It’s just not the same this year

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist

What should the topic be this week, something serious or something a little more light, I pondered as I settled down to write this column?

The mass shootings that have reared their ugly head again crossed my mind, and how guns do not kill people. Because no no matter how many guns laws legislators try to enact, it will never stop those bent on taking innocent lives.

Another try at convincing people to get their COVID-19 shots also crossed my mind. Because too many people do not seem to understand that this virus thing is never going to go away unless they’re willing to make a little sacrifice — like a prick or two of their arm.

But those topics only seem to divide people more than they’re already divided, so at least for this week, I did not feel like heading down either of those paths.

Instead, because I broke away from a nearly lifelong routine last week, that’s this week’s topic.

Now, before you get to thinking I’m about to make some life-altering statement, that is not the case. Remember, I was deciding between serious or more light. So we’re going with something not quite as light as I intended it to be — the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, to be exact.

For the first time since I was a kid, other than last year when there was no tournament because of the pandemic, I did not fill out a tournament bracket this year. It is strange, because the vast majority of those years I was the keeper of the office brackets and/or other brackets with friends and family.

As the tournament drew closer to its start, it bothered me that I was not getting the usual urge to fill in the bracket blanks. I thought it was kind of sad to end such a long tradition. But then I figured what the heck, I’ll just enjoy the games rather than worry about how my bracket is doing.

It is probably a good thing I did not fill one out. Because if I had, it would be busted, just like yours probably is.

Maybe the coronavirus is to blame for my lack of the bracket urge this year. Maybe the virus threw me a loop a year ago when it took a lifelong ritual away, and I am still in the recovery process. Maybe it’s because the virus took pretty much all sports away for several months, and I found other ways to entertain myself.

Or, more than likely, it’s because the office pool was not going to be the same this year.

I have actually been gradually losing interest in filling out a bracket, and keeping track of mine of everyone else’s, for a few years now. But on the Mondays after the brackets came out on Sundays, sometime Monday a special guy named Chuck Miller would stop by my office and sheepishly ask if we were doing brackets again. I could never turn him down, and as he talked about his Xavier Musketeers and the other teams he liked, about who he thought might avoid upsets and who might not, he’d get me a little excited, and I was ready to roll again.

Our office rules were that you could fill out as many brackets as you wanted. Each one cost $2 (remember, we work at a newspaper). Chuck’s whole family would get involved, most of them filling out multiple brackets. Back in the day, by the time Chuck’s family and my family got done, we probably had close to 20 brackets between the two families alone.

We had a hoot for many years talking about which of our brackets was doing the best, how our wives were often beating us, teasing each other about brackets that were busted, and laughing and sharing amazement at all the “shining moments,” if you know what I mean.

But the tables suddenly turned roughly around this time a year ago. Not long after the NCAA Tournament was canceled and the virus started taking a toll on revenue for newspapers and other businesses, 78-year-old Chuck Miller was furloughed.

That was bad enough, but then in June, Chuck died suddenly due to heart issues. I think my affinity for NCAA Tournament brackets went with him.

It was hard to believe. One day he was in my office telling me what had happened and saying good night like he did every single evening, then I never saw him again.

We were all heart-broken. Chuck was the best of us all, always with something kind or friendly to say.

A little piece of all of us left this life with him.

But if I know Chuck, he’s out there wondering why we’re not keeping track of brackets this year, if for no other reason than to lighten the work day’s load just a little.

So Chuck, I’m sorry Xavier did not make the field year. But you would have loved seeing the Big Ten Conference taking a whooping, losing eight of nine teams in the first two rounds. And you would have relished all the underdogs like Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean still dancing.

When next year rolls around I’ll fill out a couple brackets. One will have your name on it, and I’ll remember the excitement in your eyes at this time of year.

Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.

Jeff Gilliland Staff columnist Gilliland Staff columnist