Rich Wilhelm

[The Bracket]

In Sports on March 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

[An article on The Bracket, featuring various tangents enclosed in, you guessed it…brackets!]

My 2013 NCAA Tournament bracket has been submitted to the proper authorities. That is to say, my serious attempt at a bracket. A second, less serious attempt may follow. The deadline for that bracket isn’t as drop-dead serious as the first one.

If it weren’t for my son, Jimmy, I’d have no bracket. This is because I am not essentially hardwired for sports, either as a participant or as a fan. I do not say this as some sort of snobbish badge of pride, but I also do not say it out of shame. Sports, in any form, are not a primary subject in my mind and never have been. That is just the way it is.

Being a guy who doesn’t follow sports does occasionally lead to some awkward moments. Take any pair or group of men who don’t know each other well, put them together and what is the one conversational area that is typically a guaranteed icebreaker? That would be sports. But sports talk more often than not leaves me nodding my head politely and eventually admitting that, generally speaking, I don’t follow sports.

And that is where the awkwardness sets in, at least sometimes. Other times, we just move on to greener conversational pastures.

[And please note: I do not in any way mean to imply here that talking sports is distinctly the realm of men and that women do not talk sports. In addition to not being interested in sports, I’m rather allergic to that kind of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” line of thinking, even though aspects of it may appear to be true at times. But I am talking specifically here about my experience with other guys.]

Here’s a great example, from my life, of how clueless I can be about sports, specifically about the ritual of March Madness.

On March 26, 1988, following a Saturday morning acting class I was taking in my last semester at Temple University, I boarded an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, headed south to visit my friend Greg at his parents’ house outside of Washington, D.C. I believe it was a weeklong celebration of Greg’s birthday, with several of our college friends involved.

Almost immediately after boarding, I found myself being introduced to D.J. Fontana, a legendary musician who drummed on dozens of recording sessions, particularly for Elvis Presley. The man who facilitated this introduction was equally legendary: Paul Burlison, the guitarist for the Johnny Burnette Trio. That band’s song, “Train Kept A-Rollin'” is historic, in large part due to Burlison’s pioneering use of feedback in his guitar playing. Burlison noticed my Elvis Presley t-shirt and thought I might want to meet Fontana.

I subsequently spent the rest of the train trip sitting with Burlison, Fontana and four other musicians who were each pivotal to the Memphis, Tennessee music scene in the 1950s and early ’60s.

[Burlison, who offered me the seat next to him, was a hell of a nice guy. I was sorry to hear a few years ago that he has died. But I’ll always remember our conversation.]

Upon arriving at Greg’s house, I was excited to tell my story of a brush with rock’n’roll greatness and I couldn’t understand why this tale didn’t seem to pierce the gloom I was perceiving among my friends.

However, I soon learned that Temple’s basketball team had just lost a game.

[Yes, OK, but: I just met Elvis Presley’s drummer!!!]

It wasn’t just any game though: it was Temple’s fourth game in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. The team had just lost, 63-53, to Duke, after winning 18 straight games before it.

[I know all this because it’s on Not because I remembered the details.]

In other words, this game was a really big deal, but it went completely under [or over] my radar.

In recent years, Jimmy has implored me to make a bracket and I have. However, I’ve always experimented with it in goofy ways, such as using an online coin toss program to determine my winners.

This year was different though. I actually sat down with Jim, talked about the bracket and studied his bracket. I took his advice on certain games and went in the opposite direction for other match-ups. I tried my best to leave my own theories of randomness and chance out of the equation and I think I came up with a workable bracket. Jimmy seemed to approve. Now, like everyone else, I’ll wait to see how I did.

I promised Jim that if I should happen to make out well with my bracket, he will share in the glory. By which I mean, the money. But there will be glory too and Jim will certainly deserve his share.

[Just to suit my own curiosity, I may make a second bracket in which I pick the winners using my pair of 20-sided dice. I’ll report the results of both brackets in a bracketed note to next week’s column.]

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Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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