Exactly who the winner of the ACC tournament is this year, remains unclear as of the moment I’m writing this column, but one thing is clear.
Basketball fans, and even some folks who wouldn’t normally sit down to watch a sporting event, will turn on their television sets over the next three weeks. After all, it’s the Season of the Underdog. That three-week period where we watch with baited breath to see who will ascend the mountain of basketball greatness has become arguably one of the greatest made-for-TV events ever. The NCAA tournament thrives for a number of reasons. First of all it’s geographically diverse. There will be teams from New York and California, from the Dakotas to the Carolinas. There will be big schools from big cities and little schools from little towns, all with their own rabid fan bases just hoping their team can follow the late Jim Valvano’s mantra of survive and advance.
But the biggest reason the tournament is so popular is because every year some team comes from out of nowhere to make a deep run in the tournament, sparking memories of N.C. State in 1983 and Villanova in 1985 – two teams that arguably were not the best teams in the tournament, but they managed to catch lightning in a bottle and ride it to storybook finishes.
We all want to see the Gonzagas of the basketball world beat the UCLAs. We all want to see Davidson whoop up on Kentucky.
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I wonder sometimes where this fascination with the underdog comes from. There have been underdogs around for a long, long time. Recall the biblical story of David and Goliath. David was this kid who was defending his country against this giant of a man who, let’s face it, should have been able to whip David with one hand tied behind his back.
But David got off just the right shot and came away a winner. And look what happened to David. He went on to become king.
In the not-quite-so-distant past, we saw some upstart colonists take on the King of England and put a licking on him. Now, admittedly, the colonists played that game on their home court, but they probably wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for the French who decided to pull for the underdogs and offer them supplies and soldiers.
Underdogs abound in the sports world. It wasn’t all that long ago that tiny little Appalachian State traveled to the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan and taught the big-time Wolverines a thing or two about how to play football. And, of course, we all know the story of Rudy Ruettiger, the undersized football-player wannabe at Notre Dame, who famously got to play in his last college game after enduring the slings and arrows of larger, better players year after year. For him, just getting to play was a win.
So after the field of 68 teams is announced Sunday night, scour the list. Find an underdog and wear your emotions on your sleeve for as long as your underdog can hang in there.