Feb. 27, 2006
For all of you basketball lovers out there, I know you can't wait for March Madness to begin. You can talk about the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, the U. S. Open in golf and tennis, the Indianapolis 500, whatever you'd like. There are great moments, so many special memories in sports, and great championships, like in the NBA and NHL. But there is nothing like the three weeks when 65 teams work for a trip to Indianapolis for this year's Final Four.
March Madness is so unique and so special because everyone gets the fever. Grandma and grandpa get involved and interested in the games. Cinderella schools become household names and kids adopt a team close to their community. They hope for the magic and for their team to make a run. You can talk about seeds all you want, but the bottom line is you need four wins to make the Final Four. There have only been three times where three of the top four seeds made the Final Four -- 1993, 1997 and 1999. That shows how unpredictable things can be. All four top seeds are favorites, yet it has never happened where all four got to the Big Dance.
There is such parity in college basketball, and that is another reason why the tournament is special. In 1980, none of the top regional seeds made the Final Four -- the only time that has happened since seedings began. You have to beat quality teams to advance. If you are good enough and have the ability and talent, you can march on.
If you want to learn more about the Final Four, there are a couple of great books currently available. John Feinstein, the talented author and Washington Post writer, has another potential best-seller named "Last Dance," discussing the Final Four experiences of many people involved in the game.
Another one involving March Madness is called "How March Became Madness," penned by Eddie Einhorn and Chicago Sun Times writer Ron Rapoport. Einhorn is a minority owner of the Chicago White Sox who was also a major college basketball innovator with the creation of TVS. You may remember TVS for showing games and promoting the sport on the national scene years ago.
Einhorn worked diligently to build a television audience for the college game. He put on the first nationally-televised game with Lew Alcindor vs. Elvin Hayes at the Houston Astrodome. The Cougars upset the Bruins that day, but UCLA got its revenge in the NCAA tournament. Einhorn and Rapoport interviewed many key people about their Final Four memories. Check out those two books to learn more about the greatness of March Madness.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.