March 18, 1993 was the greatest sick day of my life. It was the first time that being sick actually felt like a blessing. It was the day when my sports fandom went from "why watch SportsCenter every day?" to "why is there only ONE 24/7 sports network?". On March 18, 1993, I stayed home sick from school and watched my first NCAA basketball tournament.
The NCAA basketball tournament is a 68-team (formerly 64-team) single-elimination tournament of conference winners and the top teams in college basketball. Due to it's one-and-done nature, it is nerve-racking for all teams and fans. The tournament is unique because household names like Kentucky, Duke, and UCLA are matched up with teams they never play from smaller schools without basketball history like Santa Clara, Florida Gulf Coast, and George Mason. These small schools have little to lose, so they play without reservation while their top-seeded counterparts often play wary of what could happen if they lose.
I remember certain details of that first day, but not all. I can recall the blue quilt that my dad and I spread out on the brown shag family room floor and his first explanation that this tournament would be happening all day, all weekend. Why had no one told me about this before? All of my sports memories started around autumn 1992 with Sid Bream crossing home plate and ending the Pirates' competitive baseball for 20 years, so maybe it was natural that spring of 1993 would be my first exposure.
St. John's beat Texas Tech in that first game. Then, it just kept going, all day, culminating with me falling asleep while Pitt got run out of the gym by Utah, 86-65.
Why do I remember some of these things? Well, to start, most of my childhood memories have something to do with sports. I remember my first Pirates game, my first Steelers game (1993 NFL playoff loss vs Buffalo), and my first Penguins game (generally, 1993 Stanley Cup vs Chicago).
On top of that, the NCAA tournament has just become a part of my life in ways other things have not.
Over the years, I've had a few different plastic/rubber basketball hoops for the kitchen that was probably my favorite toy growing up. That 1992 tournament was played in my kitchen almost as much as in arenas around the country.
The 1993 tournament was the first bracket I picked, incorrectly predicting the first 16-seed (Navy) to beat a 1-seed (Missouri).
In junior high, my social studies teacher and basketball coach, Mr. Wellendorf, had a TV in his room that he'd tune to games.
Come high school, they may as well have not scheduled classes in the afternoon. Any teacher that had a TV tuned to games would be signing hall passes to students who wanted to watch instead of learn. During senior year, my day ended with a few class periods or study halls in the video production room, so I recall sitting there and watching games with my good friend, Brandon. I distinctly remember that tournament because the day it started, March 20, 2003, was also the first day of invasion in the Iraq War.
If it weren't for memories, things like this tournament would not stick. I could go on and on with these thoughts, as I haven't even gotten into college yet. I will simply say that there was nothing more exciting than going to a college like Pitt that was a consistent top contender in this tournament, despite constant underachievement. The things we enjoy most are associated with our favorite memories for a reason; we want to keep living those moments over and over again.