Archive for Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: War, basketball consume televisions, Americans

March 26, 2003

Ah, March Madness.

Such an anticipated moment the NCAA Tournament is to so many sports fans.

And even those Americans who don't consider themselves to be sports junkies furiously fill out their brackets. Those now-interested fans are checking the tournament results routinely to see how they're fairing with bracket predictions.

This season, however, an event halfway around the world is taking a front seat to any game being played halfway across the country.

Because of the war with Iraq, it was thought that CBS would move its basketball coverage to MTV or TNN. Instead, logical choice ESPN carried afternoon games on Thursday and Friday. The television screen certainly looked strange with a CBS logo, CBS graphics and CBS announcers stuck sharing space with the ESPN logo and the ESPN scoreboard ticker. The up-to-the-minute ticker usually doesn't appear on the original ESPN network, but that seemed to change when it carried CBS sports coverage. Interestingly enough, on Friday the extra ESPN reference was gone.

It's certainly a surreal time in America.

Four-corner viewing of the tournament, a feature that's become popular in the last few years, no longer gives fans a glimpse of four regionals simultaneously.

Instead, four different vantage points show military activity in the first days of the war with Iraq.

It's been about a decade since the previous gulf war, but television media have brought even better graphics and views of the war.

From maps showing battle points with Iraqi and U.S. logos to telephone video following tanks prepared for fighting, Americans receive ample information from Iraq.

Basketball fans likely can be seen watching a tournament game with their bracket copy an arm's length away. Perhaps an Iraqi map depicting military activity should sit even closer to the basketball enthusiast.

The last few days have provided plenty of memories. For a basketball fan, great moments seem to pop up every year come tournament time. From Butler's Cinderella drive to the Sweet 16, to that amazing Arizona-Gonzaga double overtime thriller Saturday, this tournament hasn't disappointed.

When the national championship is played April 7 in New Orleans, fans hope it will have a place in sports history. Other title games, at least as long as I've lived, aren't forgotten.

The amazing N.C. State buzzer beater in 1983, Cinderellas Villanova in '85 and Kansas in '88 have wooed fans. Then there was that 103-73 shellacking UNLV gave Duke in 1990 and the 1997 Arizona team's rise from nowhere, which was culminated with an 84-79 overtime victory against Kentucky.

One could say these basketball moments have provided shock and awe for college basketball.

But, of course, those words are taking on a much different meaning these days. Even the term survive and advance, a clicheµ coaches use to describe the tournament, takes on a different connotation today.

Whether one is a civilian or a member of the military, the tournament provides some with a release from war. My television set seemed to meander from basketball to war coverage every so often. As concerned as one becomes hearing of more accounts from the war, basketball seeps back into our thoughts, giving us a distinct reminder of American culture.

Not all Americans, myself included, were in favor of the war. Most people have taken note of war protests, comments from a Dixie Chicks singer and some demonstrations in support of the war. All of these acts should be embraced -- not because you necessarily agree with the views, but because in America you can express them without fear of having a tongue removed, a limb severed or a life taken.

Now that the war has begun, we still head to work, check out a movie, drive to the store for groceries and even pencil in our NCAA Tournament brackets.

Troops are doing what they can to ensure that those everyday events we take for granted will repeat themselves for years to come.

So, once again, the basketball bracket dwindles and fans keep on complaining because their Final Four pick (Wake Forest) was upset.

But regardless of how one predicts the field, fans here know which teams need their support -- both at home and far away.

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