Thursday, March 20, 2008

NCAA Liveblog 10: Wrapping it up

We're down to one game now (Stanford-Cornell) and I've had roughly 179 glasses of tea. It's time to head home.

This has been a blast -- thanks to all of you from around the country who gave this a read and maybe dropped in a comment or two. (Feel free to continue the debate on tipping now playing on Liveblog 7.)

So let me leave the rest to you. What's your favorite moment ever from the NCAA tournament? The best game you ever saw, the best game your favorite team played -- whatever it is, let's hear it in the comments. And feel free to brag on your brackets. (I will do no bragging, considering I currently sit at 4-3 and had Baylor in the Sweet 16. Ouch.)

Take it away, y'all. This was great fun.

NCAA Liveblog 9: A Scoreboard story

All the games are blowouts right now -- if you picked Pitt, Purdue and UNLV, good for you -- so I'm going to tell my favorite tournament story. I think I've told this one before, but this is the right time for it.

There used to be a great sports bar called the Scoreboard out on Independence Boulevard. One year I had some friends in town and we went over to watch the tournament. This happened to be 1992 and the game we sat down to watch happened to be Duke-Kentucky.

Basketball fans will recognize this as one of the greatest games of all time.

I was in the rare position of hating both teams, but I had to root for someone, so I went with my SEC roots and picked Kentucky. This put me in the minority because about 80 percent of the people in the bar were rabid Duke fans. (Most of the rest were rabid Carolina fans who of course rooted for Kentucky to win and the Duke players to be swallowed up by a hole in the floor.)

There was one Duke fan who was especially obnoxious. Every time Duke made a good play he would turn to us and scream creative four-letter words, often accompanied by one-finger gestures. Just a class act all around.

Toward the end of the game, Duke went ahead and there was a timeout and this guy did a victory lap inside the Scoreboard, flipping off us Kentucky fans along the way.

So now we're late in overtime -- it's clear now that this is a FANTASTIC game -- and a Kentucky player throws in an off-balance prayer to put Kentucky in the lead with 2.1 seconds left. I am now the biggest Kentucky fan in the world. All of us newly minted Kentucky fans are taunting this guy, and he is devastated. He puts his head down for a second. And then he walks out of the bar.

Let me repeat: He walks out of the bar.

You might have heard what happened next.

Grant Hill threw the long baseball pass to Christian Laettner, and Laettner turned and jumped, and he buried the jumper at the buzzer to win the greatest game of all time for Duke.

The obnoxious guy never saw it.

I always wonder how he found out what happened. Maybe he walked out of the bar and decided to shun sports and bought a ticket to Tanzania and became a missionary. Maybe to this day he still doesn't know that Duke won.

One can only hope.

NCAA Liveblog 8: Pranking Michael Jordan

When you're watching multiple TVs at once you get multiple commercials at once. And so just this afternoon I've seen these Michael Jordan/Cuba Gooding Jr. commercials about 25 times.

I've come to the conclusion that somebody with Hanes is playing a gigantic prank on Michael Jordan.

The main commercial features MJ walking into Cuba's dressing room to find Cuba wearing just his underwear and a T-shirt, looking at a picture of MJ, and holding a basketball in front of his crotch.

This is the follow-up to a commercial where Cuba bursts into a room where MJ is mingling with some fans and yells, "Michael! I'm wearing your underwear!"

And THAT is the follow-up to a commercial where Kevin Bacon is lounging around his apartment, shooting wads of paper at a trash can, only to have MJ come out of nowhere and swat the paper onto the floor.

The message of this ad campaign:

1. MJ and Kevin Bacon appear to be roommates.

2. MJ and Cuba Gooding Jr. have an unusually close relationship.

3. If you and MJ become good friends, he will buy you underwear.

4. MJ litters.

The one thing I am sure of is that Michael Jordan does not watch TV. Because if MJ ever saw one of these commercials he would immediately fire his agent and find out if he could sue Hanes for making the worst ads in the history of television. Also he would probably have Cuba Gooding Jr. killed.

It is sad to see Air Jordan become Breathable Cotton Blend Jordan. But at least that leaves him a lot of time to put in a full effort as head of basketball operations for the Bobcats.

Oh, wait.

Game updates: It's Blowout City. Pitt up 24 on Oral Roberts, UNLV up 18 on Kent State, Purdue up 17 on Baylor. Marquette-Kentucky is the only game even close to close -- Marquette's up 8 without about two minutes left. But Cornell-Stanford tips off in 10 minutes. Play on!

NCAA Liveblog 7: The waitress' view

My waitress here at Jocks & Jills is a lovely woman named Teri. You think you pull long hours? She signed up for a double shift today to make a few extra bucks. So productivity is down in offices all over America because people are watching the games, but on the other hand, waitresses get a windfall. So maybe it's a wash.

My mom was a waitress, which means two things: 1) I'm a big tipper, and 2) when I was in high school, my allowance was always a stack of dollar bills. I was the only 14-year-old in town fully equipped to go to a strip club.

Anyway, I watch waitresses. Teri is good. She regularly checks in but she never hovers. She'll tell you what's good on the menu and what's not. And she always calls you "hon."

She normally works the night shift because day-shift customers are stingy tippers. She pulls out a ticket that came to more than $50 and looks at the tip: $4.53. "At night the tip would be twice that much," she says. "We routinely get 15 or 20 bucks."

It's almost 3:30 p.m. and the crowd has thinned a little but it's still fairly crowded -- way more than a normal Thursday afternoon. Even better, Duke plays tonight. Big tips await.

Score updates: Marquette leads Kentucky by 2. Purdue leads Baylor by 2. UNLV pounding Kent State, 18-6. Pitt up 2 on Oral Roberts.

In case the games get boring, here's a diversion: my good friend Joe Posnanski's greatest screw-ups. Everyone in the newspaper business has some of these stories. Maybe at some point I'll devote a post to the greatest headline in Charlotte newspaper history. It involves the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

UPDATE: I can't believe I didn't ask Teri the key question of the tournament. But she came back around and I had a chance for the follow-up.

So who tips better, Carolina fans or Duke fans?

"Carolina fans," Teri says. "No question."

NCAA Liveblog 6: Pleasure units

Scott Adams, the guy who draws "Dilbert," has a theory in one of his books that people survive on pleasure units -- that we all get pleasure out of certain things, and that we arrange our daily lives to accumulate the number of pleasure units we need to get us to the next day.

My alma mater gave me a big old stack of pleasure units today.

Georgia didn't win -- they went down 73-61 to Xavier -- but they led most of the game, and they made an incredible run just to get to the tournament, and they made us proud. (Georgia basketball is not exactly a proud tradition -- we're the school that gave our basketball players quizzes such as, "How many points in a three-point basket?")

For so many of us, sports is a big source of pleasure units. It's almost better if you know that the score really doesn't matter in the scope of the real world; not mattering means you can cheer as loud as you want and scream at the refs and fall on the floor in a heap when your team makes the shot at the buzzer. Loving sports means letting yourself go. And not much in the world is more pleasurable than that.

The first set of games is over -- congrats to Xavier, Kansas and Michigan State. And congrats to those of you who had all three in your pool (which would be pretty much everyone but me). The next slate of games has already started. Sit back and enjoy.

NCAA Liveblog 5: Us and our teams

So I'm sitting here rooting my guts out for a group of young men that I've never met and most likely never will meet.

All we have in common is that they are attending the University of Georgia, where I went to school more than 20 years ago. I don't have a clue if they share my values or my political views. I have no idea if we would get along for five minutes in the same room. But for the 40 minutes of this basketball game, they own my heart.

It sounds sort of pathetic when I say it like that.

But of course most of us have our teams, and they matter way more than any rational mind would think they should. In fact I'd say that our home teams matter even more these days, when we're all so spread out and everybody moves around so much. When I lived in Augusta, rooting for UGA was fun. Now that I'm two states away, it's more than that. It's something that draws me back home.

Already today I've heard from people living out in Arizona and out in L.A., where the games started at 9 in the morning. And I know as I write this that my buddy in Indianapolis is watching this, and probably my buddy in Japan too, although God knows what time it is over there. And if Georgia should pull the upset, we'll all be in touch and it'll be just like that night in our freshman year when we beat Kentucky and stayed up all night.

Well, WE didn't beat Kentucky. But you know what I mean.

Scoring update: Kansas up by 27. Michigan State up 15. Dawgs up by 7 with nine minutes left. Gulp.

NCAA Liveblog 4: Working man's lunch

Based on a quick survey of outfits, I'd say about 90 percent of the folks here in the sports bar are here on a workday.

I see lots of company ID badges on those cloth lanyards that are part of the 21st-century corporate worker's daily ensemble. But in a sports bar, nobody makes fun of you for having to wear an ID badge on a lanyard. Just the opposite -- it's a badge of honor. You're the guy who stuck it to the Man by sneaking out to catch some basketball at lunch.

Those guys, like me, are drinking soft -- tea or water or Cokes. The guys at the bar are wearing track suits and knocking back Bud Lights. Let's be charitable and say they probably work the night shift.

I think I mentioned that I can see 36 TVs from my post here at Jocks & Jills. Most of them are showing the three tournament games currently being played. A few show various channels from the ESPN universe. One TV is tuned to CNN. I'm not sure who would come to a sports bar to watch CNN with the sound off. I'm also not sure I'd like to meet that person.

Your scoring update: Kansas up 23 at halftime -- bye-bye, Portland State. Michigan State up nine on Temple. And your Georgia Bulldogs up 35-26 on Xavier. I am now officially afraid to watch the second half.

NCAA Liveblog 3: Hanging in there

Portland State is sort of hanging with Kansas -- they're only down six. Wait, now it's nine. Somehow six qualifies as "hanging" but nine does not.

Is there anything better in the tournament when the little school keeps the game close, then all of a sudden there's maybe 5 minutes left, and some kid who will never again play competitive basketball beyond his church league somehow drains a three, and the crowd is into it and the announcers are into it and you think this is it, it could really happen?

There are so many places in life where the underdog never wins, where the underdog basically CAN'T win. This is one of the reasons to love the tournament. Because sometimes the underdog does win. And in these first two days, game after game, the little guys hang in there.

Of course, in the time it took me to write that, Portland State went from down nine to down 18.

But in other news, Georgia leads Xavier by three near the end of the half.

Live the dream, baby.

NCAA Liveblog 2: Timeshifting

Right on the dot at 12:20 p.m., CBS shows The Montage: Jim Valvano looking for a hug. Christian Laettner making The Shot. That coach for Hampton wiggling like a bug as his player lifts him off the ground.


Jocks & Jills is two-thirds full and I can see three guys with laptops and half a dozen on their cell phones. I've heard that people occasionally wager on these games. Not anyone that I know, of course, but maybe you know someone.

We also have a case of the Sports Bar Time Shift, which happens when one TV is showing the over-the-air broadcast of a game and another TV is showing the satellite feed. There's about a three-second delay from one screen to the next, which is really weird if you can see them both. And the screen on the delay is also the big, hi-def screen -- so you end up either watching the tiny screen where the action happens first, or twisting around in your seat so you DON'T see it.

Forget those investment-firm buyouts. This is the sort of thing the federal government should be trying to fix.

Your first score update: Georgia 11, Xavier 8. I really should just leave right now.

NCAA Liveblog 1: Christmas in March

From where I'm sitting I can see 36 TV screens. A nice woman keeps bringing me sweet tea. My NCAA bracket is spread out before me. And the first games of the best two days in sports are about to begin.

Is this heaven?

No, it's a sports bar.

I'm in the Jocks & Jills on Tyvola Road, across from the old Coliseum (or, to be exact, the pile of rubble that used to be the old Coliseum). I'll be here for the next six hours or so, liveblogging two sets of games.

The good things about this gig:

-- Somehow, I'm getting to paid to do this.
-- Plus I think I'll get to expense out some chicken wings.

The bad things about this gig:

-- Charlotte Observer policy won't let me drink beer on the job.
-- Charlotte Observer policy definitely won't let me expense out beer on the job.
-- Charlotte Observer policy most definitely won't let me expense out tequila shots on the job.

So, as you can see, I am suffering here. That's OK. I can take it. The first games are about to begin, starting with my beloved Georgia Bulldogs facing off against mighty Xavier. Of course I have picked the Dawgs to win, because one of the great things about the tournament is that insane picks are always encouraged and sometimes rewarded. We shall see.

I'll be posting regular updates, so keep dropping by. Also post any NCAA thoughts in the comments, especially on the broadcasting -- I'm not sure I'll be able to hear the announcers here. Which is not such a bad thing unless the announcer is the brilliant Gus Johnson.

And if you're somewhere near Tyvola Road, come see me. I'll buy you a drink. But probably not a tequila shot.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mock my bracket

This was the do-not-disturb card at the hotel room in Boston where we were staying over the weekend. (Click on the picture for a bigger version.)

I'm going to hang this on my door every March for the rest of my life.

Thursday and Friday -- the first two days of the NCAA tournament -- are the best two days of the sports year, and I will brook no argument about this. If you check back here on Thursday, I'll be liveblogging the day games (roughly from noon to 6) from a sports bar somewhere in town.

Some days this is not a bad job.

You can pick the regional winners and national champ on our Web site here. In the meantime, here are my picks, ready to be ridiculed. To cut down on space, for the early rounds I'll just name the upsets.


First round: St. Joe's over Oklahoma (11 seed over a 6 seed), South Alabama over Butler (10 over 7).
Second round: St. Joe's over Louisville (11 over 3).
Regional semis in Charlotte: UNC over Washington State, Tennessee over St. Joe's.
Regional final: UNC over Tennessee.

First round: Kent State over UNLV (9 over 8), Kansas State over USC (11 over 6), Davidson (homer pick!) over Gonzaga (10 over 7).
Second round: I really want to pick Davidson over Georgetown, but Georgetown has a center named Roy Hibbert who is 7-2 and 275 pounds. I'm pretty sure Davidson has never had a player in its history who was 7-2 OR 275 pounds. But I am picking Clemson over Vanderbilt (5 over 4).
Regional semis: Clemson over Kansas (5 over 1!), Wisconsin over Georgetown (3 over 2).
Regional final: Wisconsin over Clemson.

First round: Oregon over Mississippi State (9 over 8), St. Mary's over Miami (10 over 7).
Regional semis: Pitt over Memphis (4 over 1), Texas over Stanford.
Regional final: Pitt over Texas (4 over 2).

First round: Texas A&M over BYU (9 0ver 8), Western Kentucky over Drake (12 over 5), Baylor over Purdue (11 over 6) and Georgia over Xavier (14 over 3). Every bracket needs one insane pick, and Georgia beat three teams in two days, plus a tornado, to make the tournament. Plus I went to school there. So I'm not about to pick against the Dawgs. At least in the first round.
Regional semis: UCLA over Connecticut, Duke over Baylor.
Regional final: UCLA over Duke.

UNC over Wisconsin, UCLA over Pitt... and UNC beats UCLA in the final, 76-66. Ty Lawson is the MVP.

Mock my picks in the comments -- and add yours so the mocking can go both ways. Mocking all around! And more chicken wings!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spring has splattered

Well, you know spring is coming because the daffodils are starting to bloom, and some mornings it's warm enough to sit on the porch, and birds have crapped all over my car.

I'm not sure what I have done to the bird kingdom. We have a feeder in the backyard and occasionally even fill it. Last year we let doves make a nest on the porch. We have several CDs by the Jayhawks (although none by the Eagles*).

*I'm totally stealing this footnote-in-the-blog thing from my friend Joe Posnanski, who probably stole it from David Foster Wallace or any number of other famous footnoters. OK, there probably aren't any number of other famous footnoters. The point is, does anyone really need to own an Eagles record? If you need to hear the Eagles, just turn on a classic-rock station or a country station or an easy-listening station and wait 15 minutes. One of the VH1 family of channels is probably playing the Eagles reunion show at this very moment. Yet the Eagles' first greatest-hits record is still the best-selling album of all time in the U.S. -- 29 million copies. That's an awful lot of people who just have to hear "Witchy Woman" RIGHT NOW.

It's possible that a bird perched outside our window might have seen me laugh at this story that compares Barack Obama to Bugs Bunny and Hillary Clinton to Daffy Duck. So it's possible that word got around the bird community that the guy in the green Camry was laughing at Daffy again.

Birds stick together.

Whatever the reason, this was not just the work of one bird. This was a whole squadron. They nailed the hood, the windshield, the windows, even the doors. I'd think it would be hard to hit a door from such a high angle. Maybe some birds are like those trick-shot artists in pool.

If you have ideas for keeping birds from dive-bombing your car -- ideas that don't involve a shotgun -- pass them on in the comments.

Oh, and I guess it goes without saying that I just got the car washed last week.