My favorite NCAA tournament memory of 2014 won’t come from an arena, fieldhouse, or — heaven help us all — Jerry Jones’ $1 billion homage to hubris.
In fact, it’s already happened — at a hospital.
Arizona was preparing for its first-round matchup with Weber State while my pregnant wife was being subjected to hourly vital sign checks.
Late last Wednesday, as machines puffed and beeped behind her, she sat up with a start.
“Oh no! My bracket!” she
This is March after all, and we’re in Tucson. For as briefly as a few days, or as long as three weeks, everybody worth their 520 area code breathes basketball. And when Arizona’s good — the top-seeded Wildcats will take on San Diego State tonight in the Sweet 16 — well, it gets a little crazy.
Here are 10 signs that it’s March in Southern Arizona:
1. We buy things from dirt lots. Small Southern towns sell pies when winter turns to spring. We Arizonans sell our favorite crop, too — cotton, cut, dyed red or blue and sold stamped with oversized blocked “A’s.” At some point this weekend or (if we’re lucky) next week, you’ll walk up to a white tent on a dirt lot and plunk down $20 for a T-shirt of questionable authenticity. It’s your civic duty.
2. We buy everyday items because they sound basketball-ish. There’s no better time to grab a growler of Barrio Brewery’s NCAAle, or that Eegee’s sandwich promoted in a wacky commercial featuring UA cheerleaders. Admit it, you hear, “Dip it, dunk it, do it again” in your sleep.
3. We root for anybody with even tenuous UA ties. We Southern Arizonans watched MoMo Jones and his Iona teammates play last year, and we pulled for St. John’s when Mike Dunlap was Steve Lavin’s top assistant. This year, Dayton has become Tucson’s second-favorite team: Sean Miller’s brother Archie — a former UA assistant — has the Flyers in the Sweet 16.
4. We make the Wildcats part of the family. We in the newspaper game resist this trend, thankfully, but the rest of you don’t. (I’m silently judging.) Nearly everybody in Tucson will begin referring to players by their first names — “C’mon, Rondae, pass!” — or, worse, their nicknames, usually in a loud voice while screaming at the TV. The first one to call Nick Johnson “Bunnies” in my presence gets a dirty look.
5. We put everything in bracket form. “Call the Microwave Repair Guy” took down “Get the Drip System Fixed” in a classic 12-5 upset of the Finley House Chores Challenge last week. Look out for “Adjust the Chlorine Levels in the Pool” as it takes on “Empty the Diaper Genie” this week.
6. We talk about gambling like it’s, you know, legal. For a month, office and breakfast-table-chatter point spreads, parlays and pools are fair game. But, a warning: If you even breathe a word about point spreads in the other 11 months a year, you’re a degenerate who will probably be written up by human resources or sent to Gamblers Anonymous, or both.
7. We become number crunchers. Admit it: Most of us can’t figure out the tip on our lunch tabs, but we become that guy from “A Beautiful Mind” when it comes to figuring out road trips, hotel bills and just how much we can afford to spend on Stubhub.com. In fact, you’re doing it right now: “Tonight’s game starts at 7:17 p.m.; if I get in the car now, stop for gas in Blythe, skip lunch and take the toll roads from Riverside to Anaheim, I can make it just in time for tipoff.
And it’ll only cost me $1,350 — plus California’s 7.5 percent sales tax rate.”
8. We see ghosts … Every good run by a lesser opponent brings back memories of Arizona’s upset losses from past years. When Weber State jumped out to a 7-0 lead in last week’s first round, we all quietly thought back to East Tennessee State and Santa Clara, two tiny schools that took down the Wildcats in past years.
9. … even as we excuse faults. So what if Arizona couldn’t win a Knights of Columbus free-throw contest? The 1997 national championship team was terrible at the line, too! (Like the Wildcats’ struggles at the line are now a good thing.)
10. We become experts.
The simplicity of the NCAA tournament — win six games, and you’re the champion — leads all of us to think that it’s, well, easy. So easy, in fact, that casual fans turn into armchair Ernie Johnsons the second their favorite teams start winning. So prepare to hear “expert” analysis from just about everyone: your cubicle mate, grandma, barber, 12-year-old kid or — in my case — wife.
Of course, Kim’s probably right. She picked 28 of 32 second-round games correctly, from the hospital, in the middle of the night, while growing two lives. She delivered twin boys late Tuesday night, a month ahead of our due date but just in time for the Sweet 16. (Hey, they want to watch Arizona play San Diego State, too.)
What a March memory.