October 23, 2014
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March Madness brings out hoops passion

Apparently, I have a history of throwing pillows.

My dad reminded me of this last week. Supposedly, one of my pillow fastballs damaged a set of mini-blinds in 2005. I had blocked it out, not quite realizing that it seems to be my go-to sports frustration move.

It tends to happen in March, and there’s one thing to blame for turning my mild-mannered self into a ranting, raving, pillow-tossing lunatic.
Basketball.

And more specifically, University of Louisville basketball. I grew up there. My parents are from Boston. They moved to Louisville in 1979, and my sports-nut dad quickly fell in line with the passions of his new home. Basketball, basketball, basketball.

It’s a different world there. College basketball can be pretty good in Rhode Island, but it’s never quite the primary focus unless somebody’s making a tournament run.

In Kentucky, college basketball is always the primary focus. There are no professional sports teams outside of minor league clubs, so the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville are supported as if they were pro teams. Check the attendance numbers – Kentucky and Louisville rank second in third in attendance pretty much every year. Only Syracuse and its gigantic Carrier Dome can out-pace them. If Louisville or Kentucky had a dome, they could fill that too.

You don’t have to have any affiliation to the school whatsoever; you still have a team. When people find out I’m a Louisville fan, they always assume I went there. I did not. I went to Dayton, a solid basketball power in its own right. I’m a Flyers fan.

But I’m a Cardinals fanatic. They had an 18-year head start on my alma mater. The Flyers never stood a chance.

The fanatic in me really comes out in March, and if you’ve been following the madness this year, you can imagine what’s happening to me. The Cards won the Big East Championship and got out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament after early exits the past two seasons.

I was pretty happy with that, but their round-of-32 game against New Mexico revealed that I was apparently not satisfied. I yelled so much and clapped so loud that my girlfriend retreated to the other room.

There were no pillows thrown that night, but they were coming.

Louisville beat New Mexico then upset top-seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

That set up the Elite Eight tilt with Florida, and it couldn’t have gone much worse in the early going. The Gators made eight of 11 threes in the first half. They couldn’t miss. And they also apparently couldn’t foul. Every whistle seemed to be on the Cards.

It felt exactly like Louisville’s 2005 Elite Eight game against West Virginia, when Kevin Pittsnogle and company torched the nets like no team I’ve ever seen. Incidentally, that was the occasion for my blinds-breaking pillow toss.

This time, I didn’t break anything, but pillows went flying. Louisville seemed to be caught in an uphill battle that it couldn’t win. I was resigned to thinking positive about a surprising run.

Instead, the Cards pulled off a ridiculous comeback and won. I can’t even tell you how it happened. I watched a replay of the last 10 minutes the next day – and I still wasn’t sure.

I found a pillow on the floor a few hours after the win. I don’t remember what prompted the throw, but there it was. It made me a little bit happy. If you win a pillow-throwing game, you’ve really accomplished something.

So now Louisville finds itself in the Final Four. Against Kentucky. Even amid the preseason baseball buzz and NFL talk, I’m sure you’re hearing all about it.

It’s going to be incredible. The state of Kentucky might explode. This is like Red Sox-Yankees in the playoffs – only if they hadn’t met in the playoffs in 30 years. Mix in the frosty relationship between Rick Pitino and John Calipari, plus the underdog vs. heavy favorite storyline, and you’ve got an epic match-up.

I tell myself I won’t be heartbroken if the Cards lose. They’ve already shocked me by getting this far, and they’ve given me some of the best moments of my life as a sports fan.

But I’m probably lying to myself.

It’s Louisville vs. Kentucky in the Final Four. I really want a win.

I hope the pillows are ready.

William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and williamg@rhodybeat.com.


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