigan and Illinois (who got beat in the first round last week!)  This small university in the northwest has been to the tournament 22 times and, in fact, played in the championship game in 2017, when they lost to North Carolina.

Even if you think you don’t like to watch basketball, I would bet that if you start watching this tournament, you’ll find yourself hooked and rooting for, or against various teams – you’ll end up having a ‘favorite’ that you’d like to see playing for the championship on Monday, April 5th.   After this Monday’s games, we’ll be in the ‘Sweet 16’Pac-12 fan are loving the tournament so far, all five teams made it through the first round, including both UCLA and USC.

I think you’ll find the tournament a nice break from the latest Netflix series or another one of those ‘fake’ reality program – this ‘show’ is truly unscripted reality!

Cinderella’s ‘Big Dance’

by Bob Sparrow

CinderellaThis week I found myself in a bar (What?!) trying to explain to a Brit, who was now working here in the U.S. and who apparently has been in a cave for the last 30 years, the excitement around all the college basketball on TV. I explained that this is the N.C.A.A. College Basketball National Championship Tournament; more succinctly referred to as ‘March Madness’ or ‘The Big Dance’.  He asked if this was the finals of Dancing With The Stars. I patiently explained that it is a 64-team, single elimination college basketball tournament for the national championship.  I wondered if I was going too fast for him.

Jwooden

“The Wizard”

 I proceeded to tell him that for the seeding of this tournament, he’d have to throw out where he thinks regions are in the United States.  There are four 16-team brackets, South, East, West and Midwest (I said I think the North is still playing hockey), but this year Milwaukee, a Midwest team, is seeded in the East, Louisiana-Lafayette, a southern team, in the West, Manhattan College, in New York, is in the Midwest and UCLA, is seeded in the South.  UCLA however, has no one to blame but themselves for this.  The tournament used to be seeded by region, so there would always be a team from each region in the Final Four.  Until from 1964 to 1975 ‘The Wizard of Westwood’, John Wooden’s UCLA teams won 10 of 12 championships and the other coaches in the west argued that they never got to go to the Final Four because they were always eliminated by UCLA in the regionals.  While geography still plays a small role, it’s more about seeding teams according to ability.  My new European friend only perked up when I said the word ‘Wizard’.

billion bracket

Win $1,000,000,000

I asked him if there was a lot of buzz at work about the ‘office pool’ and then disappointed him by telling him that there is not a new aquatic center being built at the home office, that the pool is merely the 64-bracket seeding sheet that allows folks who think they know basketball to prove that they don’t.  I told him Vegas gets more bets during this tournament than at any other time of the year, including the Super Bowl.  Super Bowl, he asked?  Never mind.  There are all kinds of ways to bet this tournament and this year, for the first time, billionaire Warren Buffett has offered $1,000,000,000 (yes, that’s with a B) to the person who picks every winner of every game – that’s picking all 62 winners without a mistake.  Actually there are 4 ‘play-in’ games making it 66 winners.   The odds?  One in 9 with 18 zeros behind it! (Update: after two days and only 25 games everyone who entered for a chance at the billion was eliminated)

I told him that he’ll hear some alliterative terms being bantered about this week, ‘Final Four’, Elite Eight’ and bet him that he’ll never hear the word ‘sixteen’ without the word ‘sweet’ in front of it.  At the risk of confusing him even more I mentioned that he’ll also hear the term ‘Cinderella’ quite a bit over the next couple of weeks.

I continued by telling him that the term has nothing to do with wicked stepmothers, glass slippers or getting home before your horses turn into mice.  Rather, it’s a term for the ‘long shots’ in the tournament. It is usually a small college, seeded 10th or below in their bracket, with a charismatic coach, who, after his team loses in the ‘Sweet Sixteen’, will dump that school and accept a pumpkin chariot full of money to go to a non-Cinderella school.  It usually doesn’t work out and he ends up scrubbing gym floors for a wicked Athletic Director in Podunk Hollow, Mississippi.  There have however, been ‘Cinderella exceptions’ in recent years; Wichita State, Butler and George Mason all made it to the Final Four.  Coach Brad Stevens, who took Butler to two Final Fours, skipped going to a non-Cinderella school and signed a contract to coach the Boston Celtics, where his team has a .329 winning percentage this season.  I think he left his pair of glass slippers back at Butler.  Who are this year’s Cinderella teams?  Stephen F. Austin, Oregon, Harvard (yes, that Harvard), Virginia Commonwealth, Nebraska and Mercer.  If none of these teams are still in the tournament as you’re reading this, you’ll understand why Buffet’s money was so safe!

Cinderella schools can also have unusual mascots.  This year we have the Manhattan College Jaspers (a long story), the St. Louis University Billikens (an even longer story) and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.

                 Jaspers                   billiken                Chants

Upon hearing this last name, my new acquaintance lit up and told me that Chanticleer is the rooster in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (which is exactly where Coastal Carolina got the name!). He was now interested in ‘The Big Dance’ and has a ‘Cinderella’ team for which to root.  He thanked me as he left and I thought I saw him doing the ‘Chicken Dance’ on the way out the door.  Brits!

(Update: Coastal Carolina lost it’s first game and is out of the tournament)

 

SLIME, AND SLIME AGAIN

Headlines:  We’re going to need a bigger jar of Purell.

They’ve discovered that the meat in our schools has “pink slime”,

And slimy ex-governor “Blago” is finally in jail for his crimes.

But the biggest “yuck” of all goes to Afghan prez Karzai,

“Untrustworthy slime ball” is too good for this guy.

Money:  March:  the lowest productivity month of the year.

The market is going up; mortgage rates are on the rise,

But all we care about is our office pool size.

Everyone is studying brackets, sizing up who’s #1,

It’s finally March Madness, which mean no work is being done.

Sports:  And to continue the theme…

Sure, Peyton is making all the stops, looking for a team,

And Tiger’s nursing his Achilles to keep alive his Master’s dream.

But it’s Kentucky who has to worry and hope that things don’t go awry,

For now they have to overcome the dreaded “jinx” from S.I.

Life:  It’s All Over Except the Shouting

That juggernaut, “American Idol”, has begun its 11th season,

And maybe we’re just cranky but it’s a bit “off” for some reason.

Some contestants are okay, a couple sing like they’re from Heaven,

But why do most decide to turn one note into seven?

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Thank you, Sis!

by Bob Sparrow

First and foremost, thank you Sis for last week’s wonderfully written tribute that touched my heart.  I feel so very fortunate that you are not just family, you are a true friend.

Those who have lost someone very close know that for a period of time, the world just isn’t quite right; days seem a little cloudier, the music is a little flat; things are just out of rhyme.  Which, for someone tasked to put some topical, humorous rhymes together, is problematic. For example, reading the HEADLINES this week all I get is:

      The word came in a ‘Rush’, when he called that girl a slut;                                                   He passed up a really good chance to keep his pie hole shut.

Ok, it’s not out of rhyme, but it’s not out of Shakespeare either.  There’s just no good stories about MONEY these days:

   They have nets around the top floors of the ‘sweat shops’ in China                                       To catch the workers when they jump, so they don’t miss a day of work.

See, out of rhyme.  SPORTS – you’d think it would be easy with all that’s going on.

Waiting for March Madness, waiting for Baseball, waiting for the Masters                            Waiting for Danica Patrick to beat the boys.

See, now I’m writing about NASCAR, for crying out loud, ya’ll.  And LIFE?  It sucks right now, but it will get better, and so will my rhymes.

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