Sunday, February 1, 2004

March Madness weeks away, but I'm already mad

Peter Bronson

"Arizona! Cincinnati! East Lansing! YEAAAAAAGH!!!''

No, that's not Howard "Mad Dog'' Dean doing his fist-jabbing, foam-at-the-mouth, Deaniac meltdown in Iowa. That's me on the couch on a quiet evening, with a crippling case of March Madness in January. Call it my January Jihad. February Frenzy. Or just call it what it is:

Ref Rage.

I have it. Bad.

I start out as calm as a casket commercial. Make some popcorn. Grab a soda. Flip on the game - and then, suddenly, I turn into Deranged Dad, biting my tongue like a guy having seizures, shouting mild curses and extravagant threats like a Soccer Mom, waving my arms like a traffic cop at Daytona, going psycho like - well, like Howard Dean.

The family dog runs upstairs to hide under a bed. My frightened family politely suggests, "Your team is 30 points behind, can we watch something else?''

"NOOOOOO,'' I yell. "That's a FOUL!''

I blame it all on the guys in the striped shirts.

In the typical game, the players could use commando knives, stun grenades and assault weapons in the first half, and they might get a stern warning. Then, once the game has deteriorated into a bare-knuckle brawl that would embarrass pro wrestling promoters, the refs come out in the second half to "take control." They do this by blowing their whistles like a car-theft alarm.

OK, so the fouls are supposed to "balance out," the announcers always condescendingly tell us when they are not too busy hyping the next episode of Baywatch Crime Scene Survivor to mention who just picked up the foul.

I suppose asking me about "balance'' is like asking Pete Rose to expound on "truth." But I have seen more college basketball games than sunsets. I have studied college basketball much harder than college textbooks. And I feel as qualified as anyone to say this about "balance'':

Hooey! Balderdash! Folderol! YEEEEEEEEAGH!

It doesn't balance out. As any fan can testify at the top of his lungs, the fouls are lopsided and stroke-inducingly unfair.

I'm not saying the games are fixed. It's obvious they are not fixed because the officiating is still broken.

No, it's something a lot more sinister and corrupt than mere bribes or Las Vegas odds. After years of unscientific research in front of the TV with Billy Packer and Dick Vitale, I have discovered that the officials always call a lot more fouls on a certain type of team, and also ignore the fouls against that certain type of team.

I'm talking about my team.

I don't know how coaches can stand it without going off like a Daisy Cutter in a volcano on the Fourth of July.

When I was watching the felony hoop-abuse of UC by Louisville recently, I saw Tony Bobbitt make a lay-up, then fly horizontally into the crowd, backwards. Unless he is majoring in transcendental levitation, he was pushed. And that's a foul.

Sure enough, the replay showed two Louisville players shoving him into the cheap seats like bouncers throwing Michael Jackson out of a day-care center.

But no foul.

No wonder the coach's lips turn blue. Just look at the stuff that comes out of them.

I've had enough. One more Howard Dean impersonation and I will lose to the family dog in a primary race for president of the TV remote. No more basketball and popcorn for me. I'm switching to basketball and Prozac.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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