I have a vivid memory of storming the court after an Ohio University men's basketball victory in either 1996 or '97, though maybe I was just at that game and watched other people storm the court, and then again maybe I only watched that happen on television, possibly after the fact, except I'm not even positive they televised OU basketball games, even to OU students, and that's assuming any of this happened at all, and moreover in all likelihood I wasn't there even if it did, nor would I have watched that on TV even if it had been on TV, given that I was undoubtedly ensconced in somebody's dorm room playing GoldenEye for Nintendo 64 (Grace Jones/grenade launcher/Facility), mainlining Dr. Pepper, and listening to Dada ("Dim" sincerely, "Bob the Drummer" ironically). People (possibly including me) stormed the court (or tried to, anyway, or were just generally enthusiastic and pleased) at some point in the four years (probably freshman year, though maybe sophomore) I was there—of that much I am certain.
It was college. You understand.
My alma mater is in the Sweet 16. They shouldn't be there. A 13 seed. For a school I usually describe at parties as, "Ohio University—not the sports one, the other one"—a school once (once?) best known for the frequency and vivacity of its drunken riots—this is bordering on surreal. We never even made the tournament while I was there; meanwhile, the football team generally got housed a dozen or so times a year by squads from isolated geographical regions of other Midwestern states (Central Michigan, Northern Iowa), most likely because we ran the option roughly 93 percent of the time, like a blotto Phi Kappa playing Madden who will only pick the Punt Block defense. There was never a crowd to hype with the "Hype Crowd" button. ("Disperse Crowd." "Arrest Crowd." "Transfer Crowd to Bowling Green.")
It's surprising, is what I'm saying. I am of course very proud, given my abstract affinity for both Ohio University and underdogs in general, this pride only slightly tempered by the fact that I can name exactly one OU basketball player in the school's 200-year (just guessing here) history, that player being Gary Trent, whose last year was the year before I arrived, I think. (He got the Bobcats into March Madness then, too—maybe they even won a game, maybe he briefly cracked the NBA thereafter. To Google this information now, I rationalize, would only be further insulting.)
OK, one and a half players. The team that won the time I maybe stormed the court (a MAC tournament game, I'm assuming, there's no way it was anything more important and possibly it was substantially less so, given that easily the most cathartic event ever to transpire in our basketball arena was the Sugar Ray/Orgy concert my senior year) had a short, white, possibly balding, probably somewhat Italian point guard with what I hazily remembered as an oh-come-on super-Italian name. My first guess was "Gino Torretta," which him I did Google, and no, not Gino Torretta.
Geno Ford. Call it one and a third.
The point is that Friday I'm going to lustily cheer on a team to which I should have a profound emotional connection, and do, except I clearly don't. Don't know any of their names; I missed their first-round upset of Michigan (SXSW; don't worry, I won't tell you about it) but caught parts of Sunday's victory over USF in between bouts of chatting with my in-laws and trying to amuse a baby. (Do we have a guy named Oltorf? No, Offutt. Oltorf was the street my SXSW hotel was on.)
I will cheer them on because they will (hopefully) be wearing green (right?), and probably the broadcast will include a few quick shots of OU's lush, idyllic campus in lovely Athens, Ohio, whereupon I will get all Wistful. (My claim to fame in college, by which I mean no one knows this let alone cares, is that I was on the air at the student-run radio station the night of the original "Time-Change Riot"—yes—and thus like to imagine I caused the original Time-Change Riot by playing the Afghan Whigs or something, except it was at that time virtually impossible, due to our lack of an antenna or whatever, to hear the college radio station, even if you wanted to, which in all likelihood you did not, because the DJ was probably just some dipshit playing the Afghan Whigs.) I will surprise myself, and more to the point the people around me, with my fervor in cheering on these people I don't know who are currently briefly living on a campus I barely remember. My level of emotional investment will be both understandable and totally preposterous.
Seriously, the effect is more or less ruined if they're not wearing green.
I have to imagine most people watch the tournament this way, filling out their brackets with blithe ignorance, their picks based on how the linguistic effect of the word "Villanova" chose to strike them that day, etc. (I considered filling out a joke bracket where OU wins the whole thing, but felt stupid and didn't, and now of course I just feel stupid.) This holds true even if you actually went to one (or several!) of the schools involved. My Facebook page is currently full of OU classmates I fondly remember but sadly never talk to posting "Go Bobcats!"-type stuff and generally displaying a level of interest and team familiarity I frankly find suspicious. This was not a topic of conversation a month ago. Or two weeks ago. We have all belatedly boarded the bandwagon; some of us, to our credit, at least had an earlier idea of what street the bandwagon would be on. (If it's not on Court, forget it.)
So: Go Bobcats. As you are playing North Carolina, most likely you will be beaten like gongs. This will make me sad, but only briefly—I will quickly return to the merrily oblivious state I've actually remained in this whole time. It's worth noting, however, that this is actually the second split-second burst of collegiate pride I've enjoyed in just a few weeks—the first came when I read an article in my old student newspaper about a kid who built an honest-to-god hot tub in his dorm room. (The same dorm in which I worked as an RA, incidentally; I would never have written him up.) Below is the guy's photo, which, I can't even deal with this photo.
Holy shit. Say hello to without question the smuggest dude on earth. "Why yes, I built a hot tub in my dorm room and fucked chicks in it. You may take my picture." I would very much like to root for the team that guy is rooting for. My pride in the decade-plus-removed, hugely tangential association I have with this person inexplicably knows no bounds. So it goes with the players I'll be rooting for Friday, whoever you are.