Championship droughts can take a toll on a fan base. When your favorite team finally breaks through after several decades, it can feel like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders.
But the reality is, we have nothing to do with whether our teams win or lose. If we feel so invested in our team’s agony, how much deeper must the sting be for our own streaks of disappointment?
I have been running March Madness men’s basketball pools since I was in high school.
I have competed against friends, fraternity brothers, co-workers, and family members. I stuck to paper brackets for as long as I could before finally the ease of Tourney apps, both for player and for commissioner, became too much to ignore.
For years I would print out and distribute paper brackets, due back to me by 12:00 pm on Thursday. I kept a file folder of all the brackets and sat in front of the television with a pen, circling correct games and crossing out wrong games, then writing each round’s total on a different corner of the back of the sheet.
For more than fifteen years I have been facilitating, scoring, and sending out emails that good-naturedly call out fellow pool members whose brackets have been destroyed.
Every year the tournament surprises and shocks. Sometimes there are major upsets that bust people’s brackets on day one. Other times it takes until the second weekend for the chaos. No two years are alike…..except for one little constant.
I never win.
I can’t even tell you a time when I’ve watched the championship game with any personal investment. I’m sure I’ve picked teams to reach the Final Four correctly and maybe even had a team in the final, but as far as I can remember, I’ve yet to ever be in the running for the title. Until this year.
Somehow, everything worked out for me this year. Yes, I picked Baylor to beat Gonzaga in the championship, and just to have picked the final two was a shocker to me. But that still wouldn’t have been enough, as a Gonzaga championship would have bumped me from the top of both my family pool, and the competition with my fellow Turf writers.
Just to set up the possibility of victory, I needed Michigan to go down against UCLA and then the Zags to beat the Bruins, or my fellow writer Terry Cudmore would have amassed more points so that his Baylor pick would have outdone mine.
But it all fell the right way, and I watched with anxious optimism as Baylor raced out to a 9-0 lead, led by as many as 19 in the first half, and then pulled away for their first ever title in men’s basketball.
The drought was over! For the Bears, yes. But most importantly, for me and my brackets.
Outside of my recent acquisition of NC State, I haven’t had a college basketball team that I root for. So March Madness has been all about me. I could be the biggest Kentucky fan on Thursday and then hate them with a passion Saturday night.
Okay, bad example. I always hate Kentucky. But you get the point. Whoever I pick, I root for.
But what happens when our own interests collide? Who do we root for – our favorite teams or ourselves?
I have been in a very competitive fantasy baseball league for the past eight years, and I have never won the championship. In five seasons, I have never won my family’s fantasy football league.
These are my personal droughts, and each time I come up short it feels just as painful as the Red Sox in 2003. Probably more so, because I’m pulling the strings.
If you told me that next year I can choose between winning my fantasy baseball league and celebrating a Red Sox World Series, I would choose the fantasy league win every time.
“How can you root against your team?” people might say.
Which one’s really your team? The one that wears a uniform that says your city’s name on it, or the one that you hand-picked, scouted, researched and managed for several months of the year? Besides, I’ve seen the Patriots win the Super Bowl. But I haven’t personally lifted the Golden Football.
At least after Monday night, the curse of my brackets has finally been broken.
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