I'm a sports junkie. Katie would likely use a word or two stronger than junkie. But this time of the year - that March Madness time of the year - I live for the buzzer beater high, while Katie simply shakes her head.
I think sports-watching entertains me mostly because I love competition. I love being in it. I love watching other people and teams enter into it for the highest of stakes. And they don't get much higher than March Madness.
There's another component to it as well. Sometimes I think it's the biggest component, that without it I might not be interested in watching sports at all. And that's that the story of sport is usually just a small chapter in a bigger and more intriguing life story. That couldn't have been more true watching the Madness this past weekend.
I'm a big Notre Dame fan. Those of you who follow me are begging me to tell you something you didn't know. For a Fighting Irish basketball fan, Notre Dame beating Butler Saturday night was as big as a sports story gets in March. A trip to the Sweet 16. Neither of our boys were alive the last time I could watch the Irish play into the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament. But that victory was only a brief paragraph in a much more compelling story.
Notre Dame's coach, Mike Brey, lost his mom just hours before the Butler game. He chose not to tell his team about it. In fact, he didn't tell many people at all for fear his players would find out. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, David Haugh wrote: "The guy who coaches where "Win One For The Gipper" was born passed on using his mother's death to motivate Notre Dame players because that's not the kind of man Betty Brey raised." (Read Haugh's fantastic article about Brey's mom - Notre Dame coach Mike Brey loses his life coach — his mom).
I've spent some time putting myself in Brey's shoes, trying to imagine how difficult it would be to coach within a few hours of unexpectedly losing your mom. She had actually been in attendance the previous week when Brey coached the Irish basketball team to their first conference tournament tournament win ever. One minute you're coaching with your mom in the stands witnessing your greatest coaching victory. The next minute you're coaching your first game without your biggest fan. Maybe even your biggest coach.
I can't come away feeling anything but respect for coach Brey. He's made no secret of how much he loves this current team. In the aftermath of last Saturday night's game it's become more apparent it's the kind of love his mother instilled in him. Some media folks, rarely without a shovel in hand to dig up a potential story, wondered out loud if Brey should have skipped the game to be with his family in Florida. Although his mom wasn't there, she took care of making that a non-question long ago.
On a side note - to our boys: there's a chance I'll die some day. If I do, and you have previously committed to do something you love or to support someone else doing something they love, do it. Don't think of doing anything else. Not for a second. I will finally have a seat where I can see and treasure every second of what you're about to do. Don't ruin the best seats of my life by making me watch you mourn for a man who's suddenly hit the big time.
Speaking of seats. As much time as I spent trying to imagine being in Coach Brey's seat, I spent an equal amount of time jealous of the seat Georgia State coach Ron Turner had. He was right there, court-side, when his son R.J. hit a game-winning shot to beat Baylor in the first round of the tournament. It was clearly Georgia State's biggest basketball victory ever. Could there be a sweeter moment for father and son, who just happen to be coach and player?
When Georgia State lost in the next round we were treated to another glimpse of sports as a small plotline in the overarching novel of life. During the post-game press conference a coach trying to say all the right things gave way to a dad overcome with pride in his son. When they're the same man, especially in the bigger story of life, the dad always seems to steal the show.
The first time I saw this clip the dad in me had tears in my eyes:
Round two of the tournament begins tomorrow night. I don't know who'll win or lose, and I have no idea what stories will play out on the court. I do know this, though. Whatever those stories are, they will likely be insignificant compared to the stories taking place outside of all the Madness.