It was the middle of March, wet and gray and tired.
You, sinking deep into your jacket as you walked the three blocks from one United Dairy Farmers to another United Dairy Farmers, felt an impending sense of finality to the season. Fall and winter in Ohio are often joked about as actually being four or five seasons, but in truth they're just one: a seven-month long cycle of caring too much about football, then basketball, then football again, then basketball again, then maybe women's hockey or wrestling, back to football for like a weekend, and at last: basketball. It's Sports Season, where nothing is predictable except our obsession with it.
One constant, however, is the weather, which takes on many forms and temperatures during this timespan, but is dependably great at making a bad mood worse.
Turning up your collar against an intensifying drizzle and walking briskly past row after row of unremarkable houses and businesses, you noticed that despite it being the early afternoon on a weekday, each building seemed to be alight with laughter and surprise. You knew why. You knew exactly why, which is why you kept your eyes rigidly on the sidewalk in front of you, lest you accidentally catch a glimpse through a grubby window or screen door of people enjoying themselves; competing in office pools, eating too much, pretending to care about work but absolutely not caring about work, and yelling about some kid from from school you've never heard of hit a last second three to beat a team that you definitely are familiar with.
That wasn't for you. You didn't get to enjoy that, at least not this year. Finding the entrance of the UDF, you paused for a moment, reaching in your jacket pocket to clutch the remnants of a torn NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket. Empty except for one team, predicted to win a national championship as the overall No. 1 seed in the tourney. Ohio State all the way, bay-bee, you thought to yourself. What a sick joke.
Storming into the gas station/ice cream parlor, you repeated the same demands you had made at the previous six United Dairy Farmers locations you had visited that day: "I need the largest possible peanut butter milkshake you can make, I'm going to sit on the floor to eat it, I might cry a little, and..."
You paused, looking at a small TV set, in the process of showing the players from a small Catholic university in Idaho brick 15 consecutive threes, "...I'm going to need you to TURN THAT DAMN TELEVISION OFF."
Okay, that's perhaps a little dramatic, and probably not you. I hope it's not you, anyway. You're likely enjoying March Madness like a regular person, and not a psychotic frosty treat enjoyer who is terminally angry about Ohio State men's basketball not being invited to participate in the greatest sporting event in America.
Also, if you weren't already aware: yesterday kicked absolute ass. 15-seed Princeton beat second-seeded Arizona, Fran McCaffery and Iowa lost, Northwestern won, and as alluded to, 13-seed Furman put the screws to fourth-seeded Virginia with a last second three (coming from an inbounds trap, naturally).
All of that is great and will continue to be great. The first weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is truly something special, and that's why it stings so much not to be invited.
Not that Ohio State deserved to be in it this season, but watching March Madness while not being able to actively root for your team is like scrolling through pictures of an absolute rager of a party two days later on Instagram. The fun that you're really only experiencing by proxy is bittersweet, because that's the cool thing about this tournament; if you're in it, you feel like you can win it.
That's not true, usually (the last few rounds are almost always straight chalk or something close to it), but it feels that way, and that's what makes it exciting.
For Ohio State, stuck watching forlornly from the outside looking in, that's a hard pill to swallow, but it can also serve as a motivator. Chris Holtmann and company had to fight their way back to some kind of respectability at the end of this season, and improbably, they did: winning five out of their last seven doesn't erase what happened in the 15 before that. But it gives the sense that all is not lost: that this team, which did not fall apart or collapse or give up despite many chances to, has an achievable goal for next season.
And that's to get invited to the most kickass party on the planet. March Madness or bust.