TRAVIS: Caught up in the Madness

A few weeks ago, I was watching Michigan State University’s basketball team eke out a narrow win against Iowa after playing some of the ugliest basketball I’ve seen them play all season. The Spartans were down at the half, and through the better part of the second period.

When they finally won, the bartender, a fellow MSU alum, said to me, “Boy, you were really worried. And I thought I got worked up over MSU basketball.”

That’s when it hit me: I was showing early signs of a condition that turns me into a raving lunatic come March Madness.

Now that the Spartans have made it to the Sweet 16, I’m feeling the onset of full-blown March Insanity.

Every year, watching the Spartans play in the NCAA tournament turns me into another person. A depraved, overly-emotional person. A loud, unashamed-to-make-a-scene-in-public person.

I remember when Kalin Lucas hit a fade-away shot after spinning around with the rebound in a tournament game in 2009. I was watching in a bar in downtown Muskegon, and my reaction nearly shook the Frauenthal Theater, across the street, off its foundation. For another game that year, I was standing on the foot rail of a bar in Ravenna, begging and pleading the Spartans to come out ahead in an extremely close game.

Needless to say, I drew some stares.

So what is it that causes this transformation? Before my time at State, I hardly cared about sports. I only participated in two: youth soccer, and cross country in high school. I’m not the athletic type, and no one in my family watches sports on TV, either.

This changed for me when I started out at MSU. I went to my first college football game in my freshman year because I was drawn to the excitement. There was such a huge crowd, my curiosity got the best of me. So did the ticket price; even students have to fork it over to get in to see MSU football. The game was a blowout, with the Spartans thoroughly destroying Kent State, but I rarely missed a game on TV after that.

It wasn’t long before my addiction to Spartan basketball began. It was impossible not to get sucked into the frenzy every time the team worked its way into the NCAA tournament. And during the regular season, tickets to the game were much more affordable than football (although student seats in the Breslin Center are somewhere in the stratosphere). Nothing beat actually seeing the action in person.

From then on, the die was cast. Every spring, you could find me pumping my fist like a maniac when the Spartans won, or snarling like a rabid badger when they lost. I was hopeless then, a fiend for the adrenaline surge that comes from watching your favorite team kick tail in the tournament. I still am.

I guess there’s nothing to do but to embrace my inner basketball nut, and not let him get too crazy. Here’s to hoping the Spartans go all the way this year, or at least make it to the Final Four. If they do, you can bet I’ll be making some noise.