This has been a tough March Madness for me.
As if it’s not bad enough that I currently wallow in the 24th spot in my son Matt’s 31-person pool, Carol — Matt’s mother and my wife — is in 4th place! Fourth place in a pool with some pretty hardened college hoops aficionados. Fourth place with the very first bracket she has ever entered in her life!
Here I am, upstairs in my study, knocking off some chores, already having pretty much given up on the madness, and I hear her downstairs alternately clapping and groaning and screaming deliriously as she sits alone in the den (how many other wives are spending their time like this?), glued to a second-round game between two schools she’s never heard of. In front of her on the coffee table is a printout of her bracket, marked in red with circles (games she got right; lots of these) and X’s (games she got wrong; precious few). On her lap is her computer: She checks her position in
the standings so incessantly that the site doesn’t even have time to refresh. And when she’s not monitoring the standings (her team name, btw, is “Mother Knows Best” — quite prescient), she’s looking ahead at
everyone else’s bracket to see who she’s gonna leapfrog next!
My bracket (also presciently named: “FifthSmartestHerman”) went south in the very first round, thanks to good old UConn. I knew the Huskies were big-time underachievers this year, but I’m
congenitally unable to pick against the team I root for. Last year, this “strategy” worked great as UConn ran the table and I pocketed runner-up money — $300. (Well, I didn’t exactly pocket it. I took all my sons out for steaks at Del Frisco’s and wound up spending twice that amount.) But this year I picked the Huskies to go all the way again, and as Walt “Clyde” Frazier would say, in that lilting sing-song we all know and love, “I paid for my transgressions.” UConn was an embarrassment, putting up absolutely no resistance in their first-round flameout to Iowa State. Disappointing, to say the least. But no matter how badly they stunk up the court, there’s one thing you can’t take away from them: They have one of the nation’s most handsome mascots — Jonathan the Husky Dog.
Now as far as I can tell, Jonathan didn’t make the trip with the team to Louisville, though I don’t know how much his presence would have helped. Last year the Butler Bulldogs had Blue2 with them courtside (he was actually
allowed to fly to Houston first-class as an “emotional support dog”), and they still couldn’t take down the Huskies in the final. Blue2 is a fine-looking specimen, but he’s by no means the most beloved bulldog in college sports. That honor, of course, belongs to none other than Uga, the famous Georgia Bulldog.
My earliest memory of dogs and March Madness goes way back to 1967, when Walt Frazier’s (yes, the same Clyde of “spinning and winning” and “dishing and swishing” mentioned above) Southern Illinois Salukis won the N.I.T. Those were the days when the N.I.T. was still a prestigious tourney, and not an acronym for “Not In the Tournament.” Of course, back then, nobody knew
what a Saluki was.
Now that we’ve become a Trojan family, thanks to Robby’s staggeringly brilliant decision to attend USC, another irresistable dog has entered our consciousness: George Tirebiter. Back in the 1940’s, George, a stray dog adopted by students, served 8 years as USC’s unofficial mascot, leading the Trojan Marching Band onto the field duded up in varsity sweater and cap. Apparently he had an unfortunate habit of biting tires, and this led to his demise in 1950. A public funeral was held on campus, and a statue was erected in his honor on Trousdale Parkway near Mudd Hall of Philosophy.
But fear not, Trojans. I’ve found a worthy successor.