briefly, beautiful destruction: in praise of march madness

After today, there will be 52 losers.

There is no greater stretch of four days on the American sports calendar than the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. After the absurd opening games weed out four sacrificial lambs, 64 teams face off nationwide and begins three weekends of March Madness™. Thousands, if not millions, fill out their brackets picking winners. After today, most of us are losers, too.

I always do multiple revisions of my picks: the first is on selection night, and I usually revise at least twice until tip-off Thursday morning. My brackets are toast right now, and I couldn’t be happier. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did three revisions. The best? The first one. I successfully managed to think myself stupid. This is why I don’t work in Vegas.)

Now that the pressure’s off, I can sit back and enjoy the games. The excitement and drama of the Big Dance™ has been strangled by pools and brackets and all-but-impossible odds to (sorta kinda) win a billion dollars. Then there’s the stuffiness of the coverage: gone are the fanatical, um, fans, replaced by middle-aged corporate suits and the alma mater sweater vest set. The commercials are all the same six or seven investment firms, insurance companies, Ricky Gervais biting his lower lip. The civil unrest and raw, insurrectionist joy on the court is inversely proportional to the cynical and suffocating packaging off it.

We root for the underdogs and the Cinderella story, while being treated to ads from ÜPS and CrapitalOne and AT&Fee.

But the games! They’re why I watch, why I do my best to make sure my schedule is clear for this first weekend.

After the tournament, we’re treated to another four days of bliss, a tradition unlike any other, and otherwise enjoy suffering the presence of the execrable and awkward Jim Nantz: The Masters™. And all of this happens right as we start another glorious year of the American pastoral, baseball.

I wouldn’t know it by looking out the window or checking the thermometer, but hope wells up within when I see a robin, or Clark Kellogg looking at the wrong camera, or a guy in the second row on his cell phone selling off parts of his portfolio rather than paying attention to the low blocks.

Spring is here. We have 52 losers and thousands of beautifully busted brackets to prove it.

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