One might think something that so perfectly describes Our Game during its season's final month was a creation of a slick New York ad agency, working in close cooperation with the highest authorities of the NCAA itself, run through dozens of focus groups. Surely it had to be put through the quintessential sportz beginnings, so finally it could be slammed onto the unsuspecting public through billboards and t-shirts and soda bottles and repeated ad infinitum on sportz radio and TV.
The phrase is too perfect to have such humble beginnings. There was no New York agency, although many have used it since. The NCAA really had nothing to do with it until the phrase itself was almost 40 years old, then they wanted to make it all their own. And while it is now on the billboards and t-shirts and repeated constantly in all forms of media, March Madness started in Illinois, in a newsletter for high school coaches and administrators, written by a man who changed the way people now play and refer to the game.
In 1928, Henry Van Arsdale Porter, called H.V. Porter for short, took a position as assistant manger of the Illinois High School Association, the governing body of the Land of Lincoln's high school intramural athletics and activities. As part of his duties with the IHSA, Porter brought about the advent of the fan-shaped backboard which helped the growth of high school basketball due to its lower cost and easier installation. Porter also pushed for the conception of a molded leather basketball, which was smaller at just 29.5 inches in circumference (the standard still used today for men's basketballs) and more importantly came without the old fashioned and cumbersome laces. Ball handling and game pace improved immediately.
But for all his improvements to the game, Porter was at his best as the editor of the Illinois High School Athlete, the organ of the IHSA. In March 1939, Porter wrote an editorial essay celebrating the upcoming boys' basketball tournament, which since its own humble beginnings in 1908 had quickly become the premiere amateur sporting event in Illinois and arguably rivaled only by neighboring Indiana for the most popular high school tournament nationwide. Wanting to accurately capture the unusual behavior shown by those attending the tournament, Porter titled the piece "March Madness."
"When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day. He will polish his pants on sixteen inches of bleacher seat through two games or three and take offense if asked to leave during the intermission between sessions. He is happy only when the floor shimmers with reflections of fast moving streaks of color, when the players swarm at each end and the air is full of leather."
-excerpt from "March Madness" by H.V. Porter
The term quickly caught on, and was informally used as a title for the IHSA's tournament by newspaper writers across the state. Other states also took on the phrase for their own high school tournaments, and because the IHSA had no official trademark on the phrase, they allowed other states' governing bodies to use March Madness for the meager sum of $10.
"So, what are you doing? Just traveling around to a bunch of basketball games?" my mother asked me a few weeks ago when I actually went to see my family instead of a game.
"Pretty much, yeah," was my reply. No further explaination was offered or needed. I'd been following college basketball fanatically since I was 13. She knew I was just as caught up as I had always been, and my attention from early November to early April would be locked on hoops, reaching its fevered peak in March, the cycle repeating itself with each new season.
This season brought a new level to my personal malady: a challenge accepted, a call to WILL myself to see as many games in person as possible. The final tally stands at 36 games: three above the red line involving my alma mater, one below the black line watching two local schools transitioning into Division II, and the remainder in the sweet spot between le rouge et le noirwhere we have decided to reside this season. The official point-to-point miles stand at over 10,000, just shy of traveling halfway around the world.
I admit I felt it at each point along the way. It hit me first when I woke up that Sunday morning. It came again when I got on the train to head downtown. It sneaked in my head again when I entered the arena and took my seat in the upper deck, the same one I had been sitting in for four days. It was no sudden realization, but it still hit me hard: this would be the last game I would see in person this year. This was the end of my journey. Sure, I had thought about how to keep it going. I even contemplated driving to Atlantic City to see St. Louis in the Atlantic 14 tournament, making it a true coast-to-coast adventure. My will was strong, my body ready for the adventure, but I was flat freaking broke. It had to end on this Sunday in my hometown, and though the sadness was palpable, I was ready for it.
I hoped for just a little more madness to send this journey out on a high note. If there is some being or factor that controls the outcome of basketball games to reward those fans who are most loyal to the game itself -- God, fates, cosmic forces unseen, or just plain dumb luck -- I wanted it on my side for this final game more than any of the others I had seen this season. Karma aside, a good game was to be expected. Creighton came knowing their NCAA tournament bid was assured, and they were playing for a better seed. Illinois State, on the other hand, was playing for their season. A win would bring the Missouri Valley Conference championship, and with it the conference's automatic bid. A loss for the Redbirds would bring the end.
The Illinois State crowd had doubled from the night before, a red-and-white caravan making the two-hour drive down I-55 from Bloomington-Normal to St. Louis. But the red of ISU paled to the blue mass of Creighton fans, easily 8,000 strong, occupying the entire west end of the arena. Reinforcements had also made the six-hour drive from Omaha, possibly in their own midnight jaunt. Fans in all colors came to their feet as the ball flew up for one more tip.
The two teams matched basket for basket at the beginning, and as the last of the crowd settled in, I knew we were in for a good one. If anything, the concern was Illinois State could not match Creighton's depth, as the elder McDermott went with shift-like rotations, subbing in three or four players at a time every three or four minutes. As the first half clicked away, Creighton slowly built up an 11-point lead with 6:46 left after a tip-in from the younger McDermott.
While most from Creighton hoped it would happen, we all knew there would be no quitting from the Redbirds. We had seen proof of it throughout the weekend. Soon enough, a layup from Jackie Carmichael sparked the Redbirds' run. A three-pointer from Tyler Brown with just three seconds left in the half capped the run off at 15-3. When the halftime horn sounded, the red-clad faithful stood and cheered as Illinois State now had a 31-30 lead and all the momentum going into the locker room.
When it came to using "March Madness" in describing the college game, the most popular story, or rather the most repeated, involves CBS's Brent Musburger saying it during an NCAA tournament broadcast in 1982. His career took him through Chicago, so one can assume he certainly covered Illinois' version of Madness and borrowed the term. However, a very quick Google News search shows scribes had applied the term to both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT as early as 1958, as well as throughout the 1960s and 70s.
Just as it had in Illinois, the term quickly caught on with those in charge of the college game. The NCAA found the perfect term for describing their quickly blossoming tournament, and even better, had free reign to use it however they wanted.
As the 1980s gave way to the 90s, some 50 years after the coining of the phrase, the Illinois High School Association finally decided to exert its ownership rights on "March Madness" and filed a trademark request. They soon discovered they had been beaten to the punch by a Chicago-based television sports marketing company called Intersport. The IHSA sued, and the case was resolved by a joint agreement for the use of March Madness, with the IHSA using it for their own tournament
In 1995, a video game company licensed by the NCAA released a "March Madness" video game, and again the IHSA sued. This time, the courts ordered the IHSA and NCAA to share custody of the phrase, with each able to market their respective tournaments with it. The IHSA eventually gave up their claim to the phrase, but continues to label their state tournaments in Peoria "America's Original March Madness."
There have been thousands upon thousands of words pounded out by writers across the country over the course of this season on Doug McDermott, and surely there will be thousands more written in the coming days. I can sum up all you need to know in six: Doug McDermott is good at basketball. Every basket Illinois State made to try and push their lead out met an answer on the other end, usually from the hands of McDermott. He secured his status as the tournament's best player, regardless of the championship's result, by scoring 19 points in a second half that saw seven ties and nine lead changes.
The reaction for each made field goal amplified with the ticking of the game clock. Each lead change brought a louder response, either from the blue army to my left, or the smaller red cluster to my right. Eventually, the rest of the crowd who had no allegiance, me included, swung to cheering on the underdog Redbirds showing an amazing amount of fight against wave after wave of Creighton attacks.
Cheering for a team I had no business cheering for who was playing and contending with an opponent they had no business beating. The moods of the crowds rising and falling with each made or missed shot, each foul call, each turnover.
H.V. Porter had it right. Surely, this is madness.
One of the best parts of these sports we all follow is the ability for a person to completely change their own storyline, becoming a villain one minute and hero the next. This time the character was Illinois State's Nic Moore. His error came with 11 seconds left, the score tied at 64 each thanks to teammate Tyler Brown's layup just five seconds earlier. As Creighton's Grant Gibbs drove the ball across the mid-court line Moore inexplicably reached out and grabbed Gibbs' wrist. The referee immediately made the foul call, and Gibbs stepped to the line to put the Bluejays up by two with made free throws. The inbound pass came to Moore, and his redemption came just as quickly as his fall. Moore drove the length of the court in just five seconds and deftly placed a layup off the glass and in to tie the game at 66. Creighton had two shots in the last five seconds, but neither fell. After 1,440 minutes of basketball, my season would get five more.
Pick your sportz cliché (ran out of gas, lost their legs, ran out of answers, etc.) here, but Illinois State just could not respond in the overtime period. The Creighton lead grew to nine with just 90 seconds left, and despite a final gasp of effort from the plucky Redbirds, it was a lead that would hold. Gregory Echenique tossed the ball into the St. Louis air as the final horn sounded. As he turned around, a young lady wearing blue-and-white striped overalls leapt into his arms as the Creighton student section rushed onto the court to celebrate the championship win.
I wanted to linger in the moment a bit longer, so I made my way down as close to the court as I could. I had already been blessed with five more minutes, what difference would a few more make? Eventually though, just like every person, every team, my time was done. It was time to leave the celebration behind and make my last trip home.
In 1942, H.V. Porter took a position as the executive secretary of the National Federation of High School Associations. Before he left Illinois, though, he wrote one final article for the IHSA magazine. This took the form of a poem: an ode not just for the tournament his own organization had held, but to the very game he helped shape. The final stanzas ring as true now as they did 70 years ago. While the game has progressed even beyond what Porter could have imagined, it still serves to bring people together when so many other forces try to tear us apart. Whether we have been following since the first tip in November or are just now finding it, everyone's eyes are on Our Game, and We Will all be made better by Madness.
"The Basketball Ides of March" by H.V. Porter
The gym lights gleam like a beacon beam And a million motors hum In a good will flight on a Friday night; For basketball beckons, "Come!" A sharp-shooting mite is king tonight. The Madness of March is running. The winged feet fly, the ball sails high And field goal hunters are gunning.
The colors clash as silk suits flash And race on a shimmering floor. Repressions die, and partisans vie In a goal acclaiming roar. On a Championship Trail toward a holy grail, All fans are birds of a feather. It's fiesta night and cares lie light When the air is full of leather.
Since time began, the instincts of man Prove cave and current men kin. On tournament night the sage and the wight Are relatives under the skin. It's festival time, sans reason or rhyme But with nation-wide appeal. In a cyclone of hate, our ship of state Rides high on an even keel.
With war nerves tense, the final defense Is the courage, strength and will In a million lives where freedom thrives And liberty lingers still. Now eagles fly and heroes die Beneath some foreign arch Let their sons tread where hate is dead In a happy Madness of March.
CREIGHTON 83, ILLINOIS STATE 79 03/04/2012
ILLINOIS STATE 20-13 (9-9) -- T. Brown 6-18 2-2 16; N. Moore 6-15 6-6 20; J. Carmichael 6-11 4-5 17; J. Ekey 4-6 1-2 13; B. Allen 2-6 0-0 5; A. Cousin 1-5 0-0 3; J. Wilkins 2-5 0-0 5; Z. Upshaw 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-66 13-15 79. CREIGHTON 28-5 (14-4) -- D. McDermott 12-18 6-6 33; G. Gibbs 8-13 2-2 20; A. Young 3-9 8-14 14; G. Echenique 4-8 0-0 8; J. Jones 1-4 0-0 2; J. Manigat 1-2 0-0 3; E. Wragge 1-3 0-0 3; A. Chatman 0-2 0-0 0; A. Dingman 0-3 0-0 0; W. Artino 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-62 16-22 83.
Three-point goals: ILST 12-29 (J. Carmichael 1-1; J. Ekey 4-6; B. Allen 1-3; A. Cousin 1-3; J. Wilkins 1-1; T. Brown 2-9; N. Moore 2-6), CREI 7-19 (G. Gibbs 2-3; J. Jones 0-2; E. Wragge 1-3; D. McDermott 3-5; J. Manigat 1-2; A. Chatman 0-1; A. Dingman 0-3); Rebounds: ILST 29 (J. Carmichael 9), CREI 36 (G. Gibbs 7); Assists: ILST 13 (N. Moore 5), CREI 16 (G. Gibbs 5); Total Fouls -- ILST 17, CREI 18; Fouled Out: ILST-None; CREI-None.