There’s an annual three-week party about to start in our country, and back here in Greater Boston, we are pointedly not invited. We might not even watch it on TV. Why bother? It has nothing to do with us.
Selection Sunday is upon us and we are like tobacco-spittin’, old-timey baseball scouts with an unopened invitation to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. We are like “The Biggest Loser” contestants being asked to watch a DirecTV video on the making of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
March Madness? It’s March Apathy on our regional sports landscape.
Knock yourself out with Sunday’s silly selection show and the canned shots of Gonzaga players gathered at the campus center watching TV with the regular kids to find out who they are playing. Here in New England most of us will be wondering what time the Bruins drop the puck Monday. Or has David Price thrown a pitch since his elbow started hurting? Or is Jimmy G going to be traded? Oh, and is Danny Ainge going to pay the price for standing pat at the NBA trading deadline?
Elsewhere in the Globe today, my esteemed colleague Bob Ryan is waxing poetic about the greatness of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Bob loves college basketball the way most of us love hot fudge sundaes. Swell. But Bob may as well be writing about Brazil coal mines or blueprints for the MX missile. The NCAA hoop tourney has become almost entirely irrelevant to Boston sports fans. Knock yourself out with your office pool if you like — it’s akin to picking the Kentucky Derby winner because you like the name of the horse — but unless you actually attended Middle Tennessee State or are an avid gambler, don’t try to tell me you care about who the Blue Raiders are playing. My personal favorite in the field this year is Jacksonville State, which is located in Alabama but plays in the Ohio Valley Conference. Done your homework on the mighty Gamecocks?
The estimable Ryan says the tournament reminds him of the Boston Marathon. Me, too. But for a different reason. We all love the Marathon for its tradition and festive trappings — and the event has recently elevated our regional pride and patriotism for obvious reasons — but when is the last time any of us really cared about the winning runners? There are no more local heroes in the race. No Amby Burfoots, Bill Rodgerses, or Joan Benoit Samuelsons with a chance to win. As pure sport, our marathon is a great competition of world-class runners with no attachment to our region. Sort of like the teams in the NCAA Tournament.
This is not to say that New England won’t be represented. The Vermont Catamounts got in with a win Saturday afternoon. The Providence Friars should be in. And Harvard had a chance to get back to the tournament but lost to fellow New England school Yale Saturday. But how many of you WEEI and SportsHub listeners can name a single member of the starting five of any of those teams? Chris Lewis plays for Harvard and his dad is Mo Lewis, the Jets linebacker who destroyed Drew Bledsoe and put Tom Brady behind center. But that’s not much of a connection to our local sports scene.
It’s nothing like the old days when Rick Pitino and Dave Gavitt took Providence teams to the Final Four, or when everybody’s favorite bag man, John Calipari, took a top-ranked UMass team to the Final Four in 1996.
UMass’s Final Four appearance ultimately was erased due to Marcus Camby’s professional status, which resulted in Coach Cal ducking out of Dodge before the NCAA cops arrived. Ultimately the disgrace was not worth the short-term glory.
This means that tiny Holy Cross is still the only Massachusetts school to officially appear in the Final Four, and that happened seven decades ago (1947 and ’48) when Bob Cousy was a underclassman guard and the Crusaders practiced in an airplane hangar on Mount St. James. It’s like talking about the War of 1812 or the Battle of Hastings.
Boston College gave us some good times with some Sweet Sixteen appearances and three forays into the Elite Eight (1967, ’82, and ’94). BC made the NCAA draw seven times in nine seasons at the start of this century, but the Eagles are 17-73 in the ACC in the last five years and the good folks at Boston University and Northeastern have never been able to take things as far as the Eagles did when BC was in the original, vaunted Big East.
UConn won the NCAA championship an amazing four times between 1999-2014, but Storrs, Conn., simply has never been part of our sports landscape, and for all their winning, the Huskies are not part of the local sports dialogue.
Maybe someday BC or UMass or BU or Northeastern will bring us back to the Madness. Harvard won games in 2013 and 2014, and Holy Cross won a “First Four” game last March.
But we are simply not part of the Big Dance. And we are OK with that.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.