Elite Peeps

NCAA Basketball at Sharkeez

I’ve always been a fan of the underdog. I blame my parents for this utterly unfortunate condition: The pair of Catholic bleeding-heart liberals instilled this value in me from the time I was young, favoring as they did the poor, the disenfranchised, Dukakis, Mondale, the San Francisco Giants. The result is that this penchant to root for the little guy has become a solid part of my identity, and though it’s undoubtedly served me well in some areas of my life, in others — namely the yearly NCAA basketball pool — it has done nothing but kick my ass and empty my wallet. So, when it came time to fill in my bracket for this year’s tournament, I thought I’d take a different tack. I’ve had enough losing, I thought, enough getting my heart broken, watching my Cinderella story dissolve before my very eyes with a Big-Bad-Guy (i.e., Duke) perpetrated buzzer-beater to win the game and knock me out of the running. I made my picks based on rankings this year, for the first time in my life: Duke to win it all, over UConn, in the final game. Yawn. Though I knew there was no way I’d manage to bring myself to root for either of the two, I took some comfort in the fact that, while I’d inevitably be watching the teams I’d love to see win go down in flames, at least I’d still be in it. In it to win it. Ha.

I was working late on Thursday night when I got the call: Duke was out. The Sweet Sixteen round was the end of the line for the odds-on-favorite. I couldn’t believe it, but on some level, I felt, it served me right, betraying my Cinderella sensibilities as I did.

By Sunday morning, it was down to the Elite Eight, and I headed out to peep other Tourney-watchers at Sharkeez, the logical spot, as the fish-taco-slinging sports bar is home to more TVs than Circuit City. (They even have TVs in the bathrooms — a female sports fan’s dream.) I arrived near the end of the UConn-George Mason game, and was stunned when I realized how little time was left on the clock, and that UConn was down. How could this have happened?

I took a spot at the bar when the Huskies pushed it to overtime with one of those beautiful buzzer shots you only see in college hoops. I’m a big college basketball fan, and married to an even bigger one, so I knew better than to bother asking the guys in the crowd to smile for the camera while such unbelievable drama was unfolding, and, frankly, who could peep at a time like that? We sat, on the edge of our collective seat, and watched, as number-one-seed UConn eventually went down at the hands of the 11th-seeded George Mason. I cheered despite myself, tearing up my list of losing picks.

This year, Cinderella proved her mettle. By the time I left for home, the Final Four had been determined: LSU, George Mason, UCLA, and Florida — none favored to be there. I can only hope that next year, I, the ultimate underdog, will pull off an upset of my own.

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