Cinderella Fever is Why March Makes Us Mad

John HowellAnalyst IMarch 6, 2009

There's more to life than sports for sure, but there's more to sports than sports. There's a lot of real life in sports.

March Madness is an American obsession because it highlights the fact that spirituality, psychology, and even irrational belief can trump size, talent, and win/loss records. These dynamics and principles can be useful in the quest for success and victory at various levels and in various arenas in life.

Any sports fan knows there's a reason the "worst" team vs. the "best" team still have to play the game. There is a reason why upsets occur—more often than we might think—and why sports pundits and odds makers who ignore the intangible factors in a match up do so at their peril.

The United States was born from a David and Goliath conflict. It continues to be the haven and best hope for underdogs of all kinds from all places.

Even in our current economy and post-9/11 reticence to welcome immigrants, there's no place of greater welcome or opportunity for the person who's down on their luck, or who has chosen to fly in the face of the odds and pull on Superman's cape.

Especially now in the current economy, when more of us feel like the underdog, feel powerless, defeated for facing defeat in other aspects of our life, March Madness not only provides an escape, but an opportunity for vicarious redemption.

The fascination with the Cinderella teams is almost a religious fascination with miracles, with "salvation history" (stories of Cinderellas of yesteryear), and with small or obscure teams that overachieve.

These Cinderellas succeed either by playing temporarily, inexplicably over their heads for a series of games, or find outside-of-the-box strategies to rattle and stymie the heavy favorite—just as David, wielding his slingshot, was so unsettling to Goliath despite his superior size, strength, and the weight of his armor.

Yes, it applies to sports as a starting point, but only a starting point. We achieve success, redemption, revenge, justification, and vindication whenever our underdog sports surrogates beat the favorites, the point spread, and all rational expectations to achieve the unimaginable.

After vicarious success, comes real, personal, and collective success.

The more low-seeded teams that advance even one round in the NCAA Tournament, the better all of us feel about our chances to win in the stock market or the job market, despite the current state of both—or even in the relationship market.

The further one or two such teams progress, the greater the sense of possibility, faith, optimism, and empowerment experienced by millions of fans. At the risk of taking the metaphor too far, it is possible that should a 16th or 12th or eighth seeded team win the national title, it could be such a shot of confidence for the nation that we'd have an immediate recovery on Wall Street.

The fact is that Cinderella may be able to do more for the economy on a basketball court than the President can do.

All the more reason to purchase caps and T-shirts for Sienna, Gonzaga, Buffalo, Cornell, or Weber State this year.