Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Best Postseason Sporting Event

Here's some insight into how I pick topics I'm going to write about.

I was staring at the screen, thinking What Best Thing Do I Like Today? and I looked at a list of ideas I keep handy, things that start out popping into my head while I'm driving, then get written on my hand, then get transferred to a post-it note in my wallet, and then typed into a list titled "TBOE topics." Here is that list, as it exists right now:

TBOE Topics:
The best spoken word song (Long long time Guy Forsyth)
The best commercial jingle?
Best use of candy hearts in a story line (Futurama or “Arrested Development?”)
Best comic strip I think I could have drawn but didn’t (Jim’s Journal)
The best web comic (Girl Genius)
The best Dickens’ book (David Copperfield: traddling and cried.)
the best Newhart series
The best version of “lion sleeps tonight video”
TBOE best capturing of teen angst:
VF first album (we think as teenagers that life should be like Paradise by the Dashboard lights but really it’s more like “Please Do Not Go” plus is there any more appropriate capturing of teen thoughts than the song Promise (well you know that I want your lov)
The best instrument (bagpipes? Harmonica? Theremin?)
The best online clock?

So I looked at that list, and thought Which one do I write about today? And then a guy on the radio mentioned Badger basketball, and that got me to thinking that we're only a few days away from March, which brought up March Madness, and then I realized that I have a "Sports" category on here that is underutilized (probably because most of my sports thoughts end up on Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!), so I thought, I should do a sports topic, and then decided to name The Best Postseason Sporting Event.

And you're going to be surprised, because it's not the Superbowl. How could I name the Superbowl? If you're a football fan, think about it: count the number of good Superbowls. Less than 10, right? Maybe less than 5. Mostly they're boring and mostly they're blowouts. Ravens-Giants? Come on. 49ers winning 55-10? Great for my bet (I bet my boss at the time that the 49ers would win, and we bet $2 per point for the winning team) but bad for enjoyment. Even this year's game, as great as it was to see the Patriots* go down, was not a thrill-a-minute contest. Most people watching the Superbowl watch for the commercials, or watch because it's the last real football game of the year and we'll miss the sport.

So the Superbowl is out. And don't even think about bringing up things that aren't sports (like NASCAR), or sports nobody cares about (like hockey.) If it's going to be The Best Postseason Sporting Event, it has to be something that people watch and which matters, which limits it to football, basketball, or baseball.

I've already ruled out the Superbowl, and I'll rule out the National Championship game for college football, too, primarily because while it's controversial, it's also usually boring and it's played, for some reason, in the middle of the week after New Year's, guaranteeing that nobody can get excited about it or stay up to watch the whole thing. Plus, it's college football, and the only football that really matters is pro football.

I will next strike down the World Series, and here's why: It's too long and too late. The World Series is seven interminable, slow games spread out over what feels like 33 years. Here's how much I watch of the World Series: the last inning of the last game. That's it. That's all you need to watch. For some reason, major league baseball plays a hundred quintillion games to get to the postseason, and then another hundred quintillion to decide the champion, and by the time they're done I'm more sick of baseball than I was already, and also football is on, so who cares? Before the World Series could really be the best event, it would (a) have to be much shorter, (b) have to be in September before football gets really fun, and (c) not have to involve baseball.

So that leaves basketball, and I'm ruling out the NBA Finals for a couple of reasons, too. Again, too long and too late. I think they begin playing the NBA Finals in June, and they finish in 2015. And why, in basketball, are they playing a best-of-seven series, anyway? I understand in baseball you want the teams to face different pitchers and there are different rules between the leagues. Basketball has none of that. So they stretch it out just to bore me. And bore me they do, through too-long games that are decided in the final minute.

Plus, basketball even has a boring name for its championship. Think about it: Superbowl. World Series. And... the NBA Finals. You know who else has "Finals?" Schools. So the NBA championship calls up all the excitement of an essay test in May.

And, I don't really care for basketball anyway, despite being incredibly awesome at it. Which is what makes my nomination a twist ending worthy of M. Night Shymalan: The Best Postseason Sporting Event is... March Madness, the NCAA College Basketball Tournament.

But! But! But! you readers cry out. But you said college football doesn't count because it's college, and basketball doesn't count because it's basketball, and March Madness is longer than any of those other ones because it's not even over until AFTER March...

Just calm down: All true, but take it easy. Here's why March Madness is The Best Postseason Sporting Event: because it makes me forget all those things.

I don't like basketball. I don't like college sports. I don't like championships that go on forever. And yet, I love March Madness. I don't even know who's playing, or care -- I don't follow college basketball at all beyond The Boy telling me what teams he likes (the ones that are winning) and doesn't like (the ones that are losing), and yet when March Madness comes around, I read about the lineups, I follow who gets in and who gets out, I watch some of the games, I get into the office pools.

I do that because what March Madness and the NCAA have done is capture everything that's good about sports and rolled them up into one big lump of entertainment. Underdogs? Check. One-and-done games? Check. Dynasties? Check: Duke's in it every year. They get it just right: they include a couple of teams like George Mason and UW-Milwaukee that aren't supposed to go anywhere. They have a highly-ranked team get knocked out. They play the games all over the country. And they have the most awesome name.

That all becomes infectious. I started, a few years back, to realize just how interesting the little schools were, how fun it was to watch a matchup of really good schools, how there are always unique things that happen in these games, and began paying more and more attention to it, period.

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament somehow overruled every single bias I had against it, and made me a fan. I could not care less about college basketball -- until March 1. They did it right, and that's why it's The Best Postseason Sporting Event.

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