Note: Chuck Klosterman is in Atlanta covering the Final Four for Page 2. Check back all day for more updates.
LAST UPDATED: 12:38 a.m.
SUNDAY: Trying to survive a rainy Sunday
SATURDAY: Game day
THURSDAY: Final Four prep
Monday, 11:13 a.m.
ATLANTA -- I prefer to watch sporting events without a predetermined rooting interest; I always enjoy games more when I can arbitrarily decide who I want to pull for while the action is happening in real time. I just want the outcome to be close (oddly, I feel the same way whenever I watch results roll in during political elections). Yet I realize most Americans aren't like this. I've received a lot of feedback from people who keep asking me different versions of the same abstract question: "I don't care about either squad in tonight's game. As such, whom should I cheer for?"
It would seem like the obvious answer would be geography -- you could simply root for whatever school is physically closer to your home, even though that principle has never made any sense and never will. The unique problem is that Florida's location makes this inherently unfair; most of America is closer to Columbus than it is to Gainesville. Moreover, being in relative proximity to a certain school might make you like it less. You might suffer from media fatigue. For example, do people in a town like Cincinnati love OSU, or do they find the Buckeyes extra repugnant? Does the sheer size of such a massive public university bleed into the surrounding areas (and -- if so -- what is the emotive impact)? Amazingly, it appears I am not the only person trying to answer this question.
There is also the (always weird) principle of "rooting for the conference." If you are the kind of person who loves Auburn, there are those who would suggest that conference loyalty requires your allegiance to fall with any club representing the Southeastern Conference. There are some who even apply this to pro sports, which seems absolutely insane (I know a Vikings fan who rooted for Chicago in the last Super Bowl, somehow arguing that a Bears win would "reflect well on the NFC North"). Now, I can understand how this policy could make sense if one of tonight's teams were a mid-major, but it strikes me as idiotic when applied to juggernaut conferences like the SEC or the Big Ten. I was recently talking about this with a Penn State graduate (and the author of this book) who thinks that rooting for one's home conference is actually a sign of disloyalty. He would argue that the responsibility of someone from Michigan or Indiana is to hate Ohio State all the time, particularly when it's playing a championship game on national television.
I suppose the crux of this issue for any unconnected basketball fans comes down to philosophy: Are you the kind of person who always feels the better team deserves to win, or are you the kind of person who always prefers to see an underdog overcome adversity? How you answer that question should make it pretty clear whom you should be supporting this evening, as well as define every other aspect of your entire personality in about 400 different ways.
Monday, 2:49 p.m.
Perhaps you have long dreamed of attending an NCAA Final Four and you are wondering what it is like to experience the pre-tip atmosphere of a city engorged with collegiate hoop fever. Here is the answer: It's kind of like walking around a big outdoor mall, except the only items for sale are unusually expensive T-shirts.
Prior to this weekend, the last major sporting event I attended was the 2006 Super Bowl. The atmosphere surrounding that affair was substantially different. (Granted, part of that had to do with the weather -- the game took place in February and was held in Detroit. Still, it remained relatively warm there, probably from all the burning warehouses.) Before a Super Bowl, the entire host community spends two weeks promoting the civic, symbolic import of the game, which -- perhaps inevitably -- always ends up seeming like an inconvenient afterthought. The game itself underwelms. But you know what attending the Final Four feels like? It feels like going to three college basketball games. The teams are great and the enthusiasm is apparent, but no one around here is trying to convince the rest of society that the success of these basketball games has anything to do with the success of "Atlanta" as a whole.
(Sidebar: However, there ARE a lot of people around here trying to convince me of the success of Coke Zero. Is this the first time a major marketing scheme has been built around the notion of a corporation pretending to be in competition with itself? This seems like a clever idea. I think I'm going to buy commercial airtime on CBS tonight and run some vitriolic attack ads against myself.)
One surprise: There is very little drinking going on here. I'm certain there are more public drunkards in Savannah right now than there are in the ATL (at least per capita). You couldn't even buy beer at the Georgia Dome during Saturday night's games, much to the disappointment of all the people who purchased club-level tickets specifically for that purpose. All things considered, Atlanta has been a surprisingly uncrazy city; some of the taxis even have signs that warn of a $250 penalty for anyone who pukes inside a cab. Such a policy would never work in New York, where vomit is generally accepted as legitimate currency.
Monday, 8:49 p.m.
I am reticent to write about the physical appearance of female sports broadcasters, simply because that seems like the most obviously sexist element of media criticism that still happens all the time. Within any bar or tavern, there is inevitably a certain kind of guy who seems obsessed with the relative foxiness of various TV sideline personalities, inevitably delivering backhanded "compliments" to Erin Andrews or Melissa Stark or whoever happens to be on-screen. It is my intention to avoid doing this. However, I am going to momentarily suspend that rule to make the following statement: I am amazed by how similar most female TV journalists look in real life, particularly when they are huddled in the same general area. This is marginally true at the national level, but it's remarkably true at the local affiliate level: They all seem to be the same height, shop at the same stores, buy the same hair products and possess identical skeletal frames. They're not necessarily clones, but they share these nonspecific, intangible, desperately unifying qualities that almost seem like political statements about why television exists. It would not be accurate to say they resemble the women from Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video because that's not how it is; it would be more apt to say they have been genetically engineered by a fanatical advocate of Priscilla Presley and the first two The Human League albums. This could theoretically be perceived as "hot," I suppose, but also mildly disconcerting.
It's roughly 32 minutes before tip-off. I am in the media area of the Georgia Dome, which is located on the facility's main floor. This might be hard to visualize when you're watching on TV, but the basketball court takes up hardly any space inside the Dome; if the football field were still in place, the removable wooden hoops court would be running horizontally at (roughly) the 30-yard line near (what I believe to be) the east end zone. To create the illusion of intimacy, there is a huge black partition at roughly midfield, and everything west of that partition is designated for media. In other words, the space provided for reporters and broadcasters is infinitely larger than the game itself. I suppose I could argue this is some kind of metaphor for modernity, but why bother? You're not an idiot.
They tell me I'm going to be seated at midcourt tonight, which means I will not be sending posts during the game (Wi-Fi doesn't really work at courtside because of the traffic). I will try to send something at halftime. Meanwhile, here is what the newspaper guys are talking about while they wait for the game to commence ...
• Newspaper awards nobody else knows about.
• Other newspaper writers they hate.
• Golf. It seems that many, many of these men played 18 holes of golf this morning/afternoon. Here is a complete list of things that are more boring to overhear than people talking about their golf games:
1. Overlooked principles of modern flossing.
2. Anybody's baby shower.
3. The social history of margarine.
4. "Lost," assuming you've never seen one episode of "Lost."
5. Other people's golf games.
• "Feeding the goat," "Feeding the monster" and "banging it out." These are all nonsexual aphorisms for writing stories.
• The fact that this game doesn't start until 9:21 p.m. I must agree that this is ridiculous.
• Dontrelle Willis and Mitt Romney (although not at the same time).
• "Do you know ____?"
"Oh yeah. He's a great guy. He can be a prick, though."
"Oh yeah, absolutely. Great guy, though."
"Oh yeah, absolutely."
[repeat conversation with new person]
• The sinking suspicion that Florida might win this game in a blowout.
Monday, 10:27 p.m. (halftime)
There is a scene in "Glengarry Glen Ross" where Alec Baldwin takes off his wristwatch in front of Ed Harris and says, "You see this watch? This watch costs more than your car." Billy Donovan could do that to nearly every person I have ever met. It looks as though he has half the Aztec civilization wrapped around his left forearm. This might be the nicest watch I've ever seen.
[I am directly behind the Gators bench. These very tall fellows don't sit very much.]
[Also, the UF cheerleaders are sporting an inordinate number of white ribbons in their collective hairdos. These little ladies are totally ready for Easter Sunday.]
Thoughts on the game: It seems as if there is a different man on Greg Oden every time he touches the ball, but he still keeps trying to kick it back out to the perimeter. He needs to be more selfish because the only guy who can effectively bang with him is Al Horford (Oden can drag Noah and his ponytail wherever he wants). Ohio State has to force the rock down to the block and just take it to the glass, lest Florida open up too much of a lead (simply by hitting the treys that are naturally generated from the Gators' half-court set). Judging from the posture of its bench players, it's pretty clear UF is already ultra-confident; I really don't think the Buckeyes can come back against these dudes. Even 11 points might be too much.
The floor is now filled with a bunch of rifle-wielding Marines. Are bayonets still a significant tool of modern warfare? If the enemy is close enough for stabbing, I fear the terrorists have already won.
Tuesday, 12:38 a.m. (postgame)
It's difficult to conclude these little bloggity blogs. This is not because it's so emotional but simply because I have no control over the narrative: The game ended, a lot of trippy crap fell from the ceiling, and I walked back to my hotel through Olympic Park, amid the bootleg t-shirts and the lonely children begging for ticket stubs. There was no chaos or car burning or Girls Gone Wild; it was just a lot of face-painted people walking downtown in orderly fashion, wondering aloud whether this was the last game Billy Donovan will coach for Florida and where they could find free drinks to make them not care about that possibility. I have nothing of value to add to this scenario. In fact, I was just going to write the words "Chomp chomp" and disappear into the night, secretly fearing I might have just wasted everyone's time for 10,000 words.
But then I received this e-mail ...
"I know you must get plenty of half-crazy e-mails from three-quarters crazy people taking exception to the smallest, most innocuous statements in your columns. But ... the social history of margarine is fascinating.
"For the 19th and much of the early 20th century, margarine -- or oleo, as it was known -- was colored pink or blue or all kinds of bizarre colors because many states (especially states like Ohio with strong dairy lobbies) argued that margarine-makers were trying to deceive consumers into thinking it was butter. But then margarine companies started selling separate food coloring so people could make their own yellow margarine. During wartime, margarine was often much cheaper than butter. (Even today, economics textbooks cite margarine and butter as the classic 'complimentary goods' which, in a true free market, should provide competition.)
"The social history of margarine is a microcosm of the broader, deeper conflicts that arose as the United States evolved from an agrarian to an industrial society. But perhaps you know all this, and that's why you made the joke. Still, I'd much rather talk about margarine than golf."
My efforts have not been in vain.
Chomp chomp. Chomp chomp? Perhaps.
Chuck Klosterman is the author of "Fargo Rock City," the essay collection "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs," "Killing Yourself to Live: 85 Percent of a True Story" and the anthology "Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas." He can (sometimes) be reached at email@example.com