It was Wednesday night March 13th 1996 and I was in 6th grade. I began preparations earlier that week. I slowly became more lethargic and started to build up the drama. By that Wednesday night, I “developed” a cough and my stomach began to hurt. The seed had been planted but I still had a few more hours to carry it out.
Thursday morning March 14th, my mom comes in to check on me before school. I am now in an unbearable stomach pain and I tell her the cough now has me worried that it may trigger my asthma. This goes down as one of my best acting jobs…….and she bought it.
It only took her 6 more hours to realize what had happened. At 12:30 when the first set of games tipped off in the 1996 NCAA tournament, I was magically healed and my mom realized what had happened. Before she could even get any words out of her mouth as smoke was coming out of her ears, I confidently said, I wont be attending school tomorrow either. For some reason, she didn’t say anything and I didnt go to school on Friday March 15h either. Little did I know the Oscar I should’ve won faking an illness would trigger a streak that continues to this day.
I am embarking on my 18th straight year of being “sick” on the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament. The streak has picked up steam and momentum through the years. Friends have joined in on the tradition. What started out in my living room by myself has taken the crew all over the mid Atlantic states for the first two days of the tournament. With friends all over and at different stages of life, the tournament still brings us together.
I have been asked the question many of times- Why? Listening to the radio yesterday I heard an interview with Jay Wright, Villanova coach. He discussed a game a few years back when Villanova was a 1 seed and was playing Monmouth in Philadelphia. Monmouth had taken the lead in the second half and the arena got behind Monmouth. Jay said “ we are playing in our building and we are being cheered against. Everyone is behind the small school hoping for the upset” That is what is special about the tournament.
We will learn names we have never heard of before. We will see schools we couldn’t pick out on a map. We will hear stories about Doug McDermott, Phil Martelli’s grandson, Fran McCaffrey opting to be at his sons bedside for surgery, and Aerris Smith. And at some point during the tournament people from Maine to Hawaii and Washington to Florida will rise and cheer as a team like Wofford looks for one last bucket to upset Michigan. That is what is special about the tournament.
So preparations have begun; a little bit different preparations than 18 years ago, there is no cough or stomach ache. The fridge is being stocked, food assignments have been given out, televisions are being moved and setup for 15 hours straight in anticipation of a special moment… a moment that will bring us to our feet.
P.S. Thanks Mom for allowing this journey to begin 18 years ago