VCU vs. Butler and the magic of Sport
On Saturday afternoon, in the first of two NCAA Men's Championship semifinal contests, the unlikely meeting of 11th seeded VCU and 8th seeded Butler will ensue. Just how unlikely?
Of the approximately 5.9 million online brackets filled out for ESPN.com's "Tournament Challenge," just two entries predicted what will prove the lowest combination of seedings to ever face-off in the Final Four, while also predicting Saturday's latter game, pitting No. 4 seed Kentucky against No. 3 seed Connecticut.
Today, gentle readers, I offer this "Magic of Sport" theme in what will prove my final column for citypages.com and the City Pages print edition. After three years and nearly 330 articles that opined and reported on everything from Minnesota Twins baseball to oil wrestling to the national sporting stage to arenas and rinks and ranges and fields beyond -- I will now be moving on from this space.
It is my hope that, over this period of time, I clearly conveyed my belief of the great power, impact and gravity that Sports can have over our respective lives, our emotions, and our communities. Of course, on myriad occasions, I employed numbers or lists or satire or participatory endeavors to (hopefully) fulfill what I have long embraced as my own tenets toward the craft of writing: to Inform, to Entertain, and to do so in an Intelligent way.
Among the stories of Sporting lore that I hold closest to my heart is that of one Mr. Francis Ouimet, pictured above. As exceptionally recalled in Mark Frost's 2002 book, The Greatest Game Ever Played (and later retold in the measured, 2005 Disney film of the same name), Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. The 20-year-old amateur, from a family of modest means, grew up across the street from the blue-blood course and had caddied there for several years.
With 10-year-old caddie Eddie Lowery at his side, Ouimet would go on to fell the world's two greatest players in the tournament, eventually beating Britain's Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18 hole playoff. And not only did Ouimet shock the world (not just the sporting world) by outlasting Messrs Vardon and Ray, he did so going away, beating the world-renowned players by five and six strokes, respectively.
Did the world, or Boston, or his friends, family or competitors ever really believe that Ouimet
would accomplished such a seemingly impossible feat? Surely not. Perhaps a chosen few believed he could, but like both VCU and Butler this weekend, nary or few a prognosticator truly believed in their hearts that it could happen.
And yet it did. And again it has.
My friends, while statistics and standings and unique personalities are indeed an important part of our Sporting world, it is my hope that my words in this space aptly made you, believe, from time-to-time, that Sports can be magic. Sports are a surely a reflection upon our society; and while that reflection may sometimes project what could be deemed as our societal shortcoming, Sports also offer the safety of rules to make the improbable become real. Life, in my opinion, doesn't offer such rules. But the improbable is no less possible.
Sports provide us the confines and the context, the guidelines and the white lines, to mirror the oft-muted belief that the extraordinary is capable, that the impossible is possible, that, sometimes, the scripts of our own lives can be edited, rewritten, or erased by our own hand to pen real magic.
"Expectation" is the hymn of the banal. "Possibility" is the path of true vision.
And so our NCAA brackets are busted. So what? Our collective crossings-off of "Kansas" and "Ohio State" and "Duke" and so forth were not performed in vain. On occasion, the Sporting Gods just need to remind us that in Sport, as in life, there is nothing that is not possible to achieve.
For each of you that followed my works in this space for the past three years, for each of you that made the time to follow along through one year, one season, one month, one column or one sentence -- I offer you my sincere gratitude. Whether you may have agreed with me or not is beside the point. I am simply most thankful for your interest, your time, and your impressions that you were able to share. And that same appreciation is, of course, extended to my longtime employers.
Know that I am by no means stepping away from the trade, it's just that my words won't be appearing herein after today.
May you all enjoy a beautiful season of baseball, may you find some unexpected magic in your lives, and may you all have ample success in your own endeavors.
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