Basketball Americana: A poetic ode to March Madness

(Photo courtesy NCAA March Madness Facebook)

(Photo courtesy NCAA March Madness Facebook)

Rugged, street-wise boys jostle and juke

On an urban playground.

The rubber sphere pounds rhythmically

On the sun-baked asphalt

And whips around the perimeter, then bouncing, bouncing,

Fired airborne

Spinning off the wooden backboard, it curls around

And through a creaky, rusty rim

Chinking the dangling metal chain.

Dusk falls gently upon the frenetic scene,

Casting shadows that pirouette and leap gracefully.

Young, athletic frames that crash recklessly.

Crackling voices shriek then snarl,

Sweat drips from their brows.

And another soft-touch shot lets fly in the sultry heat.


Half-a-continent away

The growling of a tractor,

Buried in a vast sea of yellow grain echoes

As a skinny lad hones his silky-smooth release.

Lining up exactly fifteen steps from his cylindrical target,

He toes the heel-cut furrow

Carved into the frozen soil.

He bounces. Takes in a lung-full of musty air.


Arches the limp-wristed one-hander

And the leather rock floats gently and

Settles in the tattered net.

The harsh wind chaps his dry lips

And he pushes up another rainbow into the blue-gray sky.


In a well-lighted Den,

As the world slumbers

Twenty-four thundering hooves

Lumber down the hardwood.

A silver-maned taskmaster paces,

Screaming himself hoarse, prodding his boys

Whose faces twist with pain

Whose hearts burn with survival.


On the Coast, in a dank gym

Where the sun does not penetrate

A short, plump, excitable ringmaster stands amid giants

Wagging his tongue

Invoking Thomas Jefferson

Glibly breathing life into tales of lore and tradition

Ghosts that roam that hallowed court.

The boys nod while visions of glory prance in their heads.

They huddle up, hand atop trembling, sweaty hand and shout:



The unharnessed ride begins:

A 67-game, three-week, unscripted adventure,

To the Peak of a Roundball Everest,

An uncharted journey and zany hoopfest.

Sixty-eight graciously invited

To the Big Dance, to waltz with the Best.

March Madness.


The unharnessed ride begins:

A 67-game, three-week, unscripted adventure,

To the Peak of a Roundball Everest,

An uncharted journey and zany hoopfest.

Sixty-eight graciously invited

To the Big Dance, to waltz with the Best.

March Madness.

Wide-eyed anticipation and youthful exuberance abound.

Christmas Eve-excitement.

Lofty expectations orbit the stars

As The Maestro orchestrates the dizzying, breathless action

From his mighty throne in Hoop Heaven.

From site-to-site, bracket-to-bracket.

All seeds are planted

Straddling the hairbreadth strand between

Elimination and Exaltation.

Everlasting bonds link dreamers, focused on one goal.


Tipping off in Dayton,

The 68 teams fling themselves, arms interlocked, into the Fury.

Play-in, Play-out.

A gentle tap, a touch-pass, a turnaround jumper.

NBA-range 3-pointers,

A beautiful backdoor layup, an alley-oop that electrifies a crowd.

Finger-rolls, teardrops, furious rallies, thrilling finishes, buzzer-beaters.

Unlikely heroes catapulted from anonymity to national stardom.

Elation and devastation juxtaposed on the stage.

Twelves upset Fives; But is it really an upset?

Fate embraces its favorite sons.

Cinderella steps into her glass slipper.


Over the course a few days, the field is sliced in half.

Half move on, thrilled to live to play another day.

Half schlep themselves back home, dreams crushed.

At homes and barstools around the country,

Fans are glued to TV screens, flipping between channels

Hoping to be entertained and have memories burned in their hard drives.

Their brackets are busted and tattered.

Sportswriters scramble to make deadlines,

Seeking to chronicle living basketball history.


A deft, no-look pass, a hustling pickpocket, a weave through traffic.

Fist-bumping, arm-thrusting, a tongue-lashing.

Three-point missiles fired, rippling the twine.

Anxious cheerleaders, delirious fans.

Zealots in war paint stand and scream.

The waning seconds trickle off the clock.

A shot rims out.

Agony. Disbelief. Shock. Pandemonium.

Unknowns captivate a nation.

Sweet Sixteen.


Destiny darlings wreak havoc,

Miracle finishes.

Some Davids pummel Goliath.

Some Goliaths crush Davids.

Staring foes straight in the eyes

And not blinking.

The Elite Eight.


A dapper coach loosens his tie

And feels like losing his lunch.

An erratic spurt, a slim margin.

Three, two, one …

The dream is over. Tears roll down flushed cheeks.

The dream continues.

The Final Four.


A charismatic cast of characters spinning their stories

Reaching their destination,

Contributing pieces to the championship puzzle.

Thrilled but not satisfied.

Only one will be left standing.

Frenetic pace in slow motion.

From the placid locker room the underdogs emerge

Through the dark tunnel onto the hardwood stage

Bathed in blinding lights that splash down from the rafters

Of a cavernous dome, soon to be filled.

The crowd erupts,

Nerves are brittle, throats raw.

Two benches: a portrait of serenity in the eye of a hurricane.

Two forces teeter on the brink of extinction or immortality.

The 67-act play winds down

One champion.

Millions of memories.

March Madness.

The American Dream.


Jeff Call has covered BYU sports since 1993, including the past 16 years for the Deseret News. He, his wife and six sons live in Cedar Hills.

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