Defining Madness: Feeling Good About Feeling Bad

Jeff WaddingtonContributor IMarch 17, 2009

The 2009 NCAA basketball championship begins Thursday and if you're like me, you agree that the next three weeks represent "must-see TV." But what makes it that way? Why do so many of us embrace this event with such passion that we take sick days away from the office to watch 18-22 year old kids play basketball?

Of course, there are a multitude of reasons—the office pools and social gatherings, the possibility of David taking down Goliath, our own school allegiances. But, for many of us, it goes much deeper. defines "madness" as: 1) the state of being mad; insanity, 2) senseless folly, 3) frenzy; rage, 4) intense excitement or enthusiasm. We call it March Madness for our own reasons—what are yours?

We all see the highlights every year during the tournament broadcasts, but which moment connects with you the most? Does it go back as far as 1976 when Indiana completed the last undefeated season with a national championship?

How about in 1983 when the late Jim Valvano led North Carolina State on what might be the greatest run in tournament history, capped by upsetting Houston for a national title?

Or maybe it was last year, when Mario Chalmers' clutch 3-point shot lifted Kansas to their first national championship since Danny and the Miracles in 1988?

My personal journey into this madness began on December 27, 1986. I was 16 years old and to this point, I was more concerned about chasing girls than watching college basketball. On holiday break from school and bored out of my mind, I was flipping through the channels at my grandparents house when it happened: Kentucky vs. Louisville.

Or, more specifically, Rex Chapman vs. Louisville. I was mesmerized by Chapman, having never seen anyone shoot and jump with such grace before. He had 26 points that day, including five 3-pointers and I was hooked. I jumped in with both feet and became a huge fan of Rex Chapman and, by default, Kentucky basketball.

I treasured the following year, my senior year of high school, watching from afar as "my" Wildcats put together a tremendous season with Chapman leading the way. But I must have been enjoying it a little too much because the basketball gods decided to knock me down a peg or two.

When the season ended, Rex Chapman elected to enter the NBA draft and the program was put on probation after the Chris Mills incident. Admittedly, I was bruised but I wasn't beaten.

The following year was my penance, I guess (and Eddie Sutton's too) and after an excruciating 13-19 campaign, Kentucky was in search of it's basketball savior.

I had no idea who Rick Pitino was at that time, but my support never wavered.  I wanted to see this tradition-rich program get back to where it belonged as the king of the mountain.

The teams that Kentucky fielded during the first couple of years under Pitino would lay the foundation for what was to come and the speed of the turnaround that Pitino engineered has always been remarkable to me.

His teams in those early years consistently overachieved with players like John Pelphrey, Deron Feldhaus, and Richie Farmer and I was more committed than ever to cheering for the 'Cats because of guys like that.

The culmination of my plunge happened on March 28, 1992. It was my senior year of college and I was riveted to the television, alone in my apartment, as Kentucky and Duke slugged it out at the Spectrum in Philadelphia with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

In all reality, Kentucky probably shouldn't have been within 10 points of Duke that year. But with 2.1 seconds on the clock and Duke having to inbound the ball the length of the court, I started to believe.

When that shot by Christian Laettner went through the basket as time expired, I felt as if someone had ripped my heart out—it was one of the worst feelings I had ever had and something that I'm still not over to this day (if I see the replay during the tournament broadcasts, I will turn away).

But that game defines this madness: The emotional roller coaster is what makes this tournament the greatest event in sports. It's why we watch. So embrace your madness and enjoy the trip. New memories are right around the corner.