There are certain months that, despite the individuality of each day, have come to represent one thing to many. For children, December is mostly the anticipatory delights of what’s inside those festively wrapped boxes around the prettiest tree they’ve seen all year.
In sports, to dedicated golfers, April is all about those lush fairways at Augusta National and The Masters; for the horse racing enthusiasts, the month of May is the Kentucky Derby; and, of course, for basketball mavens, March is all about the madness of the NCAA tournament.
While the tournament is still very much on so many people’s radar as they search for their pot of gold for a well filled-out bracket or simply enjoy the sheer athleticism of those whose shoes squeak with every jump stop, my interest at this point is merely casual. Truth be told, it’s been years since I filled out a bracket, which eliminates an unnecessary annoyance in a world filled with unavoidable ones.
Sure, I’ve watched a few games in their entirety and some snippets, mainly the last five minutes or so, of a few others. However, those games weren’t nearly as enjoyable for me as the one that took on the hue of shamrock green on St. Patrick’s Day.
It was on that day when that small Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey, on the other side of the Holland Tunnel from New York’s Lower Manhattan, St. Peter’s University, the one with an enrollment of 2,100, took down one of college basketball’s bluest of bluebloods, eight-time NCAA National Champion Kentucky Wildcats. Then they went on to defeat Murray State and Purdue to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight.
St. Peter’s, carrying the distinctive appellation Peacocks, was playing the No. 2-seeded Wildcats, a favorite almost every year to go all the way.
However, the reality is that while Kentucky’s coach, John Calipari, is a wonderful recruiter and each year brings in some of the most talented freshmen, some, McDonald’s High School All-Americans, Coach Cal has but one NCAA championship in his 13 years in the state known for its bluegrass.
Kentucky was an 18-point favorite against a team with a cast of players mostly from the New York City area, players not considered recruitable by the elites of college basketball. But, occasionally, even massive upsets are possible. And so it was, as I watched with a smidge of implausible glee, those pesky Peacocks overcame a late six-point deficit, thus sending Kentucky, playing the role of Goliath, packing, 85-78 in overtime.
According to the website paywizard.org, Calipari, the sport’s highest-paid coach, earns an annual salary of $8,158,000. So, Coach Cal was paid that day just as he is every other day of the year, his $22,378.76. Hey, at least he had to work those extra five minutes of overtime that day.
St. Peter’s head coach, 45-year-old Shaheen Holloway, is one of the rare exceptions of a head coach being, once upon his youthful times, a better player than pretty much every player he coached that night. You see, while nationally known coaches such as Duke’s outgoing coach Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Kentucky’s Coach Cal were marginal players in their youthful days, Holloway was once himself a McDonald’s All-American and a three-year All-Big East guard while playing at Seton Hall.
Now, mining the depths of human psychology as to why most of us tend to celebrate a St. Peter’s — losers of five of its first seven regular-season games, losers of another six after that and losers of unity-building opportunities in another half dozen games that were COVID-related canceled during the regular season — I have my theories.
First has to do with the rarity of those moments when David indeed does let loose with that perfectly aimed stone, one with the right pace and trajectory and one with such precise location that it takes down a behemoth that, Biblically speaking, at least according the website accordancebible.com, was “six cubits and a span,” in modern terms, around 10 feet. Face it. Most of the time, in our world, it is indeed the big guy that uses the little guy for a rag to mop up spills.
The other reason such an event that occurred on the hardwood of Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, less than three hours from where Goliath lives, on that St. Patrick’s Day titillates so many is because, unless you have a massive ego, pretty much all of us see ourselves as, even on our good days, no more than 15 seeds. So, when a St. Peter’s under the brightest of lights has its ultimate moment and bursts so many brackets, well, all of us 15 seeds sit up a little straighter, walk a little taller and don’t look down at the ground nearly as often.
As a former English teacher who loves collective nouns, especially those that name groups of animals like those pods of elephants and those murders of crows, I loved that night when an ostentation of Peacocks found a way to vanquish a destruction of Wildcats.
And, of course, that could only happen during the Madness that is March.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]