- Duff McKagan, Playbook
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The NCAA men's basketball season has come to that special point when just about anything can happen. A whole lot of us who may have been sleeping as fans throughout the college b-ball season are now finally, suddenly enraptured by this do-or-die tournament.
It all started last week with all of the league championships when those kids just start playing for everything: A chance at a higher seeding in regional March Madness brackets, or simply just a berth into the top 64 or now 68.
A lot of us start to pull for a long-shot underdog team. Or, maybe we visited some college when we were younger, and have always had some shadow affinity for those schools. (My wife is from Bowling Green, Ohio. I have been out there with her and actually really like that area. There's a great barbecue joint just off the university campus. And now, simply because of that visit, I always keep an eye on and pull for BG, especially during football season.)
My "shadow" team is Harvard. When I was on a Guns N' Roses tour back in 1992, I somehow got a visitation to the law school there, and was enchanted by the age and history of that campus. I decided later on to go to Seattle University and not Harvard, but I still have some sort of weird affinity with that Ivy League legend.
Las weekend, the Harvard men's team got as close as it has ever been since 1946 to making the March Madness tournament, but were beaten at the buzzer by Princeton, who made it with that last-minute shot.
But my primary team is the Washington Huskies. One would perhaps think that my alma mater Seattle University Red Hawks would be my go-to team. I mean they used to dominate the NCAA in the 1950s (with Elgin Baylor reigning supreme). But ever since I was a little kid, the Washington Huskies -- good or bad or terrible or dominant -- have captured my allegiance.
I don't have any real scholastic connection to the school; neither I nor any of my family went there out of high school. But if you are from the Seattle area, or probably anywhere in Western Washington, then it is likely you may just bleed purple and gold like I do (Washington State University readers who live in this area are probably screaming at that last sentence. They sure are cute when they get mad.)
Washington guard Isaiah Thomas hit a buzzer-beater 3-pointer in overtime, to lift the Huskies over Arizona to win the Pac-10 Tournament on Saturday and secure a higher seed in the East Regionals. If any of you saw that game, it was a great glimpse into what this tournament will bring. Kids playing college basketball for perhaps their last time, leaving everything they have on the court. Perfect.
And we are all very serious about this stuff, too.
One of my brothers lives down in Los Angeles. He went to graduate school at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). When he started teaching, he met his wife, who was -- along with her parents -- a UCLA alum. My brother is a die-hard Husky. He and his wife had two kids, and we all watched and waited to see which team those kids would root for once they got old enough.
My nephew Andrew is now 15 and a hard-core sports fan. His favorite college sports team, as it turned out, is the UCLA Bruins. It gets heated over at that house around this time, and when Pac-10 football is being played. My brother Matt wears his Huskies jersey, his daughter Sarah and son Andrew wear the Bruins colors. It's funny to think, though, that none of us actually attended these schools, yet we are so damn hard-core.
When my band Velvet Revolver toured, singer Scott Weiland and I would always try to find a place to watch college football or basketball. Because Scott's dad went to Notre Dame and played football there back in the day, Scott became a massive and very ardent and passionate fan of all things Fighting Irish. If Notre Dame lost to USC during the football season, I always knew that we would have a great rock show that night because Scott would be ENRAGED. Anger makes for some good rock music.
But back to March Madness and who we root for. The Gonzaga and St. John's match-up piques my interest for some reason (two smaller schools not considered one of the college hoops powers, one of them will move up to play a "Goliath"). Kansas looked dominant against Texas last weekend, and they are going into this tournament strong. No. 1 seed Ohio State is too, of course. But what about teams such as Long Island University-Brooklyn? Although it is indeed a long-shot, what is stopping it from being the sexy underdog like Butler and Northern Iowa were a year ago? It is the little schools like this, that capture all of our imaginations during late March and early April in NCAA men's basketball. For me, I suffer the "Rocky syndrome"; I just love it when a small underdog beats a mighty giant.
This is when sports gets good. When, sure, although recruiting can be highly affected by the outcomes of March Madness, the game is still being played for the sake of the game itself. Single-elimination gives no rest for the weary, and leaves a lot of us cheering on a team that we may have had no previous allegiance. Before some of these basketball players become pro ballers, and the rest just happy graduates with a degree, hopefully, they have to play these games in March when the heart is still shown plainly on the sleeve.
I believe in jinxes, and I am the last guy to talk about his team winning anything -- I don't want to step on that line. But, if my beloved Huskies make it past Georgia in the first round, I will gain hope and creep closer to the edge of my seat. Likewise, if a team like LIU-Brooklyn or some other underdog catches some fire, I will watch more closely.
Rock music is my outlet for all of those angry things in life that I go through … and I am glad that I have that "vent." If Washington edges closer, and then falls somewhere close … I will just go down to my rehearsal space or next gig, and spit vitriol until I am even and calm. That's probably better than tipping over cars and setting fire to a campus.
Musician Duff McKagan, who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and is finishing his autobiography, writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com.
As college basketball players enter the biggest stage of their lives, the anticipation of March Madness stirs the athletic passions in The Life columnist Duff McKagan.