Lots of electrons will die nobly over the next several weeks chronicling this year's edition of America's best sporting event. We'll root - hard - for teams representing schools we've never visited, or even thought much about. And we'll waste at least a handful of hours during times we should be productively engaged. But none of us will do anything that approaches the level of dedication displayed 17 years ago this week in one of the greatest - and least heralded - sports-related achievements of our time.
On the evening of March 8, 1996, Clarence and I arrived at the Annandale, VA residence of our friend Buck, carrying multiple cases of cheap domestic lagers and perhaps a bag or two of snacks (at this point we should let you know that our memories of this legendary weekend have been a bit dulled by the passage of time and brain cells - some of what follows may be embellished for lack of actual recall). We headed immediately to the basement to watch the Big East semifinals - or maybe the ACC quarters, and likely both.
Big Bite was ordered, beers were consumed, hoops upon hoops were enjoyed, and we passed out on the comfort of several of the ample couches arrayed across the basement.
Saturday morning came, almost certainly on the late side, and Clarence and I packed up our things and headed upstairs. We never made it. The reasons are lost to history, but we feel certain that they have something to do with a) another Big Bite call, b) the beer run that Danimal and our friend Ron made, and/or c) the fact that we slept so long that the next round of games were beginning.
And so on that Saturday, we watched the ACC semis, the Big 8 semis, and the Big East Final between Ray Allen and Connecticut and Allen Iverson's Georgetown team. It ended like this:
(Jim Calhoun's reaction at the very end is priceless: "We won! We won! We Won! Oh, Fuck, John Thompson looks angry. Sadface.")
At some point that day we invented a drinking game (the group had swelled to at least 5 at this point) that involved each of us drafting two players and making someone else in the room drink when our player did something excellent and drinking ourselves when our player fucked something up. Replays counted, and were pernicious.
Sunday morning coming down would have been good advice, but we likely wouldn't have followed it. We were, as the saying goes, pot committed. In 1996, we didn't have cell phones, and while I assume Clarence and I called our girlfriends (both of us, at the time, were dating the women that would become our (first) wives), I can't be certain of that. It really wouldn't have mattered, as we'd crossed a line late on Saturday. We smelled the finish line, even as it was obscured by the combined funk of the clothes we'd worn, gas we'd emanated, food we'd half-finished, and showers we hadn't taken for three days.
And so again we called Big Bite, and once more we sent others out for beer, and we hunkered down. We watched Tim Duncan score 27 points and grab 22 boards to lead Wake Forest to a 75-74 win in the ACC Championship. (Of note, either Duke nor UNC made the ACC semis that season.) Then we saw a really talented Mississippi State squad, led by Erick Dampier, topple eventual national champion Kentucky in the SEC final.
Finally, after nearly 48 hours of basketball, beer, and Big Bite, we witnessed Iowa State win the final Big 8 basketball tournament, 56-55, when Kansas' Jacque Vaughn missed a running hook at the buzzer. We hung around for another hour or so to watch as CBS unveiled the NCAA Tournament brackets, because of course we did.
Only then did Clarence and I head up the stairs, through the kitchen, and out into the cool evening to breathe fresh air for the first time in days. We didn't say much on the ride home, but we didn't have to. We both knew what we'd done, and though we don't talk about it much anymore, every time the calendar turns to March, and talk turns to bubbles bursting and Championship Week, we both catch ourselves smiling just a little, and fighting an odd craving for chicken wings and pizza. We were heroes, my friends, if only for a brief moment.
We shower a lot more now, though.