INDIANAPOLIS -- Every once in a while, I receive a hit through the feedback form, written in a language I don't understand. Sometimes these are in French, or German, cast in a Cyrillic alphabet or rendered in simplified Chinese. I'd like to think these are messages of support, and they indicate to me that I'm serving an important role of bridge-builder, bringing the message of Hoops Nation around the world. One person at a time, we're building a Hoops Universe. Together.
I'm sure some of these kind folks are wondering why all this hubbub, kerfuffle and hoody-poody is going on in the United States this weekend. It all seems so exciting! So as a proven ambassador to the world, I'm going to take it upon myself to explain our strange and wonderful tradition to them. This page is available in Chinese
("Den midtnordiske Flertal"), Japanese
, and many other languages.
"American Football" is a game played on a large field marked by lines and numbers. There are 11 players to a side, and the object of the game is to propel an ball past the opposition, an orb which resembles human excrement in both color and shape. Many of the rules and procedures were stolen from older and more violent European games, but we've added full-body gladiator armor, endless layers of middle-management, and have assigned it false religious meaning. The only thing in American culture more important than American Football is Jesus.
This sport represents the only true prism that captures what this country is truly all about. Only in American football can you find short bursts of action punctuated by long meetings about how to proceed, a testament to the inactivity that has allowed every other country on earth to surpass us in productivity. This game also teaches important lessons about one's place in society: everybody has one small job, assigned by body weight and intelligence level, and the thinnest and prettiest employee gets paid the most. Everyone has a preassigned number, and if one is caught doing something that is not in that number-holder's job description, penalties are assessed.
There are a lot of different penalties in American Football. This is because there are a lot of wrong things you can do in America. We are a nation of laws... a whole bunch of them.
This weekend is the ultimate pinnacle of the professional American football season: the Super Bowl
. Two teams, each of which have been playing once a week for many months, will square off in a sanitized bubble full of money and entertainment on Super Bowl Sunday, as hundreds of millions of Americans watch at home because it's the thing to do. There have been 14 days of laser-focused buildup to this, each one generating more and more trivia and uselessness. Super Bowl Sunday is a celebration of our national ability to be excessive.
And oh, the Super Bowl Parties. No screen is large enough, no couch wide enough, no amount of food sufficient. This, right here, is America's last vestige of female subservience, as wives serve tray after tray of nachos and hot dogs and hamburgers to their obese husbands, hiding gritted teeth behind broad smiles. In their $200 replica jerseys, the men gorge and barf and argue about who's the best ever.
Then, when that touchdown is scored, the party devolves into a homoerotic orgiastic Man-Caligula, lubricated by nacho cheese sauce and lite beer. Nobody involved will ever want it to end.
I hope this clears things up for our international audience.* * *
So anyhow... once again it's time to commence a tradition that stretches back over two decades, and became a Hoops Nation-wide phenomenon last season when I made the mistake of going public with it. I will be the last person in America to know who won the Super Bowl. After Creighton plays Missouri State on Sunday, Bally and I will be retreating into our zone-cone, and will do everything I possibly can not to become infected with the hideous knowledge. This means no phone, no e-mail, no satellite or terrestrial radio, no television, no newspapers, no Google Reader. I will be an American hermit. My goal is to get to Wednesday, which as far as I know is the U.S. record for holding out (me, 1988).
This year will be a lot tougher, though. I have a Monday morning flight back home to Rhode Island, and it's going to be nearly impossible to get through an airport without seeing a USA Today, or a stupid fan in the winning team's jersey, or an overhead TV with highlights. This could end up being the greatest challenge of my lifetime.
But if I survive that, and get home without failing, I'm home-free for a while. No games Monday, no games Tuesday, sealed in my abode. It'll be the last time I'm there before the season ends, and I have a bunch of chores to do... no time for TV or sports websites or idle chat with neighbors. If I can just make it to Wednesday, I have a shot at busting through. That will all depend on if I can get through a basketball game without somebody telling me.
That didn't work out so well last year.
I won't tell you where I'll be next Wednesday. If I can get through that airline gauntlet on Monday morning, I'm going all the freaking way this time. I will refuse to be informed. I'm going to erase that 1988 mark, because this is my time. But the little "next stop" indicator at the top of this page, which will automatically flip over after Sunday afternoon's game, will betray me -- and I know the people there will be ready.
I'll be ready for them too.
Bizarro Valley: Sometimes this year's BVC is the great kind of weird. You'll recall we told you about Evansville's long, snowy bus trip to Des Moines to play Drake -- it turned out they spent nearly 11 hours on the road to make a 4 p.m. tip after Wednesday's postponement. But the moment they'll remember most is the 40-foot buzzer-beating shot by freshman Kaylon Williams that iced the contest 65-62, which earned the Aces their first win in three years at the Knapp Center. Both teams are 5-5 now. So is Southern Illinois, which won at home by 11 over Missouri State in the other formerly Ppd. game.
Western Athletic: Oklahoma became the first 20-win team several days ago, stealing another bit of thunder from a team that can't seem to catch any national lightning. Utah State delivered an emphatic message of WAC dominance to whomever was listening or watching, pulling away from Nevada at home for a 72-61 win paced by Tai Wesley's 22 points. The Aggies are now 20-1, 8-0 in the WAC (two games up on the Wolf Pack), and -- we'll say it again -- have a better strength of schedule than Saint Mary's (218 to 241). Yeah, sure, the polls are accurate.
West Coast: The Gaels' chances to steal a win in the Kennel looked mighty promising until Patty Mills sprained his wrist on a fall, trying to drive past Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo. From there on out, the rest of the game was a memorandum on how valuable he is to this team: he may take a lot of bad shots, but the offense is lost without him. In the 69-62 Zag win, MMBOY front-runner Diamon Simpson did all he could (7-for-7, 17 points, 12 rebounds), but nobody could get him the ball. Side note no. 1: Portland, coming up from out of nowhere, is now tied with SMC at 5-1 after slaying San Diego. Side note no. 2: the Sirius radio in my rental car had a WCC game on last night... Pepperdine at San Francisco. All due respect, but that's one way to turn everybody off to mid-major college hoops.
Ohio Valley: We were in Charleston, Ill. last night to check up on the OVC. Our report: Eastern Illinois, which hasn't really done anything since winning the league and going 13-0 at home back in 2000-01, is actually pretty good. The Panthers, who are the best field-goal defense squad in the conference, trashed Tennessee Tech 75-58 to go 6 and 4. They're now two games out of first, a position held jointly at 8-2 by league champs Austin Peay and Donnie Tyndall's turnaround team at Morehead State. Morehead romped over Tennessee State last night, which lost the game and apparently had its fight song stolen by Eastern Illinois at a recent league tourney. "I'm so glad I go to EIU" doesn't sound right.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Last night at Chicago State, fellow independents Utah Valley edged out a 123-121 win in quadruple overtime. It was such a great game that, as of right now, the home school's web crew was too overcome with emotion to put up a recap. When the score and details came across the ticker, all we could think of was our good friend CSU radio play-by-play man Brian Snow (a man who can recite nearly every single Jordan-era Bulls call from memory). We're going to listen to the tape later to see what great calls of his own he delivered.
Chi-State's David Holston (41) and John Cantrell (40) put up a lot of points, but the star of the game --and of the season's single-game scoring chart -- was Utah Valley guard Ryan Toolson. He played every single minute of the 60 available during the contest, converting 18 field goals (an NCAA Division I high for the year), including seven 3's; add his 20 free throws, and that's a whopping 63 points. That eclipses the Dec. 12 total of current MMBOW Ben Woodside of North Dakota State, who scored 60 against Stephen F. Austin, as well as Eddie House's 61 for Arizona State back in 2000. No player at this level has scored as many points since this century began. Next stop: Pete Maravich's 69-point performance in 1970.
But most of that stuff can be found in the AP wirecap, which apparently was written by a cyborg. You want to get U'useless? Toolson personally outscored 32 of the 106 Division I teams that were in action last night, and blew out Quinnipiac. Among Toolson's pop-a-shot victims last night were Nevada, Iowa and Eddie House's old team. And yes, Saint Mary's too. The Gaels could have used this guy to leap off the bench when Mills went down.