Friday, February 1, 2008

The Tournament Curse

No event – not even a snowmobile driven onto a bonfire – brings Mainers together like Tourney Week. Or, as it's called in my house, The Ritual of Paralyzing Shame.

(I'll explain momentarily).

Nowhere else in the world can you find thousands of people willing to travel for hours through snowdrifts to eat neon pink hot dogs and watch pasty, pimply teenagers get even more sweaty.

Dozens more watch on public television, but that can't compare with the purity of the live experience:

Feel the energy of the crowd as everyone anticipates the opening tip, rises in unison, and huddles together for warmth!

Hear the adrenaline-pumping songs by the pep band, the same ones played by every pep band in North America for the last 15 years!

Peer around the 350-pound gentleman in front of you who occasionally interrupts his clever heckling of the officials (“get a pair of glasses, ref!”) to offer valuable strategic advice to his team (“Shoot it! C'mon, SHOOT IT!”), starting as soon as they bring the ball past mid-court!

Yes, the tournament always supplies bountiful memories, most of which not even the most expensive new-age hypnosis can scrub away.

February, 1994. My sophomore year. We were big underdogs, facing the number one seed in the first round, and we had every reason to be nervous. But I had complete confidence that my team would rise to the occasion and bury me so far down the bench that the sound of the buzzer would take eight minutes to reach my ears.

Since it was not really my game, I could relax.

Or so I thought.

Then I followed my team onto the floor to a thunderous ovation (state law requires tournament ovations to be thunderous). The six-thousand people who greeted us for warm-ups caught me off guard, as did the extra TV lighting, the pre-game fireworks display, and the news helicopter hovering above center court.

Complicating matters was the fact that Bapst had marched undefeated to the state championship the previous year, thanks largely to 6'11” senior Ken Rassi, who averaged 112 points and 42 rebounds per game while opposing players bounced off him like cartoon characters.

So expectations were high, even though Rassi had moved on to San Jose State, and the Crusaders' roster was now full of guys like me, a mutated praying mantis in sport goggles.

To make a long story short, my first task in warm-ups was to catch a pass from Mark Baxter, an aggressive, muscular senior who led our team in points, rebounds, assists, and dates.

Baxter was a little fired up, so he rocketed the ball in my direction at 400 mph. Needless to say, it went through my mantis hands, and our warm-up drill for the next five minutes consisted of everyone waiting for Napoleon Dynamite to fish the ball out of a crowd of cheerleaders.

At least the fans offered some support (“SHOOT IT!”).

Since that day, Bapst has not won another title. I initiated a cursed on my alma mater.

So next time you take in a tournament game, help your team by sending some anti-cursing thoughts toward the kid on the end of the bench.

Be sure to allow plenty of time for them to get there.

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