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The year’s best holiday

Andy Ziccarelli | Tuesday, March 18, 2008

As I sit here and think about the cold, the snow, and the mountain of homework that is piling up on my desk, I find myself not being able to wipe a giant smile off of my face. Why? It’s because my favorite holiday occurs this week. Easter? Nope. Better. The best holiday of the entire year is the first and second rounds of the Men’s NCAA Tournament a four day basketball extravaganza that is unlike any other sporting event anywhere.

I know I am not alone. America is coming down with a case of March Madness along with me, whether it is for good or for bad. Online business magazine Slate.com estimates that $3.8 billion are lost in worker productivity during the NCAA tournament and that $750 million are wagered every year on the tournament. That isn’t even counting the millions of classes skipped by high school and college students to catch the games.

But there is a reason for it. More than any other sporting event, the NCAA tournament allows for fan participation by filling out a bracket (and likely wagering a few dollars in a pool). It is the only event where you get to pick the winner of such a vast amount of games, sliding each team as much or as little as you decide. Don’t like a team? Pick them to lose in the first round and then root vehemently against them. Or, go ahead and do as I did and put the Fighting Irish in the Final Four. You are ultimately in charge of your bracket, and the power is intoxicating.

And because everyone has a bracket, each of the 63 games has a meaning. You, personally, have picked a winner for all of the games that are on at any given moment. Since you have probably laid down some cash, or are just playing for bragging rights with your friends (or both), you cheer hard for your team to win in every single game, no matter how much you cared about the team one week ago, before the tournament started. Go ahead, watch and see how many people will be glued to the UNLV-Kent State game on Thursday afternoon.

The only things we love more than our brackets are upsets. It is an American institution, something we have seen over and over again in our lives. We love to see the scrappy underdog challenge and beat the talented favorite who might not be giving them their due. It is the reason why America fell in love with George Mason, a No. 11 seed who slayed basketball giants North Carolina and Connecticut on its way to the Final Four in 2006. And even though these underdogs are not as talented, and have almost no realistic chance to win the tournament, it is a once a year treat to see them play with the intensity and passion that they do.

So go ahead, skip class, ditch work and become a couch potato for the weekend. Use this column as an excuse note if you need to. The best holiday of the year starts Thursday at 12:20 p.m. and I, for one, am not going to miss a minute.