"March Madness", "On The Bubble", "Going Dancing", "A Tradition Unlike Any Other", "Hope Springs Eternal", "Everybody's in 1st Place".
Yes, just a few of the terms that get thrown around at this, the most wonderful time of the year to be a sports fan. You could argue against me here, but I don't think you'd be successful. Let me lay it out for you. College Basketball's largest stage, the conference tournaments and of course the NCAA Tournament. The start of the MLB season, where every team's fan base has reason to believe that their's will win the division and play for the championship. Last but not least, the most important and storied (at least in the US) golf tournament of them all, the Masters will be getting underway in Augusta. Pretty formidable trio wouldn't you say?
THE ROAD TO THE FINAL FOUR
Even if you're not a hard core college basketball fan, the hype leading up to the "Big Dance" is palpable. I have found myself watching conference championships on TV, of conferences I didn't know existed (ok, writer's embellishment). Seeing how important it is for these lesser known schools to get on the road to the final four makes for great basketball. Even in the more well known conferences, schools are battling for seeding in the NCAA tourney, and some great moments are sure to follow. Now listen I know that the college game is not perfect, and there are still lingering discussions about paying players and the one and done rule and other things, but for 3 weeks, in mid-March, it's just awesome to watch. I can remember when I lived in the Midwest, going to a bar at 11am, to watch the 12pm central time tips on the first Thursday of the tournament. We'd stay through the "late games" the 9:30pm tip times and just have a blast. Running up a significant bar tab, only made winning your "bracket challenge" more important as each upset unfolded before our eyes. Among my favorite upsets of all time:
Valparaiso defeats Ole Miss in the 1st round in 1998, 70-69 on the "Bryce Drew Shot"
Villanova upsets Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Title game 66-64
Cleveland State upends 3rd seeded Indiana 83-79 in 1986. Anytime Bob Knight is upset, I'm not.
Texas Western (Now UTEP) over Kentucky, 1966 Title Game, featured in the movie "Glory Road".
NC State beats Houston 54-52 in Albuquerque in 1983 making Jim Valvano a household name.
And of course there was one that I took part in, back in 2008, in Tampa, where #13 seed USD, upended #4 UConn 70-69 in OT.
3-21-08 USD Defeats UConn Final Call
That was certainly a "Shining Moment" in my play-by-play career.
PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT...
There are 162 games in a MLB season, and when it begins it seems as though every fan base truly believes it's team is destined for the World Series Title. Every team is undefeated (ok so they haven't won a game either but I'm trying to make a point here), and in first place and the hype leading up to opening day is one that you can feel.
While Spring Training may not mean much more than the boys of summer returning to the diamond to those of us in good weather cities, it's a sure sign of Spring in other parts of the country. I remember those long winters in the Midwest, looking for any sign of warm weather, a hint of spring, and yes, when pitchers and catchers started to report, I wanted to go outside and play catch with my brother. When my mom reminded us that it was still only 25 degrees outside, we got upset and wanted to go anyway, but were forced to stay inside by the powers that be!
This is the time of year that baseball fans put away cynicism (for a moment at least) because they are so pumped to know that the season is right around the corner. You'll hear things from players, managers and front office types like, "This is our year", "I'd put our team up against any in the league", "If we stay healthy, the sky's the limit". I love this time of year.
THE GREEN JACKET
The Masters, as the tag line states, "A Tradition Unlike Any Other", gets underway April 10, and it to me is the best of the majors. We have been introduced to young golfers, like Tiger Woods who ran away with the 1997 title, shooting 18 under par. A guy named Arnold Palmer (yes that guy with the lemonade and iced tea combination) won his first one in 1958. Jack Nicklaus burst on the scene winning his first Masters in 1963 and stole our hearts with his final Masters win in 1986. Larry Mize won it in 1987 in an amazing playoff. Since, we've watched as San Diegan, Phil Mickelson won the first of his three titles in 2004.
Then there's the famous green jacket, given to the winners of the tournament. Doing a little research, I've discovered that the tradition of the green jacket dates back to 1937, when the members of the Augusta National course began wearing the jackets to stand out in the crowd, so that patrons that had questions could ask a member in a green jacket (from Masters.com). The first green jacket given to a winner took place in 1949 when Sam Snead won the tournament. The tradition has taken place ever since. It's also customary now, for the previous champion of the Masters to award the jacket to the current champion.
The other unique thing I really like about the Masters, is the naming of the holes. Starting off on the "Tea Olive" the Par 4, 445 yard hole number 1. Then there's the famous stretch on the back nine known as "Amen Corner", and for those wondering about how and why it's called that, here's this from Augusta.com:
The year 1958 was eventful at the Masters Tournament.It's always incredible to watch the way golfers attack this famed course, and always provides some drama. Can't wait for it to start.
Two bridges across Rae's Creek were dedicated in honor of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. A young pro named Arnold Palmer won the tournament for the first time.
And Amen Corner was born.
Actually, the famous stretch of holes -- Nos. 11, 12 and 13 -- had been in existence for 25 years, but a catchy nickname didn't exist until Sports Illustrated golf writer Herbert Warren Wind came up with the term in 1958.
The three holes where Rae's Creek meets the National played a vital role in the early years of the Masters.
The Nelson Bridge commemorates Nelson's charge of a birdie at No. 12 and an eagle at No. 13 to win in 1937. The Hogan Bridge honors Hogan's score of 274 in 1953, then the lowest 72-hole score in Masters history.
So hunker down sports fans, make sure the cable/satellite bill is paid, find that comfortable spot on the couch and get ready. It's time to get on the Road to the Final Four, that takes us to our favorite baseball stadium, and winds up at one of the most storied golf courses in history. So put on Cinderella's glass slipper, hope it goes well with your baseball cap and green jacket!!!
Enjoy sports fans, I know I will!