March of 2016 I was on tour with a big old silly musical in Columbus, Ohio, a fun city with good food and a dope bike share program. Fun fact – Columbus is home to the Abercrombie and Fitch headquarters. Other fact, I have a friend who works for them. The week before I came to town, we planned a night out with his Columbus friends and some of my cast at a local bar that typically features drag performances on Thursday nights. I was super into it because we realized this was basically a musical theater and Abercrombie and Fitch mixer, and really what’s better than a mixer?
This coincided with the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, or as middle-aged moms and over-hyped sports broadcasters across the country call it, March Madness. I love this tournament. The first weekend of the Tournament is the best weekend of the sports calendar for so many reasons.
Here are a few of those reasons, not really in order, but kind of in order:
- Volume. Non-stop do-or-die basketball from noon to midnight for four straight days. If you lose you never play again. Every team has seniors who will literally never play another minute of televised basketball once this tournament is over, and who doesn’t want to play televised basketball? Like 75% of the reason I want to be famous is so I can play in the NBA All-Star Celebrity basketball game, because it’s televised.
- Brackets. Brackets are dope. Like I would fill out a bracket that asked me to pick the winner of literally anything, just because the shape of a bracket is cool. I’m all for going green and paperless and saving the world and all that stuff, but when it comes to the Tournament brackets I kinda need the paper version. My dad used to cut out the bracket printed in the newspaper before the internet was like a thing in our house, and he’d get extra copies so he, my mom and I could compete. There’s nothing better than circling teams when they win. Except probably crossing off teams when they lose. That’s definitely more fun, come to think of it.
- Season. It takes place in mid-March, which means you can feel like the first hint of spring, which means it’s almost baseball season, and also almost outdoor pick-up basketball season, which is exciting for a whole other reason. So I guess the Tournament gets me hype because it reminds me that baseball and more hooping is coming.
- Upsets. There’s always upsets. Like it’s almost cliche to be excited for the upsets that take place during the Tournament, but there are truly so many upsets every year, and it never gets old. Like you would think the favored teams would kinda figure out, “Oh shit – the lower ranked seed is probably gonna try to win, so maybe we should, like, not lose?” but somehow there’s always a million upsets and they’re always surprising.
- Socially Acceptable Gambling. All of these reasons are fire reasons to like the Tournament, but my top reason is probably that it’s one of like two things that everyone bets on. If you have a workplace, you probably have a bracket pool, and someone who’s never watched a game of basketball and calls all sports “sportsball” is probably gonna win that shit. In middle school I started running a pool for my friends. I feel like I ran off copies of the bracket in school somehow, but that doesn’t seem right? Either way, I definitely collected and distributed cash in the back of Ms. Tucci’s English class. Actually, I think I have footage of me watching some game results:
First article for The Turf included a Hardball clip. Yes.
- Crying. I don’t really like to watch anyone lose (with the exception of the New York Yankees, may they rot in hell). I feel bad for my opponents when I roast them in pick-up basketball (which is my go-to excuse for not winning all that much when I play pick-up basketball). I mean I get it – someone’s gotta lose. But unless the losing team is an undefeated juggernaut or full of literal puppy destroyers, I sorta feel bad for them. All that said, I love watching people cry. Maybe it’s because it shows their passion and love of the game? But probably because it usually comes with ugly faces. Or in Adam Morrison’s case, with lying on the ground.
And also with an ugly-cry face. Sorry Adam.
Anyways, two years ago in Columbus, Ohio, I was obviously fired up for the Tournament, and fired up for the mixer, and heck it was St. Patrick’s Day, and I’m half Irish, so I was half fired up for that as well.
Adding to all of this fire and whatnot – my beloved Providence College Friars were in the tournament. I did not go to PC, but my mom did, and more importantly, my dad and I have been going to games together since I was like 7. I’m from Rhode Island and in Rhode Island most of us follow Boston’s pro teams, with the exception of a handful of bandwagon contrarian ass clowns – aka Yankees fans.
Quick side-tangent: My dad claims there is a contingency of old-school Italian-Americans who associated with the Yanks of old because they had Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and a handful of other paisons. I think that’s a lame-ass excuse to cheer for the team that was winning a whole lot rather than the local ball club that, you know, sucked for most of a century, BUT I digress.
Providence College has a strong basketball history, and most Rhode Islanders I know are loyal to them. Yes, people care about the University of Rhode Island Rams, but most of my friends from Rhody are diehard Friar fans, even those that went to URI.
I share a hometown with Ernie DiGregorio, former Friar legend and 1974 NBA Rookie of the Year. Legend says he used to shovel the outdoor court so he could shoot hoops in the winter time. We both went to North Providence High School, and to this day whenever there’s a promising guard at NPHS, people think he’s gonna be the next Ernie D. Behold the glory of these behind the back passes from these grainy, but beautiful 1970s clips:
I heard my dad talk about that third play, the behind-the-back pass from half court, about 8 thousand times, and I always assumed he was exaggerating. But that dude really threw that shit behind his back from half court.
So yeah, the PC thing goes deep for me. They wear black and white, which is badass. They play in the Big East, the best basketball conference in the country (fight me about it). One of my earliest sports memories is the 1997 team’s run to the Elite 8, where they lost in OT to Mike Bibby and the eventual champion Arizona Wildcats. Jamel Thomas, Austin Croshure, Erron Maxey, God Shammgod, John Linehan, Ryan Gomes, the dark days of Keno Davis, Marshon Brooks, Ed Cooley, Bryce Cotton, Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil. It’s all just the best.
Back to Columbus, 2016. Naturally, when we planned this whole late night mixer thing, I knew the tournament was happening. But I figured I’d watch basketball all day, go to my show (where I’d watch more basketball on my phone in the dressing room), and then miss out on the late slate of games while we were out. No big deal. As much as I love watching basketball, I do also value human interaction from time to time.
Of course, Providence ends up getting scheduled to play in that late slate of games. Very less than ideal. It was too late to cancel or reschedule, and I had talked up the mixer too much to just bail on everyone, so I was effectively in the unenviable situation of having a social engagement at a non-sports bar while my favorite team was playing in the NCAA Tournament. Tremendous.
The bar actually did have a few televisions, most tuned to music videos or some shit, but one was randomly tuned to TNT or TRU TV or Spike TV or one of the channels showing basketball. Naturally, they did not have the Providence game on. I sure did ask the bartender if he could change the channel, but the bar was crowded, he was busy, and he looked at me like, “Please don’t ask me to figure out how to change the channel at 10:30 PM on St. Patrick’s Day at a non-sports bar,” so I did not push it.
How did I handle this situation? In the most mature way possible, of course. With one eye on my cell phone for the first hour and a half of the game. When the game got tight late in the second half, I retreated to a corner of the bar, and hunkered down in a booth. I can’t remember if I went to the extent of whipping out headphones, but I may have. Either way, I basically hid from my friends. Praise be to my unlimited AT&T data plan and the March Madness Live app.
Shit was tight. Very close game. Lots of groaning on my part. A few friends came over and asked if everything was alright, and a couple even came over to peak over my shoulder and try to watch with me. They went from being like “Woah! Close game! Exciting!” to being like, “Wait, Matt, you didn’t go to this school. Why are you screaming? Also please stop.” And I was all “YOU DON’T GET IT!” and tried to explain all of the earlier few hundred words about my fandom in like 2 sentences, but then just got up and went to an empty booth at the front of the bar. I laid down in the booth so no one could see me. It sounds really obnoxious, and I guess maybe it was, but I’m pretty sure it was subtle asf.
Watching basketball on a cell phone is not ideal, but also like not that bad. The biggest downside is fighting off the flood of texts coming in from fellow Friar fans and sympathetic friends and whatnot who had no way of realizing I was trying to watch the game on my cell phone in a loud bar and couldn’t really respond at the moment. You get really good at the quick flick up on the screen to get rid of the notification in that situation.
Providence is down 1 with 3 seconds left, inbounding the ball under our own basket:
Voila. Beauty. Upset. A minor upset, but still. Providence’s first Tournament victory in like 20 years.
I yell and scream and jump up and people hug me and are mostly just relieved to see that I have had only a temporary psychotic break with reality and that nothing is permanent. Then we go back to drinking and chatting and wondering when the drag show is going to start.
Now, was that the ideal way to watch that game? Ah hell no. But that’s not always how shit goes. Sometimes life gets in the way of the ideal game-viewing experience. Most of the time, life is something a little more important than a musical theater meets apparel company mixer, but the point stands. For that last 5 minutes or so when the game is truly in balance, it doesn’t matter where you are. As long as there’s a cell phone signal or a WiFi connection or a buddy watching somewhere else who can text you constant updates, you’re a fan, you’re part of it, and you feel that adrenaline that comes when the game is on the line. I’m not intentionally trying to sound like a corny-ass “this is why we watch” promo, but I think you catch my deal.
I can’t wait for this year’s tournament. Providence is scheduled to play Friday at 12:15. I am scheduled to have rehearsal at 2PM. So yeah. Should be fire.