It was like a woman standing at a bar who looked so good in her skirt your head snapped and your brain stopped functioning.
This was promising, you figured. This had potential, you thought. That skirt alone was enough to ignore that she was chain smoking while drinking vodka, no ice, straight out of a smudged glass. It made the fact she was simultaneously playing three keno cards endearing.
And yes the guy's name tattooed on her back did correspond to the oversized mixed martial arts enthusiast playing pool across the way, but he was an "ex fiancèe" after all.
Once you introduced her to your parents at your sister's wedding next week, he'd be forgotten.
You don't just pick a Final Four team, you consummate a relationship with them. They become your team even if you have no prior attachment – you didn't attend the school, you barely know where it's located. Especially when you take a non-chalk pick and believe you've outsmarted America.
It doesn't matter how small the amount of money in the office pool, or if there is money at all. You're in. You're out there. It's emotional.
And, like some relationships, it's so doomed for spectacular failure that afterwards you look back and wonder how in the world you were ever so stupid.
A year ago the University of Southern California Trojans breezed by me in a crowded bar and in a fit of insanity I decided the sixth-seed in the Midwest Region was headed to the Final Four.
O.J. Mayo. Davon Jefferson. Taj Gibson. Tim Floyd and his junk defenses. What could go wrong? Southern Cal was my club.
Friends looked at me like I was nuts. They tried to talk me out of the relationship. They pointed out the obvious flaws – the hoops equivalency of alcoholism, compulsive gambling and an ex looking for a Jiu Jitsu workout.
I'd have none of it. I tuned it out. They were all crazy for not appreciating the balanced scoring, the NBA talent and a club beginning to peak. They didn't see the skirt.
The day before the 2008 tournament, I spoke to my friend Don Haskins, the former UTEP coach, Hall of Famer and the person with the best basketball instincts I've ever met (Hubie Brown included). I told him my pick.
"USC?" he said.
Haskins, before he passed away last September, considered Tim Floyd to be another son. Floyd had been his assistant at UTEP for nine seasons. Haskins had taught him half those bizarre ways to ugly up a game, which I assumed would do wonders against first-round opponent Kansas State and star Michael Beasley.
There was no bigger Tim Floyd fan than Don Haskins. Yet he laughed when I said they were Final Four material. He didn't think they'd reach the second round.
"Do you know how good K-State is?" Haskins mocked.
At that point, I had a sinking feeling that this relationship was doomed; a trusted friend had just told me to dump the girl. I was now worried. I should have bailed. I didn't. I convinced myself Haskins was ill-informed even though throughout the season Floyd had sent him DVDs of not just every SC game but most of its practices.
Then I watched with horror as the Trojans did nothing against Kansas State. They couldn't score. They couldn't rebound. They couldn't stop Beasley.
They got manhandled, 80-67. The game wasn't even that close.
It was like taking the girl from the bar to a wedding, watching her spill red wine on the bride's dress and drunkenly crash into the cake.
Other than that, the night went swimmingly.
When it was over, I couldn't defend myself. I couldn't explain what I had been thinking. I had nothing. It was Thursday night and my brackets were already shot. I'd never recover from a Final Four selection losing by 13 in the first round. I might as well have picked Mississippi Valley.
There was only one fond remembrance. Early in the second half, after one particularly bad USC possession, I gave up. I swore off my pick, made a clean break and started rooting for K-State, gambling interests aside, because I liked watching them play.
So at least I broke up with USC first.
Now here are my 2009 brackets in front of me and, yes, here come the Trojans, full of NBA talent and white hot after blasting through the Pac-10 tournament. I'm dumb, not that dumb. They could've signed LeBron and Kobe in early March and I'm not picking USC. I won't return to that abusive relationship.
But can I avoid any potentially abusive relationship?
Did you see Syracuse in the Big East tournament? Did you see the talent? Jonny Flynn is the best point guard in America, the college version of Chris Paul. He's such a leader he keeps everyone in line, even Eric Devendorf. I've even convinced myself Devendorf is just misunderstood. The chest pounding isn't him being a punk; it's a sign of competitive fire. This team has size up front, great outside shooting and a deep bench. If they play hard, they can beat anyone.
Sure they're in a region with North Carolina, Oklahoma and Gonzaga. Sure Stephen F. Austin, the opening-round opponent, plays great defense. Sure James Harden and Arizona State could be waiting in Round 2. Sure Jim Boeheim has had more than his share of early flame outs. Sure they could be exhausted from the marathon conference tournament. Sure they've been inconsistent.
But did you see that skirt?
I'm so smitten right now even Boeheim's whine seems endearing.
- Tim Floyd
- Don Haskins