As of today, yours truly will be a regular contributor to the online publication SportsFan Magazine. Joe Bob says, "Check it out!" The following article was posted there this morning. Read on to find out why George Mason is having such a great run.
Battle of the Bracket Mascots: Sweet 16 Edition
So how's your bracket? Blowed up real good, thanks to George Mason and Bradley? Well, don't feel too bad. ESPN.com reports that not one of the more than three million brackets entered in their tourney challenge has a perfect record after the first weekend, and only 12 have 15 out of the 16 correct teams. In the thiswebsitestinks.com pool, I am currently 150th out of 412 with a 31-11 record; that's good enough for a tie with Associated Press college basketball god Jim O'Connell, but having GW winning it all should drop me pretty far down when it's all over. I am also ahead of my brother and both my sons, but the boys have their Final Fours intact, so I am likely doomed there also.
It's impossible for me to be disappointed, though, because I tend to pick the bracket the way I want it to go, not the way I think it will go. So I picked GW all the way, I picked Iona because I liked their coach, Jeff Ruland, when he played for the Bullets, I picked against Memphis (in the Sweet 16) because I don't like John Calipari, ditto for Florida and Billy Donovan. And then when I sit down to watch the games, I end up cheering for the underdog no matter who I picked. So what if I had UConn in the final, I'm yelling for Albany to hang on to that 12-point second half lead. And when the kid for Tennessee goes up with that last second shot against Winthrop, I'm hoping it rattles out.
I was happy to see Tennessee finally lose in the second round to Wichita State, if only because I'd had enough of the ESPN All-Access coverage of the Volunteers. Speaking of overexposed, what I'd really like access to is a tag-team steel-cage death match between those two guys singing the Gilligan's Island ripoff for Applebees and the idiots from the Verizon commercial, with Bruce Pearl as the special guest referee. My only condition until is that the match not end until all five are really dead. I'd throw Digger Phelps in there too, except that I have already asked Jack Bauer to train me how to kill Digger with his own highlighter. Does that pen come in blood red, Digger?
In more peaceful, less felonious thoughts, my friend AB told me that Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were picking brackets based on team mascots. I've made my feelings about Patrick's radio show clear, but that doesn't mean I won't steal his ideas. Besides, he probably stole it from someone else and didn't give them any credit.
Now, before we begin, note that the two Husky teams (Connecticut and Washington) are scheduled to meet Friday night, so that is an automatic push. Same goes if LSU has to play Memphis. Somehow, I think that situation will resolve itself. Finally, much like my initial bracket, these pick are for entertainment only, and mostly my own. So, here we go, Battle of the Bracket Mascots:
Starting in the Atlanta region, Duke Blue Devils against LSU Tigers. You might think that the whole tournament would be over right here because, after all, who resist the powerful inducements of the Devil? Certainly not the referees! (Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week, don't forget to tip your waitresses). But the Blue Devils of Durham aren't even remotely related to Satan or any of his lesser minions. No, according to the archives of the Duke Library website, Blue Devils was a nickname of a certain French army regiment renowned for their skills in the Alps. Okay, French military forces? 'Nuff said. But just for good measure, how many Tigers do you think these guys encountered in the snowy mountain ranges? Pick: Tigers.
Besides, you gotta love LSU. There's the whole Hurricane Katrina hook, and according to Washington Post reporter Mark Schlabach, the Tigers coach is married to a former stripper who danced under the name Misty Champagne. The LSU basketball website identifies John Brady's wife as Misty, but, alas, there is no photo. Also, 6-9, 310-pound Glen "Big Baby" Davis has the best hoops nickname since Jason Williams got tagged with "White Chocolate." I also like Davis because he is carrying on the tradition of great SEC fat guys established by Arkansas' Oliver Miller and Florida's Dametri Hill. Hill is still one of my all-time favorite college players because he had a shot he called "Da Meat Hook." So the list of guys who have a name for one of their shots is Hill and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Nice.
Okay, moving on, West Virginia Mountaineers against Texas Longhorns. Back when West Virginia was in the Atlantic 10, I went to a few games in Morgantown, and the guy dressed as the Mountaineer carried a gun that he fired at the end of the first and second halves. Longhorns would be scary in a stampede, but the gun could bring down a few and even if it didn't, it would stop or at least redirect the herd. No contest. Pick: Mountaineers.
Now we're getting somewhere. Mountaineers against Tigers in the Atlanta final. Close call. If it were Wildcats, I would definitely go with WVU, but a Tiger is big game. Still, Mountaineers are pretty hardy folk and probably more comfortable in the Atlanta terrain. If this were the Bangladesh region, I'd go with LSU, but I'm afraid this is night-night for Big Baby. Pick: Mountaineers.
Now to the Oakland region. Bradley Braves against Memphis Tigers. While I admire Bradley for sticking to its politically incorrect nickname, this sort of mascot is usually armed with a spear, tomahawk, or bow and arrow, not a firearm, and that's just not enough stopping power. It's a shame Bradley isn't playing the Houston Gamblers of the old USFL because then the Braves could open a reservation casino and clean their opponents out. Pick: Tigers.
In the bottom half of the region, Gonzaga Bulldogs against UCLA Bruins. At first I thought the Gonzaga nickname was the Zags, so I had them going out early. After all, the only team the Zags could beat are the Zigs and then only half the time. But further research revealed that the Gonzaga mascot is a Bulldog. Even so, you might say, a Bruin, which is a brown bear, would tear a Bulldog to shreds. But even further research revealed that Bulldogs were bred for the "sport" of bullbaiting, which reached its peak in 18th century England. (Man, I love Wikipedia!) The dogs were trained to fight a tethered bull, which was worked into a state of rage by blowing pepper up its nose. So what, you might say, the Longhorns are in the other region. But still further research revealed that bearbaiting was a popular variation on bullbaiting. (God, I wish I knew how to quit you, Wikipedia!) Now, the mascot bracket is no different from the regular bracket. The key to winning is picking the right upsets, and I think there is enough data here to go for the underdog (pun absolutely and always intended). Pick: Gonzaga.
In the regional final, Bulldogs come in heavily wounded as do the Tigers. The other key to winning the bracket is knowing when the dream is over. Tigerbaiting was at one time another variation on bullbaiting, but now refers to the controversial practice of setting out food for tigers on wildlife preserves. Pick: Tigers.
In Minneapolis, we have our only all-animal region. Sort of. Wildcats, Eagles, Gators and Hoyas/Bulldogs. First up, Boston College Eagles against Villanova Wildcats. Very surprising that there is only one Wildcat team left in the Sweet 16. That means Kentucky and Arizona are out (also Northwestern, Kansas State and New Hampshire). Now, I know the Bald Eagle is the national bird, and my high school was the Purple Eagles, but you really have to set emotion aside when you make your picks. Four claws beat two talons and fangs beat beak. Just too many weapons. Pick: Wildcats.
The other Minneapolis semifinal pits the Florida Gators against the Georgetown Hoyas. There's a long, self-impressed explanation at guhoyas.com about the classical Latin and Greek derivation of the Hoya nickname, blah, blah, blah, I think it means "rock" but they use a bulldog, but the bottom line is if you cut open a Gator, I'll bet you find rocks and dog bones in its stomach. No reference to gatorbaiting in Wikipedia. Pick: Gators.
Now you might think the Gator gobbles up the Wildcat in the final, but here is where you have to do a little extra homework to beat the so-called experts. Switching from Wikipedia to imdb.com, we note that "Wildcats" is a Goldie Hawn movie about a woman trying to coach a football team while "Gator" is an early Burt Reynolds cult classic. This is pre-Loni Burt, teamed up with Jerry Reed before they got stuck with Sally Field in "Smokey and the Bandit." Seems like an easy pick, Gators all the way, right? But wait a minute, Burt Reynolds was a star quarterback at Florida State, and there's just no way that a Seminole can work in favor of the University of Florida Gators. Pick: Wildcats.
So, three of our Final Four are the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Memphis Tigers and the Villanova Wildcats. Let's head to Washington, D.C., to find the fourth. Huskies is a push, and we know that two of the other Final Four teams have beaten dog teams, so it doesn't look good for either UConn or Washington. The other semifinal is the Wichita State Shockers against the George Mason Patriots. Let me go back to my friend AB, who wondered what sort of shock Wichita State would apply. Electric shock? The shock of surprise? From the Doc, I know that toxic shock can be fatal, so it would seem that the Patriots could be in real trouble here. But the Wichita State mascot actually is a truncated version of the original "Wheatshockers" which has something to do with the harvest. And the mascot we have seen on TV looks like an order or Supersize French Fries. Not so intimidating after all. But it is ultimately more important to determine the true nature of the George Mason nickname. AB, the originator of this laborious exercise, postulated that the Patriot was embodied by Mel Gibson in the movie of the same name. Those guys shouldn't have any problem bringing in the wheat harvest, or fending off a pack of dogs. But I have chosen a somewhat different interpretation of the GMU nickname. Since we are in the Washington, D.C. regional, let's take a quick trip in Marine One across the Potomac to Virginia and land at the Pentagon. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the MIM 104 Patriot surface to air missile system. Forget about the Shockers, we're talking shock and awe! And unless West Virginia, Memphis or Florida has developed nuclear capability, I don't see how George Mason can lose. Nevada I might be worried about, but they went out in the first round.
So here is the winner and champion of the 2006 Battle of the Bracket Mascots, the George Mason University Patriots! They might struggle against the Division III champion Ithaca College Bombers, though.