The last two weeks in March and the first week of April is. without a doubt. the best time of the year if you’re a sports fan. The next 3 1/2 weeks will feature the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships, the final drive for the playoffs in pro hockey and basketball, Opening Day of the Major League baseball season, and to top it all off, The Masters golf tournament played in the most spectacular venue in sport during the absolute best time of year to see it.
The NCAA’s Big Dance got underway this week and you can expect the usual number of pulse pounding finishes, buzzer beaters, indescribable joy and heartbreak. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as ABC’s Wide World of Sports said every week in their opening. “The human drama of athletic competition” — the NCAA tourney has that in spades.
Kentucky comes into the tournament undefeated and basically unchallenged. Trying to dethrone the Wildcats are 5 or 6 excellent teams who have gotten hot at the right time of the year. The real drama will begin next weekend as the regional semi-finals and finals determine who goes to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
In the NHL, the race for the final two Wild Card playoff spots is really heating up. In the Eastern Conference, Boston has a precarious 4 point lead for the 8th seed over Ottawa and 7 points over Florida. In the West, Winnipeg has a slim one point lead over Calgary.
In addition to the drive to make the playoffs, teams are jostling for position, trying to get home ice advantage by finishing in the top 4 in the conference. In a way, the intensity in these late season games matches that found in the playoffs.
Similarly, NBA teams are gearing up for their playoff drive with less than a month to go in the regular season. After the long grind of the season, both the NHL and NBA are finally playing games that really mean something. It’s a time for the stars to shine and where reputations are made.
In the Eastern Conference, Indiana and Boston are tied for the 8th and final playoff spot, with Charlotte and Brooklyn well within striking distance. The real logjam in the East is the fight for the second spot. Atlanta has wrapped up the best record in the conference but 4 teams are within three games of second place Cleveland.
In the West, Phoenix and New Orleans are chasing Oklahoma City for the 8th seed. The injury-riddled OKC Thunder is finally starting to get healthy, which means every other team above them hopes they don’t get them in an early round. With superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook injured at various times during the year, if they get healthy for the playoffs, the dynamic duo will give the rest of the conference fits.
Then, there’s Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. The openers don’t mean much in the course of a 162 game season. But the very fact that baseball — the quintessential American game of summer — is back gets one’s blood going in anticipation of warmer weather and the explosion of color that comes with Spring.
And if it’s an explosion of color you want, tune in to The Masters golf tournament April 9-12. There is no more beautiful place to be — much less play golf — than Augusta National Golf Course. A few photos to prove my point:
Even though it doesn’t look like Tiger Woods will be playing, there’s always plenty of thrills as unknowns vault to prominence (only to wilt under the pressure of Saturday and Sunday championship golf), and the best of the world slug it out coming for home on late Sunday afternoon.
Yes, the next three weeks will be a sports fanatic dream come true. My Zsu-Zsu has already resigned herself to watching sports with me for the next fortnight. She’s a good sport about it, and has actually come to like athletics a lot more since we got together a decade ago. For those wives and sweethearts who can’t stand sports, my sympathies. I feel your pain. But there are times — and these next few weeks are one of them — when a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
And just think…only 4 months till the first NFL preseason game.