The year was 1985. Wayne Gretzky won his second Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers, the premier of Rocky IV capped the last watchable (and second best) film in the series, everyone looked like they got dressed in the dark each morning, and my dad, then an academically challenged senior at Villanova, contracted a terrible case of the Madness.
He first became infected in late March. Although it seemed like a mild bout initially, over the course of a week the disease grew more overwhelming than Bon Jovi’s ’80s hair. Then, on April 1, No. 8-seeded Villanova beat the No. 1-seeded Georgetown Hoyas to win the National Championship game. In the process of creating one of the greatest upsets in the history of men’s college basketball-and sports in general-the Wildcats claimed an innocent victim, as my dad’s case of the Madness escalated to an incurable level of severity.
By his own account, my dad reckons he’s lost close to $1,800 because of his struggles with the Madness. No matter how terrible the Wildcats have been, he’s unfailingly selected them to win the national championship every year since ’85, ignoring pleas from his relatives to seek help, and crossing out Georgetown and scribbling in the name of his alma mater during the 12 seasons that ‘Nova’s failed to make the tournament since winning it. In the Wildcats’ weakest years, he’s gone as far as shunning coworkers who openly root for the Hoyas-the man is truly and completely afflicted by the Madness.
This past Saturday, No. 2-seed ‘Nova played No. 7-seed UConn in the East Regional round of 32. As the clock began to trickle away in the second half, I texted my dad a simple message: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this game.” His response was nearly instantaneous-humorous, but defeated: “I’ve got a bad feeling for everyone who has to deal with me after this game.”
Sure enough, with the Wildcats unable to stop Shabazz Napier from dribbling all over them, dropping 25 points, and nailing their coffin shut with three consecutive late-game 3-pointers, UConn buried Villanova 77-65 as yet another one of head coach Jay Wright’s teams underachieved in the end.
Each year it seems like the Madness increases in potency and contagiousness-it’s become an epidemic. While my dad is one of its saddest victims, he’s not alone. The Internet has increased contact with the plague and made it incredibly easy to have multiple brackets, and at this point, if you don’t have at least three going at once you’re a rare member of the quarantined minority-flee the continental U.S. next March. It’s become clear that the disease has many different symptoms-my dad’s devotion to Madness being just one form.
There’s stat-head Madness-the kind most commonly seen in the Nate Silver disciples who desperately analyze every possible factor surrounding a team. Like the Nicolas Flamels of college basketball fans, year in and year out, those driven by statistical madness will sacrifice family, hygiene, and common sense in search of bracket alchemy-thus far to no avail. See fivethirtyeight.com’s prediction for Duke’s second round.
Arguably the most frustrating type of Madness for others suffering is the dumb, or beginner’s luck, side effect. At the moment, my two-year-old cousin is dominating my family’s 11-person pool, but given her advanced algorithm of picking teams by the color of their jerseys, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It’s clear that the global elites, Doritos, corporate shadow syndicates, North Korea, Voldemort, and the Illuminati have a vested interest in spreading the Madness even further. Likely bed-of-money-sleeper Warren Buffett’s $1 billion dollar challenge brought the Madness to a whole new level this year, forcing thousands of addicts to lose their minds attempting to craft the winning bracket-and of course, the only one who won in the end was Buffett. Even President Obama is a victim of the Madness. No one is safe.
The Madness affects the teams themselves-uncanny upsets spread through the NCAAs like lawsuits in Wonka’s chocolate factory tours. Just to name a few instances, so far this tournament, No. 3-seed Syracuse, No. 2-seed Kansas, No. 2-seed Villanova, No. 3-seed Duke, and No. 1-seed Wichita State have all been upset and knocked out of the tournament before the Sweet 16.
The most powerful and dangerous effect of the Madness is its addictive quality. It brings its victims back every year, gluing them to the couch for two days straight, turning grandmothers into masters of Vegas odds, and filling us with the gilded confidence required to toss away a few bucks in pursuit of the perfect bracket. And then, it leaves its targets spurned when all the brilliant picks are shot to hell.
A year from now, my dad will call me up and say “Hey Con, you hear the ‘Cats have got it this year?” For the third decade in a row, he’ll throw $50 bucks into a pool, driven by fierce addiction to his memories from 1985. My mom will roll her eyes, I’ll pity his affliction, and he’ll tell us to wait and see.
As an early victim, he might be one of the lucky ones, though. Compared with the new-strain Madness infecting the world these days, his curse is far simpler than everyone else’s-cross out Georgetown, fill in Villanova, and keep the faith.
And of course, take another $50 out of the bank.