There were two distinct signs that I had this victory all sewn up ... twin messages from the forces of the beyond that I was going to triumph.
Sadly, it was at someone else's expense.
These were the signs: 1) 75-year-old Marilyn Devine wearing a knit Steelers cap with cut-out eye-holes to hide her face as she robbed a bank in West Mifflin, PA during the first week of March and 2) Game-show host Peter Tomarken of "Press Your Luck" (big bucks, no whammies!) dying a plane crash.
My victory in the grandest of The Only Relevant Pool Ever Devised Objectively (you could call it "T.O.R.P.E.D.O." ... or you could call it "the 21st-annual Times Tribune NCAA Tournament Pool," which isn't as easy to acronymize) sent me eerily reeling back to my first victory in TORPEDO, way back in 1997.
Powers beyond my control dictated this outcome.
Back in '97 -- on the first day of March (the cermonial Month of Madness) -- America watched with amazement and semi-horror the recap of what transpired one day earlier ... when Larry Phillips and Emil Matasereanu, decked out in full body armor and ski masks, walked into the Bank of America in North Hollywood around 9 a.m. and, in violent fashion, committed armed robbery, forced employees and customers into the vault and then walked outside and shot it out with members of the LAPD and SWAT.
The siege lasted all of 45 minutes ... and both Phillips and Matasareanu died before lunchtime.
Nine years later, the gun which was siezed from Marilyn Devine's car was not even loaded.
Back in '97, on the weekend of the Sweet 16/Elite Eight, former Memphis Tiger b-baller Baskerville Holmes (a starter in the Final Four 12 years earlier), died at the age of 32 after an apparent murder-suicide involving his girlfriend.
Nine years later, Tomarken died a senseless, inexplicable death -- and, although I never watched that game show, Mrs. PF7 has spent years hittin' me with "big bucks, no whammies."
And, thus, this is the intermingling of the tragic events which seem to cast a pall over my Pool victories.
Some might call this "connection" morbid or morose, but I did not choose these unfortunate, star-crossed souls.
Still, their inner-conflict became my cross to bear ... their demise became my burden and served as a symbol of victory having its price.
Okay ... maybe it's a reach ... an attempt to affix a symbolic meaning to my victory in the pool. While there was no Final Four glory for any of the people which I just mentioned, my twisted logic shouldn't diminish my accomplishments, should it?
And, if we were to explore happy, upbeat, untwisted metaphors, the following might be of interest:
On the cover of the Sports Illustrated 2006 Tournament Edition, there must be nearly 100 faces interspersed in a sea of basketball heroes.
The funny thing, there's only ONE player which we see depicted in full-length, only one body in a swarm of bodies which stands out in the mess of heads and arms.
It's a player grabbing a rebound to the left of the "March Madness" letters printed on a basketball in the center of the cover.
That player which was singled out, as coincidence would have it, was ... Joakim Noah.
So much for the notorious "S.I. Cover Jinx."
Or the fact that Noah wears unlucky #13.
We all knew that the S.I. Cover Jinx was ancient history when the mag kept putting Steelers on the cover and, well ... the Steelers kept debunking the myth by winning.
Well, leave it to me to celebrate my "FLA d. UCLA" in the championship game (a choice made almost three weeks ago) by going out in public today while wearing my Steelers cap turned backwards and my Texas Football t-shirt with the steer silhouette inside a football logo.
Call me "Captain Front-Runner" -- although I think I'd prefer it if you called me by my screen name, "Reptilicus," the title of the sci-fi film from the year of my birth ... directed by Sidney Pink, filmed in Denmark ... and the name I once used with some frequencly when I was operating my own (football) pool back in the late-'80s, early-'90s.
I'm just a Wanna-Be Reptilicus who is saluting those reptile b-ballers from Gainesville in the worst Final Four in the history of the universe of all-time forever and ever and ever.
Or so they say -- "they" being obvious "Gator haters."
Truth be told, I, too, might've been ranking this tourney as one of the all-time duds, had not FLA fulfilled a personal agenda.
My interest in the tourney took a 180 when when UConnvict got knocked off by Mason: Impossible, thus killing the Americans who never forsaw Calhoun and his weak cast of misfits politely stepping aside and opening a door of possibilities.
Thanks for assisting a visionary like me, UCan't.
With that outcomes, I was zipped back in time to when Jack Walsh sittin' at the counter of an Amarillo, TX coffee shop with Jonathan Mardukas.
JON: "Did you read about me in the papers?"
JACK: "Yeah, I did."
JON: "Were you on my side then?"
JACK: "Yeah, I was."
JON: "Then, why aren't you now?"
JACK: "Because now you're in my way."
JON: "I'm in your way? I'm in your way? What you mean is you want the money for turning me in because that's all you're about." (Leaning forward, whispering) "You're just about the fucking money!"
JACK: "Hey, Jon. You can think whatever you wanna think. It doesn't matter to me because I'm gettin' my hundred thousand any which way you want it."
A lot of America doesn't remember Jack Walsh because all it remembers is Jack Bauer. And America doesn't always identify with Jonathan Mardukas because his nickname was "The Duke."
And everybody hates Duke.
Notwithstanding anti-Duke (and not to mention my personal Gator glory), I'd say that, by and large, this was a satisfactory tournament. However, the fallout throughout this Tuesday was that it was boring or ugly or unwatchable.
Well, by my math, I counted 14 second-half baskets for Florida in the championship game ... three threes in the first four minutes after halftime and then nine dunks in the final 15:14.
Four slams by Yannick's kid, four slams by Tito's kid.
What's not to like about that, America? Three-balls and slams ... those are the cornerstones of what made this nation among the top five or six global superpowers.
Seems to me any negative backlash re: this tournament was the result of a nation not really knowing what it wanted once the dream of Duke vs. UConn died.
What I heard/read was a lot of empty backlash from people whose precious little Cinderella came home looking abused and confused ... like another Cindy Relish.
In a lot of ways, this isn't THAT much different than when all of those bitter Seattle Seahawk fans got all pissy about the Super Bowl, rather than address the day's more-serious issues.
Such as what to make of their team and its impossible-to-describe color scheme.
To me, these are empty complaints ... kinda like what you might experience if you were with someone who ordered a burger for lunch and then, after the burger was devoured and you asked, "So how was your burger?" you heard, "Well, it was okay, but I was actually hoping for some new shoes. Or free tickets to the movies."
Wait ... you ordered a burger, so ...
"I know. But, I really wanted an afternoon of rock climbing or a new puppy."
But, we just had lunch and now you're talking about ...
"I just wish it had been 500 new i-tunes or a snowboard ..."
America doesn't know what it wants, so it tries to sell me a backpack full of its indifference. We love George Mason -- until it's time to go back to not caring about everything which George Mason stands for.
We want our buzzer-beaters, but we forget sometimes that it takes 27 baskets, 26 turnovers and 47 free-throw attempts (which UConn had vs. U-Dub) to get there.
We detest Billy Packer ... and we are supposed to react to what he says by acting all outraged.
But we don't know why.
Probably because someone told us to.
"Billy Packer said something I don't understand or agree with? Why do I allow this child-molesting, bedwetting psychopath into my home every March?"
I, on the other hand, have open-mindedly accepted Billy Packer for what he is ... sometimes a name-mangler, sometimes at the forefront of offereing some strong opinions, but, to me (as a concerned parent of a golden retriever), always representin' a basketball observer 50 times more articulate than Dickie V. or Digger or Lavin or Thompson or Majerus.
Billy Packer delivered what he always does.
If you were looking for a Pavarotti CD or an Oreo McFlurry from Mickey D.'s, you need to go where those are sold, America.
Sure, I remember how here in the Haystack we oftentimes classified college b-ball as nothing more than glorified rec-league action and that the sport was teetering on the brink of receiving the lifetime ban within the Haystack household.
And then along comes the Gator Raid ... now my empty cup is as sweet as the punch.
Gator Ball restored my fait in humanity. The Gators may have actually pushed me back into a mode of mustering enough interest to care (occasionally) about the sport (sometimes) again. After all, the reasons why I picked FLA to win it all was because the few times I spent more than five minutes with them, they demonstrated some balance, a willingness to pound the ball inside and they were judicious -- and not obsessive -- with the 3-pointer.
I think that Billy Donovan (the guy that Billy Packer likes to call "Billy DUNIVIN") had much to do with that.
His candor, particularly his acknowledgement that mayyyyyy-beeeeeee isn't the best in the nation, but maybe rather the hottest lately (read: flavor of the month) was refreshing
The flavor of the month atmosphere which pervades college b-ball is what had me watching only 10 minutes of any game thru the first two weekends of my involvement in TORPEDO. But, then it was the Gators who had me believing in the goodness of the game once again.
Until it's time for me to forget about it again by the time the next Midnight Madness rolls around in Oct.
Oh, and the chocolate jimmies on this Gator sundae, well ... that would be Dickie V.'s continued exclusion from the Bsketball Hall of Fame. Whatever sanctity that the sport has remaining was not completely tarnished.
But, only for now.
The fascination with Dickie V.'s egg-shaped head and his egg-shaped nonsense of spittin' out six or seven catch-phrases ... it escapes me. That ain't Hall of Fame material ... and it ain't part of being "an ambassador for the sport."
It's repetitive schtick.
Acknowledging his "talent" is like licking the chocolate off the beater and saying, "Jeepers, this is good cake. It's swell."
So, to answer you question, America ... no, Joakim Noah did not have the best ponytail (boys division) in the postseason. That belonged to South Carolina's Renaldo Balkman, who you might've missed since he was playin' in the NIT.
Remember, America: Renaldo Balkman is not Rolando Blackman.
And, hide your old sofas and mattresses, America, because now that the Maryland Terrapins chicks (girls + turtles = "gur-tulls") are champions, there'll be something set ablaze in College Park tonight.
(Note: The women's game deserves our respect, America ... and while I recognize that appreciation for the sport does not equate to the joy of receiving five free cartons of smokes or a trip to Barbados, it gets some major props for the way that freshman Kristi Toliver sent the game to OT by fearlessly draining that game-tying trey over a girl nine inches taller than her ... and freshman Marissa Coleman bein' nuthin' but money when she's stroking free throws ... just somethin' to think about for next season when Gary Williams' Terps are absent-mindedly tossin' the pumpkin all over the arena and indiscriminately chucking up wayyyyyy-off-the-mark threes ...).
So, Joe Frickin' Lunardi can, as stated recently ... kiss my axe.