Defending champion Burke’s Mom filled out her March Madness bracket the other day, which, I assure you, took longer for her to do than it did to give birth, toiling with pencil in hand to beat Thursday’s noon deadline.
“Why didn’t you do this last night?” I asked.
“I wasn’t sure about a couple of things,” she said. “I had to sleep on it.”
Yes, last year my mother was the big winner here at the Times-News, which, if you know my mother, you know is something that has rarely come up in conversation through the course of the past year. No, not much it hasn’t.
Of course, it’s not much different at work either. Last year, for instance, the day after the field of 68 was drawn, Gary, the gentleman who conducts the brackets here, had one waiting for me on my desk when I came to work.
“That was nice of him,” I remember thinking. “I had better get one for Mom,” who had made a good run at the title the year before.
So I go to composing for the morning cup of Joe and I see Gary.
“I left a bracket on your desk,” he says.
“Yeah, thanks,” I say. “May I have another one?”
“You’re filling one out?” he asks.
“Are you going to fill one out?”
“Yeah,” I say. “But I want to get another one for my mother.”
“The one I left on your desk is for your mother.”
This year as I was turning in the brackets, Lynn, another co-worker, said, “You’re playing two this year ...”
“No,” I said, “one’s mine and one’s my mother’s.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Lynn said in recollection. “One year, didn’t she ...”
“Yes,” I said shortly. “Last year.”
This year my mother actually buzzed through the early rounds of her bracket, and as she eliminated certain teams she doesn’t much care for she let go with some “ha’s!” the way a rampaging Godzilla would as he stomps on annoying little cities and armies that dare get in his way.
“Sorry K,” she said as she selected Michigan State over Duke. “No, I’m not.”
“Out you go, Roy.”
“Not crazy about UCLA anymore, either.”
Then she came to Louisville.
“I can’t stand Louisville,” she said as though she were the mayor of Lexington.
“I’m not crazy about them,” I said.
“Pitino gives my (arse) a pain,” she said.
Apparently, though, not enough for her to keep Little Ricky and the Cardinals out of the Final Four, as she took them to beat Michigan State in the Midwest final.
“I can’t stand it,” she said. “It gives me a headache.”
On the other side of the bracket she has Florida beating UCLA, then Georgetown and Kansas to win the South Region. Apparently there were no vendettas for her to settle in the East or West regions, as she very quietly put Miami and Gonzaga into her Final Four along with Louisville and Florida.
My mother’s great struggle, though, came with her Miami-Florida semifinal match-up, as she put down Miami, erased it, then put it down again. On the other side, she simply shook her head as she wrote Louisville into the final.
She looked at me and said, “What?!”
“I can’t stand Louisville.”
“That’s what I understand.”
Then down came the hammer, as my mother’s national champion would be Miami.
“There,” she said with emphasis.
“That’s the same Final Four I have,” I said, “except I have Florida beating Miami and then Louisville for the title.
“Why do you like Florida?” she asked.
“I’ve just had a feeling about Florida all year,” I say.
“You picked them because their coach (Billy Donovan) reminds you of Scott Bauer,” she said.
“That’s not how I pick,” I said. “I just have a hunch about them.”
My mother drummed the pencil eraser on the table with her thumb about a half-dozen times, then hurriedly erased Miami the way a high school student changes an answer before handing in her math test, writing down Florida to win it all.
“Now if Miami wins, you’re going to regret that,” I say. “We go through this every year.”
“No,” my mother says, “if Miami wins, you’re going to regret it.”
If nothing else, she’s right about that.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org