This is it. We are here.
Oh, and here’s a disclaimer before we get going: I don’t care much about those play-in games in the NCAA Tournament — or whatever it is they call them now.
Anyhow, this is it. We are here.
On Thursday afternoon at about 12:15 p.m. on the East Coast, the most exhilarating four days in succession on the sports calendar will get going when an official tosses up a jump ball between combatants representing The Ohio State University and The University of Dayton at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
My, what a time.
My, what excitement.
And, my, it doesn’t get any better than what happens from Thursday through Sunday.
Not the Super Bowl. Not the World Series. Not any golf major, the World Cup, the Indianapolis 500, the BCS, Kentucky Derby, the NBA Finals or even the Stanley Cup Finals.
For me, the opening four days of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one clump of the most sensational span of time on the yearly sports itinerary.
And it might not be close. I will take it over anything.
How else would we have been introduced to Richmond over Syracuse?
Who can forget Pete Carril’s disheveled hair and look of disbelief after his Princeton team beat defending champ UCLA?
Remember Hampton? And Norfolk State? And Coppin State right here in Pittsburgh at the old Civic Arena?
It isn’t just about heavy upsets, either. There are invariably those near misses for the heavy favorites and those down-to-the-wire games that have you ebbing and flowing with each basket, turnover, timeout and tweet of the referee whistle.
In the opening 36 hours alone, one can plop down on their couch — or saddle into their favorite barstool — and with the advent of the CBS network platforms covering each game live in totality, digest every minute from whatever of the 32 games you want.
Ain’t life grand?
We have come a long way with the technology, but one thing has remained constant since the tournament went to 64 (and now more) teams: These next four days are something that brings us all together. They are also something to cherish.
Everyone who has even a semblance of interest in the NCAA tournament has a story of the lengths they went to in order to make sure they didn’t miss those afternoon games while they were still school kids. For me and my crew — who were absolutely willing to risk punishment for short-term glory — there was a natural progression as we made our way from junior high and then to high school.
In high school, you could just skip school; in junior high, you had to go but let ingenuity rule.
In junior high, we all cut class and huddled inside a bathroom and watched a game or two on one of those handheld Casio televisions that one of the rich kids owned.
We let him be our friend that day because, well, he was the rich kid with the Casio handheld television.
If memory serves, it was in that junior high bathroom — and on that tiny TV screen — we all huddled around to see Pitt freshman Tim Glover unspeakably hit four 3-pointers to push the Panthers past Georgia in a tournament game.
We cared little that imminent detention awaited. At that age, we weren’t going to miss a Pitt tournament game.
In high school, things got easier as you could just flat-out skip school.
And we did.
We would go in the morning to homeroom where attendance was taken to ensure that we could be eligible for baseball practice that day, then duck out of school and be back at a few strokes before 3. From there, it was baseball practice until 5 or so, then right back to one of our houses where would bunker down and watch the night games. That happened on Thursday and Friday.
On Saturday and Sunday, quite obviously, there was no school.
So on Saturday and Sunday of that first weekend of the tournament, quite obviously, we didn’t move much.
That was the schedule back then for me.
Now, years later, I will still be sure to have that television on all weekend, starting at 12:15 in the afternoon on Thursday and miss the minimum that I have to from that time all the way straight through Sunday night.
I know I’m not alone.
For me, the next four days brings the most exciting clump on the sports schedule. Really, I don’t know if anything comes close.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.