We've got two words for this week's start of the NCAA men's and women's Division I basketball tournaments. As Dick Vitale puts it: Yeah, baby!
In the vast gray slog that is March, the annual college hoops-a-thon is a welcome diversion from annoyingly Arctic temps and snowbanks the color of dirty socks. Even for nonsports junkies, it's a great reason to get out of the house and high-five with the world at a crowded Chammp's or around the big screen in a friend's basement. You don't have to be one of the millions of bracketeers wagering in office pools to appreciate the fun.
Forget "American Idol'' or "Dancing with the Stars'': March Madness is the original and best reality TV. No D-list celebrities trying to make a sad comeback here. Just amazing athleticism and, in the first round alone, 32 chances for a Cinderella story to happen as teams like Boise State, Austin Peay and Mount St. Mary's battle it out with basketball's big dogs. And here's the great part: One or more of the giants always falls, leaving stunned winners and devastated losers.
The tournaments' pageantry produces unforgettable sports moments: from North Carolina State's Jim Valvano's joyous zigzag onto the court after his team's shocking 1983 Final Four triumph over Houston to the more recent roars of exultation as Florida's passionate center Joakim Noah and teammates celebrated back-to-back national championships.
Our favorite March Madness memory? Lindsay Whalen and the University of Minnesota Gopher women's cool composure turning to screams of excitement as they earned their 2004 Final Four appearance.
The 2008 drama begins today as first-round games get underway for the men. Women's play begins Saturday. Love him or hate him, ESPN in-studio analyst Vitale will be back, rested and recovered from throat surgery to lend his excited screeches to the scene again.
Good luck to the Gopher women, who play their first-round game against Texas at 8 p.m. Sunday. Hope tourney magic strikes again and we see you in Tampa in April for the women's Final Four.
And to Tubby Smith and the Gopher men? Hope next year brings a bid to the big dance. This year, we'll root for teams from the east and south: the Wisconsin Badgers and Iowa's little team that could: Drake. But next year, we won't settle for anything less than maroon and gold.