by Jon Worley
I like spinach. But I don't like the flat-leaf, squishy spinach that they grow in California's Central Valley. You know, the spinach that you find every day in the grocery store.
I like the old broad and crinkly-leaf spinach of my youth. The kind I grew up with. The kind that needs cool temperatures during its growing season and thus is completely incompatible with the weather in the Central Valley.
So I'm at my happiest when the old school spinach shows up in my local farmer's market. Late March to early May is the usual spring spinach season, and mid-September to late November is the fall season. Winter never arrived in these here parts, so the spinach showed up last week. Hurrah!
Wait a minute. I'm writing a about spinach (not to mention the kale that was about the be the subject of this paragraph)? Spinach? When my beloved Missouri Tigers just pounded the Big 12 into submission on three consecutive days in Kansas City and set itself up for a possible national title run?
I must be out of my mind. As I wrote earlier this year, this particular Tiger team has rekindled my love for basketball (not unlike the way a certain former Harvard point guard has revitalized the love for basketball within the hearts of the Knicks fans who have paid good money for years to watch something that's not quite basketball). Missouri passes and shoots and scraps and runs other teams into the ground. This is a team of seven players, a tight end and scrubs who would have a hard time making the team at Towson (who finished 1-31 this year) or Binghamton (ranked #344 out of 344 teams in the NCAA RPI). Yes, those seven players are all very good, but this team shouldn't be 30-4. It just shouldn't.
And yet, it is. Missouri is 30-4 and champions of their final Big 12 tournament. After watching Saturday's dismantling of Baylor in the final, one wonders what an SEC final of Kentucky vs. Missouri would have been like. Of course, in four weeks we just might find out in New Orleans.
Missouri fans aren't used to this sort of excellence. Oh sure, we go into every game thinking, "We can win this." And then we worry all game about how we're going to lose. Despite plenty of conference titles and good-to-excellent teams, Missouri has never made it to a Final Four. This year, we kinda expect to get there.
Not every Missouri fan has made this transition. My wife still settles in for games with the usual "It's early. We have plenty of time to screw this up" attitude that is pervasive among the Mizzou faithful. She hasn't watched this team enough. Thanks to modern technology, I have.
Last summer, my employer gave everyone an iPad. ostensibly for work purposes (and it does enable me to check my work e-mail at home, something that my work server does not allow with my home desktop), but mostly for fun. This winter I've been using the Watch ESPN app to catch up on games that I've missed (the Big 12 Network is an ESPN gig, so all of those games are available on the app). Also, our cable company pissed us off for the last time in October, so we switched. Now we get essentially the same package for $30 less a month, AND we get a DVR.
DVR is so sweet. I can record Caps games and then watch them in about an hour after everyone else has gone to bed. The way the Caps have been playing this season, many of those "rewinds" have passed in fifteen minutes or less. The Missouri games, however, have been savored like a well-aged beer. Though I did erase the loss at Kansas, even though it was a fabulous game. I had to toss it because it was too painful to see the listing in my recorded programs folder.
Yes, it's March Madness season, and I'm going all in. For the first time ever, Missouri has a team that can win the national title. Sure, one injury or a game against a team with good guards and tough big men could derail that. One national columnist said Missouri has as much chance to win it all as anyone, but that the Tigers are also the high seed most likely to lose in the early rounds.
I agree, and that's fine. 'Cause that's how Missouri fans roll. Missouri fans of my generation remember Northern Iowa and Rhode Island, who booted quality Tiger teams in the first round. We expect to lose, so any win is a bonus. You could compare us to Cubs fans, but at least the Cubs have won a World Series (though maybe not during the lifetimes of most fans). Yep, we're ready for whatever comes. The season has spring. Spinach is overflowing. Let the games begin.
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