If things had gone as planned, I never would have ended up at Round 1 of the NCAA basketball tournament in Hartford.
I like basketball, but I’m not a rabid fan like my mother (go UConn Huskies women!) or the Curmudgeon, who scheduled his entire day around Selection Sunday.
But life is full of surprises, and sometimes you get lucky or someone finally listens when you say you’d love to join him at the XL Center. Or sometimes you’re willing to be the last resort – the person standing between a ticket holder going to the tourney or staying home.
My brother-in-law Rich scored seats to the first and second rounds in Hartford several months ago. His initial plan was to take his son Andrew, a UConn senior who is a sports fanatic, or his wife (my sister) Patty. It was a great plan except for one thing: both were out of town on vacation.
Rich moved to Plan B, inviting the Curmudgeon, who gloated about the invitation for about two days until he realized he couldn’t go due to work commitments. “I’ll go,” I said after he broke the news to Rich over the phone. Nothing. Nadda. Zippo.
“Did you tell Rich that I’d go?” I said. Dead silence.
A few days later, Rich posted the following on Facebook:
Looking to sell ncaa tournament tickets for Thursday session 1
Seriously? I said I’d go. How much did this guy not want to go with me?
I told Patty that I was a tiny bit hurt that my offer had been ignored. I’ve known Rich for about 30 years. In addition to being my brother-in-law, he’s our family dentist. And though we’ve never really hung out together, I thought I’d be a worthy companion.
I pride myself on being a sporty girl. I began watching the New York Knicks on Sunday afternoons in the early ’70s with my father, who loved to watch sports and enjoyed having company. I watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports every Saturday afternoon, and watched more tennis and golf tournaments – both women’s and men’s – than I care to admit.
With no boys in the house, I sort of assumed the role of surrogate son. I was what might be called a tomboy, a girl who enjoyed doing things typically associated with boys. I liked sports, and I really liked cars. At one point, I could tell the difference between a 1972 and 1973 Camaro by the head lights and tail lights.
I grew up playing and watching sports, believing that girls had just as much right to be players and fans as guys. It had nothing to do with gender equality or Title IX. It was simply a matter of following your heart and passions, whatever they may be.
So when my offer to go to the basketball game as the Curmudgeon’s stand-in was ignored, I was a little taken aback. At the very least I was a better alternative than nothing. Rich later told me that if I hadn’t gone, he probably would not have attended, though a woman who sat next to me was there by herself.
Thank goodness for loyal sisters. Patty spoke with Rich, who quickly called me and told me the seat was mine. We arrived about 90 minutes before the game, and got two seats at a bar at a Mexican restaurant, drinking margaritas along with the rest of the festive crowd.
It was nice to see Hartford so crowded and bustling on a weekday afternoon. It wasn’t exactly Boston before a Red Sox game, but there was excitement and anticipation in the air. It underscores how important sports can be to the vitality and economy of a city like Hartford, which has been lacking a major team since the Hartford Whalers left in 1997. (The team is now the Carolina Hurricanes.)
The games were no surprise, though it was fun having the entire stadium rooting for underdog University of Vermont against Florida State. It goes to show that when push comes to shove, New Englanders always stick together.
The second game pitted Murray State against Marquette University. It was exciting watching Murray State’s star point guard Ja Morant show his stuff on the national stage. Morant is even better than all the hype surrounding him because he’s such an unselfish player. I’d rather watch him than a ball hog any day of the week.
With Round 2 approaching last weekend, I listened as two older men in the next restaurant booth discussed the brackets and picked favorites. As we stood to leave, I went over to them and told them I’d seen Round 1 in Hartford.
As I discussed Morant’s prowess and Florida State’s poor shooting in the First Round, one of the guys told the Curmudgeon, “She sounds like she knows what she’s talking about.”
Not really. All of my predictions for Round 2 wins were wrong. The bad news is those guys probably think I’m an idiot or even worse, a pretender – someone who thinks they know about sports when they don’t. The good is I will probably never see them again because we met them during a weekend visit to the Hudson Valley.
I never have to face them again. And maybe next time I talk sports, I’ll have a piece of humble pie and try not to sound like such a know-it-all.