One Man’s Quest to Watch the First Day of the NCAA Tournament, Against All Odds

Photo Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Three months ago my boss came to me and told me I would be covering a conference beginning on March 21. I’m sure I blankly looked at up her with my dead, beady eyes and agreed to it. It was three months away. Who cares about something that’s going to happen in three months.

Two weeks ago my wife asked me if I had put any thought into a March Madness bracket.

Oh shit. Does that start on the third week of March or the fourth? THE THIRD WEEK OR THE FOURTH?!

Of fucking course. March 21. First day of the tournament. Basketball, alcohol, legalized gambling….. CONFERENCE?!

That dog won’t hunt.

So here I am, in some God forsaken state, in a God forsaken convention hall, listening to much more successful men and women talk about their accomplishments that I couldn’t begin to understand. But am I a quitter? Am I just going to sit here and let the greatest four days of the year slip through my fingers?

Am I not going to watch any of the first two rounds of the March Madness tournament? Of course not. I’m no communist.

I decided to keep a running diary of my trials and travails of the first day of the tournament and my desperate attempts to stay connected on one of the greatest sports days of the year.

And yes, I’m well aware this is a complete ripoff of a Bill Simmons creation, but I’m sure he never did one for the first day of the tournament (don’t Google that please).

7 a.m. – Alarm blares. Wake up in the heartland in a terribly humid Marriott. It’s the best day of the year, baby, and being stuck in a conference will NOT stop me from indulging in my basest desires of losing money, making rash, last-minute decisions, and watching exploited college athletes perform for my amusement.

7:30 a.m. – First hurdle of the day. I’m not registered for the conference. After a 10 hour trip yesterday that included a three hour delay in Philadelphia and a 3 hour delay in Charlotte, I’m ready to quit and go home. Nobody would miss me here. I could drop dead in the lobby and they’d roll me into the nearest dumpster. Sadly, the person checking me in is accommodating and non-combative, and she quickly rectifies the situation and gets me checked in for the next four days. God damnit. I could taste sweet freedom for a mere moment.

7:35 a.m. – First presentation of the day begins. Did you know there are treatments that could be the next big thing when it comes to treating inherited diseases?! Who cares! (unless you have an inherited disease, in which case I’m sorry) I’m already exhausted. How is that possible? Five minutes down, only 65 million more to go (approximately).

8:02 a.m. – Successfully get my laptop online with the shaky convention center wifi. I am surrounded by hundreds of industry leaders. I immediately regret my decision to sit in the second row of a 600 person amphitheater. Why couldn’t I have been one of the cool kids and sit in the back. DAMN MY DEDICATION TO MY PROFESSIONAL CRAFT.

8:03 a.m. – Open a web browser and fire up the two brackets I’ve filled out. I minimize the browser so it’s just a small square in the top-left of my screen. Dutifully pretend to take notes on a presentation. Nod solemnly and crinkle my brow during lulls in a Power Point presentation I don’t understand at all. Give a few “Hmmms….” And “Wows!” to show I’m very invested. Fascinating insights.

8:04 a.m. – Brackets looks good. I immediately panic because both have way too much chalk. Duke, Michigan, UNC, Virginia final four in one; Duke, Michigan State, UNC, Virginia final four in the other. Virginia winning it all in one, UNC winning it all in the other. Not exactly taking a huge leap with either of these.

8:05 a.m. – Try to compensate for my cowardly Final Fours by picking some earlier upsets, which always go well. It’s best to tinker with your brackets, I find, mere hours before the tournament begins on a whim. Always a formula for success.

8:06 a.m. – I’ve heard great things about #13 Vermont. I pencil them in for a first round upset and feel very confident in my decision to do so. They seem RIPE to shock the world. Of course, I’m probably just daydreaming about Gus Johnson’s call of Taylor Coppenrath hitting one FROM THE PARKING LOTTTTTTTTT in 2005 against Syracuse. I know nothing of this year’s team (other than them beating my Alma mater SUNY Binghamton in the second round of the American East tournament). Fuck it. Vermont for life baby.

8:10 a.m. – Changes Vermont pick back to FSU.

8:46 a.m. – Sure, these speakers are rich and successful, but can they tell me if UCF stands any chance against Duke in the second round?! Probably.

9:01 a.m. – I keep getting notifications from my phone about gambling. I’m not in Jersey right now, phone, please stop reminding me. It’s really all sinking in now that during the first year of legal gambling I STILL won’t be able to gamble on the first two rounds of games. I’m like Tantalus in Hades, dying of thirst and hunger while standing in a pool of water and standing just under a tree of low hanging fruit. Each time I reach for a piece of fruit, or bend to drink from the pool, they move tantalizingly out of reach. I’m a tortured soul. I JUST WANT TO LOSE MONEY BETTING ON TEAMS I’VE NEVER SEEN PLAY, IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

9:34 a.m. – I’m hunched over my computer, debating the merits of Cincinnati and agonizing over a potential second round matchup with Tennessee, when I look over and see my boss is sitting no less than 10 feet away from me. DEAR GOD. He could have been there for 20 seconds or the last two hours, I have no idea. Need to put a bell on him so he can’t sneak up on me again.

10:02 a.m. – Look at my brackets again. I’m hearing good things about this Vermont team! Real scrappy underdog squad. They’re good for an upset over FSU, fuck it.

10:35 a.m. – Changes Vermont pick back to FSU.

11:15 a.m. – Only 45 minutes left until the tip off to Louisville and Minnesota. If you think I didn’t watch a second of either of these teams play this season, you sir would be right. If you think I don’t have strong opinions on this game, YOU SIR DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL. REVENGE GAME FOR MINNESOTA AND THE PITINO’S, BABY! What did Rick Pitino ever do to Louisville? Oh yeah, all that horrible sex stuff to that woman and the massive amount of corruption over years in the program. Yeah, but still!

12:15 p.m. – The lunch break couldn’t come quick enough, a glorious hour of uninterrupted NCAA March Madness basketball in lieu of eating lunch with potential sources for future articles and career success. Going back to my room and eating a bag of chips I bought from Starbucks for lunch is the morally correct decision.

12:25 p.m. – There’s no tradition like completely overreacting in the first minutes of the first game of the tournament. WHY DID I PICK MINNESOTA?! WHAT WAS I THINKING?! Minnesota 5, Louisville 7 after 2 minutes of play.

12:26 p.m. – Minnesota hits a three to go up 8 to 7. I AM A BRACKET STAR. A BIG BRIGHT SHINING STAR.

12:31 p.m. – Body Armour sports drink? Perfect, there aren’t enough sports drinks on the market already. You mean to tell me this one tastes great AND REPLENISHES VITAL BODY NUTRIENTS AND ELECTROLYTES SO I CAN WATCH BASKETBALL ON MY ASS AT PEAK PERFORMANCE? I am sold, baby. Plus James Harden endorses it, so you know it’s great. I can’t wait to see this commercial 10,000 times over the course of the next three weeks.

12:33 p.m. – Jarvis Omersa on Minnesota has a shockingly frosted blonde curly afro. It’s….odd, to say the least. I feel weird commenting on it. Forget I mentioned it.

12:34 p.m. – God that afro is amazing. Omersa was just subbed out. I’ll miss him.

12:35 p.m. -Just realized his afro is bleached blonde because Minnesota are the GOLDEN gophers. I am an idiot.

12:37 p.m. – Louisville is up four. I’ve already metaphorically ripped my bracket to pieces. The lesson, as always, is Minnesota and all of its denizens can go straight to hell.

12:38 p.m. – Minnesota cuts the lead to one after a gorgeous steal. SKOL SKOL SKOL SKOL!

12:40 p.m. – I’ve paid more attention to half an hour of this game than anything else I’ve done today.

12:41 p.m. – Dupree McBrayer nails a three to put Minnesota up by 1 after a 9-1 run! Fuck yeah, Minnesota. Maybe you’re all not a bunch of morons and losers like previously thought! McBrayer, of course, is the brother of famed 30 Rock actor Jack McBrayer (unconfirmed).

12:44 p.m. – I had no idea there was even another game going on. LSU is trouncing Yale after 5 minutes of play. Hmm…who would have thought a team of finely tuned LSU athletes would put a hurting on five nerds from Yale who miss their abacuses? Combine that with the voodoo curse undoubtedly levied on the Yale program by a Louisiana valedictorian who was denied admission because they needed room on the wait list for Lori Loughlin’s dimwitted daughter and it’s bad news for the Yalies.

12:47 p.m. – Nine to nothing for LSU now. One of the Yale forwards collapsed at center court and started speaking in tongues as black blood spewed forth from his eyes. He coughed up an entire skull as several EMTs wearing ratty tophats with crows on their shoulders carted him off the field. Great sign for the Yalies!

12:49 p.m. – Omersa takes a huge charge! IS THE FRO OK? PLEASE GIVE US AN UPDATE.

12:55 p.m. – The afternoon sessions of this conference are about to start. Boo. BOO I SAY. I turn off my room television and let a out a hearty SIGH to nobody. That was fun.

1:15 p.m. – Walking back to the conference I pass another guest who is wearing a Louisville hat. I give him a knowing nod and point to my head as if I’m wearing the same hat. I am not, nor am I wearing any hat at all. My nod goes unreturned.

2:15 p.m. – I’m now reduced to checking the scores on my phone as the meeting is more and more crowded and I can’t risk looking on my computer. After rooting on Minnesota for the last two hours, I check both of my brackets and find that I had actually picked Louisville to win in each. CRIPES. I’m guaranteed to make this mistake no less than 200 times more over the course of the tournament.

2:20 p.m. – Louisville down 10 with 40 seconds left. They’re about to be prematurely ejected from the tournament, a huge bust that disappoints everyone as always. The ghost of Rick Pitino still haunts the program.

3 p.m.  – JESUS CHRIST, the voodoo curse held on just enough for LSU to stave off Yale’s push and win by five. The gumbo pots will be a boiling tonight in the big easy. Yale fans probably had no idea there was even a game today. WHO COULD CARE ABOUT SPORTS AT A TIME WHEN THE ECONOMY IS IN SUCH SHAMBLES? LSU notches me my first win of the day. Now we’re COOKING baby.

3:12 p.m. – Those goddamn Vermont hippies are tied with FSU at halftime. Hopefully they’ll listen to the great Phish song “Bird Vacuum” at halftime to pump themselves up and forget they have to come out to for the second half. Playing in all-hemp uniforms must be itchy as hell.

3:13 p.m. – Trying to get updates on my phone and computer without actually watching these games absolutely sucks. It’s just the worst. Prisoners of war aren’t subjected to such torturous conditions. When is the Geneva Convention ever going to work in my favor for a change?

3:43 p.m. – AUBURN…what it is you doing, baby?! I go away for 30 minutes and come back to this? TO THIS?! I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. I can smell Bruce Pearl’s flop-sweat from here. 77-76 with 8 seconds left….do we have the first huge upset of the day?! New Mexico State University, will you pull this off? Si or no?

3:49 p.m. – Twitter tells me Auburn fouled a shooter taking a three point attempt with 1 second left. I’m sure this isn’t as exciting as it sounds. I’m probably not missing a whole lot, right? I’m having just as much fun as everyone else.

3:50 p.m. -And the NMSU bastard promptly misses two of three free throws to bail out fat faced Pearl. You blew it, kid, I’m sure that moment won’t haunt you forever. By the way, I want to die. This is awful. Even my phone is sending me notifications asking me why I’m a loser and not watching these games on TV.

4 p.m. – My computer is dead. Long live my computer. The battery gave out after a nearly 7-hour struggle. She was a good computer and she’ll rise again when I get back to my room. I’m reduced to writing updates on my phone and EMAILING them to myself like I’m in a Conestoga wagon train heading West on the Oregon trail. Our supplies are low. That NMSU kid who missed the free throws has died of malaria. My brother Fartface is in ill-health.

4:10 p.m. – FSU holding off the unwashed masses of Vermont University despite the overpowering stench of patchouli oil emanating from the Vermont bench. Looks like Vermont’s performance down the stretch wasn’t too “groovy” as they’re down 8 with 2 minutes left.

4:11 pm – Just noticed MSU is down 1 at halftime to Bradley. That certainly wouldn’t be too crunch if they lost. If you gave me 10 chances to win a million dollars to tell you where Bradley is I wouldn’t come close. is it a trick question? Is it in American Samoa? Maybe the real Bradley University has been in our hearts all along?

4:15 p.m.– They’ll be crying CBD oil tears in their bongs tonight up in Vermont. Get a job, hippies. Part-time ski instructor at Killington doesn’t count if you’re only paid in weed and gummies. GROW UP.

4:28 p.m. – MSU pulling away now from American Samoa’s Bradley University. Tom Izzo and NCAA Tournament success are as consistent as John Harbaugh losing to Notre Dame every year! FOLKS! LET ME TELL YA!

4:29 p.m. – I’m so, so tired. I’ve been in this horribly lit convention center going on 11 hours now. What news is there of the outside world? Who’s the president?! WHAT YEAR IS IT?

4:39 p.m. – I swear to god this presenter gave the same presentation in the morning. I feel my soul rising away from my husk of a shell body.

4:40 p.m. – My decades dead grandma appeared before me and is urging me to let go of it all. Is that bad? She looks glorious.

4:41 p.m. – Tell my wife and son I love them.

4:42 p.m. – I’m so cold.

4:43 p.m. – I can barely breathe. I feel my heart slowing. I let out a prayer for forgiveness for my tortured soul before it leaves this ethereal plane.

4:44 p.m. – MSU up four. Sweet.

4:45 – My eyes shut for a mere moment….and the presenter finally stops blathering on and the director says the days events are over. Is it true? Could it really be true? I burst through the doors of the convention center and grab the nearest person I can find.

“Tell me, what day is it? For the love of god what day?” I ask.

“Today? Why, it’s NCAA Tournament day, sir!” He responds, as I run through the halls of the convention center, set free from my shackles to return to my hotel and watch the remaining slate of games unfettered. What joy! What freedom!

Until I realize I have to stay in this conference until Sunday.

Kill me now.

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7 Responses

  1. Assuming that Kyle is your boss, it’s awesome how you refereed to him as a her in the 2nd sentence. Employees throwing shade at the boss who pays shit for salary?

  2. Who the fxck is going to read this?

    Jesus bring back Kinkee. I’d rather re-read a tweet for the 3rd time than hear about this dudes sad existence.

  3. Stone cold led pipe locks!
    Money bets!
    Take Colgate and the points.
    Take Georgia St and the points….

    Ala akbar!

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