Watching the Tournament's Opening Day: Abe Frohman vs Frank the Tank

March 19th, 2008

A few years ago ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a hilarious article about watching the first two days of the tournament non-stop with a friend.   The article was not a simple synopsis of the games, but rather an account of the idiosyncratic details of sitting through hours and hours of college basketball – for example, repeated viewings of lame commercials from the tournament sponsor.  As the hours went on, Simmons’ ramblings captured what the tournament had always been like for me to watch. 


At the time of the article, I was in my third year of law school – my seventh straight year of college.  This meant seven years of watching the tournament like Simmons.  It is an unfair cliché that youth is wasted on the young, but I am glad to say that I did not waste those seven years of college when it came to marathon sports television watching.  From the NCAA tournament, to the US Open, to the Masters, to the World Cup, to reruns of American Gladiators, I was an aficionado of the sports watching marathon. 


Now, after two years of actually working during March I view Simmons’ article differently.  The article was the equivalent of Will Ferrell’s Frank the Tank: a middle aged indulgence of the college lifestyle.  I do not mean this as an insult.  Like every other decent human being, I love Frank the Tank. 


However, now that I have a “real” job (a job that is made worse by the fact that it just happens to be busiest during March) I’ve had to hone Ferris Bueller like resourcefulness.  Like a March Madness Underground Railroad, within the office exists connections for obtaining score updates and procuring televisions for witnessing last second shots.  There is the older guy in accounting with an FM/AM radio, the IT guys always up for getting around the watchful eye of big brother, and the office alcoholic always up for going to the bar with you for that 9 am tip off, under the guise of a coffee run and a meeting.


During my college years I had all but forgotten the joy of watching the tournament in this fashion.  Like taking off your girlfriend’s bra, I forgot the thrill of pursuit: of catching that first glimpse then having to retreat until you could come back for more. 


As the tournament approaches I find myself franticly searching for my inner Ferris Beuller, honing my Sausage King of Chicago persona in preparation of the opening tip off.  My position, my coworker’s knowledge of my obsession for college basketball, and my general cowardliness prevent me from just calling in sick for the whole tournament.  When it comes to playing hooky and breaking the rules, I am more like Ferris’ best friend Cameron, reluctant but obviously wanting to be like Ferris.  While I doubt my boss would hunt me down like Beuller’s pedophile principal I lack the fortitude to take the chance. 


While unable to take the whole day off, I have taken steps to “fill” my work day.  I have scheduled fake meetings during must see games (i.e. Gonzaga vs. Davidson).  I have researched my office’s definition of “de minimus computer use,” even consulted with a sympathetic human resources employee, and I am currently weighing the odds of getting caught streaming CBS’s feed on my work computer. 


There is of course an obvious solution to those of us unfortunate enough to have jobs in March: Tivo.  I fully plan on Tivoing the whole tournament.  However, something is lost in translation over Tivo.  As I said earlier, the great part of Simmons’ article was capturing the whole experience.  Tivo, while being the greatest addition to my life since the original Nintendo, presents an artificial experience.  When I watch a game I want to believe that I am like a butterfly flapping its wings in China; that through superstition, sage advice, and temper tantrum throwing I can will the bounce of the ball, the whistle of the ref and the decision of a coach, from thousands of miles away. 


This Thursday through Sunday will no doubt be some of the most exciting and depressing days of my life this year.  And while I miss those Frank the Tank sports marathons, I am learning to appreciate the excitement of March Madness in the “real” world.  Playing hooky and dodging responsibility are important experiences, integral to being a man. 


I have one good memory of middle school; it is of my dad getting me out of school to go to the bar to watch a game and have lunch.  As an awkward 6th grader – smack in the middle of puberty with peculiar body hair and untimely erections – this moment showed me that becoming a man had its benefits.  While watching my dad and his friends drink whiskey, eat greasy burgers and watch the game – when they were supposed to be at work – I learned that with great responsibility, comes the joy of dodging great responsibility. 


This month I take the lessons of my father and Ferris Bueller to heart as I prepare for March Madness.