Dateless for the Madness
By Alysse Minkoff
Special to Page 2

Midnight Madness looms large on my calendar. It happens Friday night, when college basketball teams begin practice, the start of the best season in the sports year. And it dawns on me that this year, as always, I am going to end it without a date for the Big Dance in March.

Other unattached women fret over not having that special someone with whom to share a lingering kiss at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. Or they fall into a funk when there's no man in their life for whom to model red lingerie on Valentine's Day. But I have a unique dating problem that's a bit more all-encompassing.

Wherever I turn these days, I seem to meet the most fabulous men: handsome, brilliant, charismatic, funny -- and many of them are actually single. The only problem is that they seem to be lacking something crucial -- The Sports Gene.

Lew Alcindor
Lew Alcindor and John Wooden back in the day at UCLA.
As any good Freudian analyst will tell you: It all starts and ends with your father. And my Daddy took me to just about every UCLA basketball game at Pauley Pavilion from 1969 until his death in 1985. I knew Kareem, when he was still Lewis. Henry Bibby, when he was still a Bruin. And I can recite the Pyramid Of Success by heart with my socks on right.

Like many women, the first man in my life ruined me -- from teaching me how to keep score to encouraging my first crush on Bill Walton. He patiently explained the art and science of filling out a bracket, and he always danced in his seat (totally humiliating my Too-Cool-For-School adolescent self) whenever the Bruin Band started to play. My very best times have always been centered around Sports, particularly college hoops.

When you are a single woman over 40, you have two choices: a.) become incredibly self-reliant; or b.) become an interminable bore whining about what you don't have, man-wise. Since good offense has always been a byproduct of good defense, I've chosen the former. I approach my entire year strategically. Where can I go to avoid the Inevitable Truth: no family, no husband, not even a not-so-significant other.

This year was different. I should have known I was in trouble when I told a man I was seeing that I was going into Oakland's Black Hole for ESPN.com, and he thought that meant I had PMS and was suffering from a hormone-induced depression. He offered me a hug and a box of See's Chocolates. When I asked him if he wanted to take a Road Trip and join me to watch Barry Zito pitch in the playoffs, he said, "I went to a baseball game. Once. It was a no-hitter. It was the most boring afternoon I have ever spent in my adult life. Absolutely nothing happened."

Yikes.

So this year, Midnight Madness serves as a painful reminder to "The Sweetheart of the Hole" that, once again, she has no man in her life with whom to share the playoffs. The World Series. Football season in all of its permutations. And -- most important -- college basketball. Yet another year without a Date for the Big Dance. Sigh.

Last year, I was dating a witty British director ... when he wasn't off on location directing brainy films about important causes. He was an awful lot of fun. As I wrapped myself in the cashmere scarf he brought me from Burberry's in London and covered him with kisses, I asked, "What are we going to do for March Madness?"

I had visions of a suite at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. We'd watch mind-numbing hours of college basketball while I invested his next alimony payment in the Sports Book. At Prime, we'd order our steaks medium-rare and proceed to deplete their cache of '91 Opus One Cabernet. We'd make love all night long, fueled by the adrenaline of the Underdogs of Round One, while the Steve Wynn-choreographed fountains danced magically outside the window.

Then we'd do it all again for four straight days and nights.

But before I could see if my La Perla lingerie needed replacing, my witty British director looked at me in that dry, witty, British way and said with an utter lack of guile, "March Madness? Is that some kind of a sheet sale?"

Really, what good is an occasionally-in-town witty British director beau if he doesn't have the Sports Gene? A Girl can only go so far in a cashmere scarf from Burberry. Not even the Salukis' team colors are tartan plaid.

Undaunted, off I trudged to Tony P's Dockside Grill in Marina Del Rey. Wearing my alma mater Pepperdine orange sweatshirt with a lacy blue bra underneath, I toted my brackets, the sports page and a copy of ESPN: The Magazine. I was the only woman in a room full of 75 men. I ordered a bottle of chardonnay, looked at the boats bobbing happily on the water and tried not to think about how lonely I was. And there I sat, smugly circling Kent State and Creighton on my brackets, watching three different games simultaneously and talking on my cell phone to various Friend Boys across the country to see how they were doing in their Office Pools.

Then from out of nowhere, my witty British director walked up and purred sexily in my ear, "What's the score?" I answered with my own version of the Motion Offense. I kissed him in a way that made him the envy of those 75 other men, and poured him a well-chilled glass of chardonnay.

"For which game," I said dreamily.

Reaching under my sweatshirt, he looked up at the myriad of Big Screens and muttered, "Oh dear, you mean there is more than one?"

I desperately tried not to sulk.

"Your team, of course. The Bears."

It was hopeless.

"My team is the Bruins, not the Bears," I said. What a waste of a kiss.

"I always thought that bears were bruins," he said. "At least, that's the way they taught it at Oxford."

I was on the verge of a Serious Sulk.

"What color are their uniforms? Which TV should I be watching? Just tell me what quarter we're in and somehow I'll manage to catch up."

This, of course, was said as he nuzzled my neck. So I managed to miss Jason Kapono drill a three-point shot and draw a foul. Who in the Hell needed college basketball?

"Blue and Gold. The TV in the middle. And we're in the second half ," I said, trying to focus.

We weren't even to the first overtime when my witty British director loudly yelled, "Defense!"

The only problem: UCLA had the ball.

By the end of the day, it hit me full force: I am a Sports Spinster. And before that realization could really sink in and depress me further, my Bruins turned around and did the unthinkable: They beat Cincinnati to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. And now I was faced with something even more painful than not having a boyfriend to escort me to synagogue on the High Holy Days: I had no one to escort me to San Jose to watch the Bruins advance in the tournament.

And sadly, unlike sex, watching sports is usually an experience that is enhanced by sharing it with another human being.

I've always been easy when it comes to sports and the men who watch them. For the last eight years, I have had the Sports equivalent of phone sex with a friend I refer to as the Invisible Investment Banker. We have shared, telephonically, college hoops, the baseball playoffs and just about every game of every World Series since 1996.

Thank God for my Friend Boys. That area of my Life is an embarrassment of riches and I have a really Deep Bench. I was fortunate enough to share the Wooden Tradition last season with Toronto Raptor Head Scout (and hardwood genius) Bob Zuffelato, the Knicks' irrepressible Dick McGuire, and the Washington Wizards' young buck, Scott Howard. There's nothing I like more than a college basketball double-header, and there I was -- surrounded by some of the best minds in basketball.

Dick Vermeil
Is Dick Vermeil available?
When they handed out the stat sheets at halftime, Zuffelato looked at me and asked, "Now, Alysse, do you know how to read a stat sheet'?" Only since I was nine. But I bit my lower lip to keep from saying something snarky, batted my eyelashes, grabbed the sheet out of his hands and said, "'3PT' means 'Three-Peat', right?"

I think I actually saw Jerry West crack a smile.

Gregg, my best friend and long-suffering Angels' fan, took me to Games 1 and 7 of the World Series last year. There are very few feelings better than standing with your arms around your best friend and his brother during the last out of the World Series, both grown men with tears of joy and relief streaming down their smiling faces.

Even my Invisible Investment Banker managed to accompany me to a Bruins' home game last season -- a merger brought him to town on a flight with the Oregon State Beavers. And while he has been uncannily adept at calling to share crucial sports moments from a bar in an unnamed city, he committed the unforgivable sin this time of being 20 minutes late for tip-off at Pauley. Knowing it would be an Intentional Foul.

And that did not go unnoticed by a certain 93-year-old coaching legend who would like nothing more than to see me get married. Coach Wooden autographed a copy of "They Call Me Coach" for the Banker; and with his name, he wrote the admonition: "Be On Time." Delicious distraction, indeed. I have about as good a chance of getting married as the Red Sox do of winning a World Series. Is there such a thing as the 'Curse of the Bambino" for Unmarried Female Sports fans?

If my Daddy were alive, we'd make the pilgrimage to Stanford Stadium for the UCLA/Stanford football game in a couple of weeks. We'd pile into his car and drive up Highway 101 and stop for breakfast at the Madonna Inn with a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young CD turned up really loud. By Monterey, he'd be singing the entire score from "The Pajama Game." And by the time we got to Menlo Park, he'd (appropriately) be belting: "The Impossible Dream."

It wouldn't matter to me then that I have a part-time British director beau (when he's in my time zone, that is) who is, arguably, a great kisser but who thinks a pick-and-roll is something you get at a sushi bar. The Invisible Investment Banker's penchant for long-winded and slightly-sauced philosophical discussions during Monday Night Football would fade into oblivion. I could even get over my unrequited crush (sigh) on Kansas City Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil. My Daddy and I would be singing "Build Me Up Buttercup" along with the Bruin marching band, while we tried to figure out why Karl Dorell would bother starting Matt Moore instead of Drew Olson.

When not trying to explain he Triangle-and-Two, Alysse Minkoff has written for Ladies Home Journal, Cigar Aficionado and MSNBC.





A BROAD PERSPECTIVE

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