Lightning Round — March Madness Recap and Quick Trip Around the World of Sports

So much to cover, but where to start?

Okay, for starters, which insurance company does Flo represent? And she and Jaime are frenemies and colleagues, right? At least when Jaime isn’t out doing a safe drivers test for some unknown reason, and picking up free wood on the side of the road.

Am I the only one that can repeat every March Madness ad in his sleep after the least couple of weeks?

I mean, we’ve got Chuck, Spike and Samuel L. back for Capital One, and somehow now they’ve got Jim Nantz, Magic Johnson and some random viking along for the ride, too? I enjoy Charles Barkley in just about everything he does, but after a few weeks of loop after loop…enough already!

And we haven’t even gotten into the young lady sitting at the AT&T info desk. She got more airtime than Gonzaga throughout March Madness this year. And sure, she’s no Flo (Aflac?), but I suppose there is a certain sweet charm that some ad exec somewhere decided we needed heavy doses of until we all agreed to convert to AT&T just to make it stop. And how in hell did David Robinson get mixed up in that??

Along those lines, I hope somebody in Buick’s executive offices is comparing sales increases versus their advertising spend. I get it — it parallel parks itself. And the one with the young lady driving, with three clones of herself as passengers? Interesting I guess, even if I don’t really get what they are after there. But is anyone really looking at their spouse or significant other after one of those ads and saying, “gee honey, maybe we really do need to go test drive a Buick this weekend?”

But enough already, as the continuous loop of the same ads was a small price to pay for an incredible tournament. Maybe my enthusiasm is in part due to not having the tournament a year ago, but it seems to me that even with the final ending in a blowout, this year’s March Madness from start to finish was one of the best in years.

And even more importantly, the conclusion of the tournament kicks off one of the best seasonal runs for sports fans everywhere. One where we have things to enjoy, debate and look forward to in every major professional league. Let’s take a look, starting with a Big Dance post-mortem:

MARCH MADNESS

*Looking back, it all ended for Gonzaga when Suggs banked in that incredible, 40-foot, game-winner to advance the Zags into the finals. Not only was a letdown from that exuberance unavoidable, the invincible mystique was gone. UCLA’s effort showed the Bulldogs to be human, with flaws, and eminently beatable, which all came true two nights later.

*But what a shot by Suggs! It immediately goes into the bank of All-Time great moments in NCAA Tournament history, and also served as the opening shot of how sports is a proxy for life. In a matter of 48 hours, we got to see that young man experience the height of exuberance, following his buzzer-beater, only to then taste extreme levels of the agony of defeat, as cameras caught him sobbing uncontrollably in the closing seconds of Gonzaga’s finals lost to Baylor. Powerful stuff, and here’s hoping we see more of that young man going forward.

*Shout out to Baylor, while we’re at it. Have we ever seen dominance so profound in both the national semis and finals of this tournament? Tenacity at both ends of the floor. Size in droves, speed, physicality and shooting touch. How did the Bears lose two games this year?

BASEBALL

*Hope springs eternal for fans of nearly every MLB team this time of year, but I can’t remember Mets fans being more hopeful on Opening Day than we were this year. But then, new owner and all, a very Mets thing happened, and the entire opening series was cancelled thanks to Covid. So we cooled our heels a few days and waited to open in Philly. Which we did, and like clockwork the pen peed all over a deGrom masterpiece, the manager was being vilified for pulling Jake too soon, and mumbles of “same old Mets” began to seep into social media posts everywhere. Yeah, same old Mets.

*And while we’re on the Mets (you didn’t really expect this to start anywhere else, did you?), I’m sure Kevin Pillar is a fine fellow. Good defensive outfielder with some pop at the plate. But did we really have to lead him off in the opener? And in so doing, relegate our best hitter from a year ago, Dom Smith, to the bench? Kind of deflating, Mr. Cohen. And I know our new owner isn’t approving lineup cards (at least not yet), but didn’t somebody besides Luis Rojas at least put eyes on the optics of that one? Yeesh…

*With the Mets idle and waiting out the Nationals quarantine down in D.C., it brought on for Mets fans an earlier than usual version of our annual “root against the Yankees, since the Mets are out of it” time-killing activity. And thank you to the baseball gods for not piling on further, and giving us a Yanks loss in their opener, with the added cherry on top of it being a Gerrit Cole start.

*And yes, I smiled when the fans started booing Giancarlo Stanton before the first series of the year had concluded.

*I’m considering making the Angels my new A.L. team to root for. I live a half hour from their ballpark, which is an unsung stadium in this golden era of awesome baseball parks. And of course there’s Mike Trout, who is easy to root for.

*But the real story for the Angels is Shohei Ohtani. This guy is so cool. Takes the mound Sunday night, and his first pitch is clocked at 98. He touches 100 before the inning is over, and then picks up a bat and steps up to the plate hitting in the two-hole. First pitch he absolutely destroys, sending it on a line 450 feet into the right-field bleachers.

*But it wasn’t all 100 MPH heaters and dingers for the two-way star, and this is where the Mets fan in me has to be careful about fully embracing the Angels. The way Ohtani’s evening ended on Sunday had a very Mets-ian feel to it. He cruises into the 5th, and has two outs and a man on, needing one more out to qualify for the W. Then disaster strikes. He sends a pickoff attempt into the right and the runner advances to third. Next thing you know he’s got the bases loaded after hard-fought walks to Abreu (who’s a beast by the way) and Moancada. Credit to Joe Madden for leaving him in to battle for the win and get out of the mess (he was still touching 100 for crying out loud — are you listening, Luis Rojas?), and he does get out of it, getting a strikeout with a nasty splitter to end the inning. But not so fast…the ball eludes the catcher, who sails one-hops his throw past the first-baseman as the runners are merry-go-rounding the bases. The second-baseman picks up the errant throw and sails his throw to the plate trying to catch the second runner advancing, and now Ohtani is covering the plate as the catcher futilely tries to catch runner number three with a late toss back to the plate. Where Ohtani is cut down at the knee by the runner, and ultimately leaves the game limping. I’m not sure I’m cut out for all of this. I may need to stick with just the Mets for the time being.

NFL

*I know it is the conspiracy theorist in me, but anyone else wondering if DeShaun Watson may have pissed off one too many important people in the Houston front office? Coincidental that all these charges of improprieties come flooding out shortly after the young QB flipped the bird to the entire Texans organization? Regardless, hard to see this one ending well for Watson. And should even a smidgeon of what’s out there turn out to be true? Then good riddance. The Texans just finished a season where they were terrible with him under center. Surely they can do it again without him.

*On the other side of the QB coin, this Jets fan is sorry to see Sam Darnold take his exit. I happen to agree that this outcome was best for all parties involved at this point, but here’s hoping that Sam can experience a turn around in Carolina and win a lot of games with an actual supporting cast around him and a coaching staff that puts him in a position to succeed.

*As for the The Airplanes? I like all the moves the Jets have made so far this off season, but their lack of talent was so glaring it’s hard to imagine a return to competence coming any time soon. Especially with another rookie QB coming to town, no matter how talented he may be. I hope I’m wrong… I hope I’m wrong… I hope I’m wrong…

*With the NFL draft coming up, it reminds me of nearly a year ago when that was all the sports entertainment we were going to get in the entire second quarter. Maybe for nostalgia’s sake we can sequester Roger Goodell in his basement again this year. I’d tune in for that.

NBA

*We are about to learn an interesting lesson on the importance of culture and familiarity in The Association. The Brooklyn Nets will head into the playoffs with far more talent than any other calendar this side of LeBron and AD. But it’s talent that due to injuries and in-season acquisitions will not have had much time together on the court prior to the playoffs beginning. How much does that matter? It says here that talent overcomes all, and should the Nets get all of their stars (and frankly I don’t include Blake Griffin in that statement) on the floor together, in reasonably good health, they will make the finals. Culture and familiarity be damned. Either way, it should be darn interesting to watch and find out.

*Assuming LeBron and AD make it back on the court for the postseason (and is there anyone out there who doesn’t think that will happen?), is there a team out west with a legitimate chance of dethroning them? Utah? They’ve been outstanding all season, but I still don’t see them coming away victorious over the Lakers in a 7-game series. The Clips? Maybe, but then I remember they have Paul George. Next? Damian Lillard is always my sentimental choice to find a way, but sadly I just don’t think they have the horses behind him up in Portland to mount an actual threat. Nope, pencil the Lakers back in the Finals.

AIRPLANE

*No, I can’t resist immediately tuning in anytime I see the classic comedy airing as I spin around my cable guide. Did it again the other day, and as many times as I’ve seen it now (gotta be well into double-digits) I still laugh out loud every time I see Kareem get bent out of shape on the kid in the cockpit who tells him his dad says the Lakers great loafs on defense. Priceless.

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