To whom it may concern:
The madness is upon us.
I have seen the madness and all the damage it has done. I have seen it inflict others and have watched it spread slowly. I’ve seen the wide range of symptoms that a person exhibits when overcome by the madness — from delightful delirium down to the depths of dreadful depression.
There is no stopping the madness. It’s wildly contagious, and you can only sit back and enjoy while it sweeps you up. It only lasts for a month anyway. As soon as you are stricken by the madness, it coughs you up, leaves you behind and promises not to return for a whole year. And all you can do is sit there, alone, waiting for the madness to return.
There is an air of mystery surrounding the madness. For some inexplicable reason, people always remember where they were when the madness came. And how they felt after it struck them like a lightning bolt.
I’ve watched the madness sweep over its unsuspecting victims, and I’ve witnessed all the unpredictable forms it can take, recalling the memory of where I was each time.
The madness first struck me in 1992, when I had the fortune of watching my first Division I college basketball game at the NCAA Regional Finals in Lexington, Ky. I saw five young freshmen in baggy shorts and black socks change college basketball.
As a 9-year-old boy from North Dakota — as far away from the madness as possible — I shouldn’t have cared. But the madness swallowed me. From my seats behind the pep band, I fell in love with a team, a fight song, a school, even the band itself. The madness inflicted me, and I couldn’t have been happier.
But that weekend reminds me just how cruel the madness can be. Outside a hotel bar in Kentucky, I watched the madness crush the spirits of locals, when the image of Christian Laettner’s improbable overtime buzzer-beater appeared on their TV screens. What had been a night full of raucous excitement immediately transformed into deathly silence. The madness had been there and left.
From then on, I waited every year for the madness to reappear, and I can recollect each time vividly.
I remember 1998, when Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew nailed a miracle 3-pointer to beat Mississippi. I was hiding out in my mother’s big, empty board room at her law firm. She had given me the green light to skip school, since the madness was simply too strong to resist that day.
I was running back and forth between my dorm room and my neighbor’s room at Bursley Hall the night Jason Williams missed a game-tying free throw against Indiana in 2002, halting Duke’s chances at a repeat championship. I kept the television off in my room because I knew the madness would prevent me from finishing my Stats 350 assignment. Just as expected, the madness got in the way.
And I was there in 1999, way up high in the Tropicana Dome, when Connecticut beat Duke for its first national championship in the greatest game I have seen in person. The madness was so strong that night that even I felt like a Huskies fan.
But the madness is not all fuzzy, happy thoughts. That’s what it wants you to think. As that eerie night in Kentucky reminds me, the madness is sometimes your worst enemy.
Like in 1993. I was still in love with the Fab Five. But, alone in my basement, shooting a mini-basketball at a mini-hoop plastered to the wall, I replayed Chris Webber’s call for a timeout he didn’t have over and over in my head. Sleep escaped me that night, and I wouldn’t have that much trouble sleeping until I was a sophomore in high school, the night I broke up with my first girlfriend.
The madness doesn’t always confuse and anger you like an ex-girlfriend. Sometimes, you expect anger and all you get is the disappointed sigh of a parent. Like in 2003. My father, a Kansas alum tried and true, flew the family to New Orleans, where the Jayhawks were supposed to win it all.
The madness played with him most of the night, until it finally disappeared and swept over the Syracuse fans that were celebrating their first national championship. The old man was left sad and exhausted from his battle against the madness, and I was left to console him. Until I realized that the madness had hit me that night, too, and I needed my share of consolation as well. We sat there in the upper deck of the Superdome, watching the madness swirl around the champions, wondering what could have been.
You cannot predict who the madness will inflict and how it will infect them. But you will remember when it hits, and where you were when it did. That’s why, Professor ____________, I recommend you excuse ________ ________ from your class on Thursday/Friday (circle one). The madness could be at its strongest these days, and I cannot guarantee a safe learning environment should it hit. Like I said, the most we can do is just sit back and enjoy it.
Josh Holman wants to hear where you were when you were hit by the madness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org