It goes without saying that the most difficult endeavor anyone takes up at the collegiate level is forming an intramural flag football team. The mere logistics are frightening: finding at least 10 people who can agree to not be drunk for the same two-hour span, one day a week; figuring out what sporting goods store will sell the cheapest pair of cleats and accept their return two months later with no questions asked; rejecting at least two dozen Anchorman references as suggested team names; and, of course, bullying the dude with the lowest opinion of his athletic abilities into playing center.
Take that situation and extrapolate it into creating a college football team from the ground up, and one that’s going to challenge someone other than the Pi Lam dudes. It takes a leader of inordinate energy and charisma, someone with youthful vigor, a strong sense of purpose, a refusal to look the other way when difficulties arise. Obviously, someone like Phil Fulmer.
If you live in ACC country and you follow college basketball, chances are you have some strong opinions about a man named Karl Hess. And chances are, those opinions are negative. Hess is a referee (the same way that Napoleon was in the military), one that was always destined for the grandest stages and the brightest lights. Karl Hess is notorious. Karl Hess is infamous. Karl Hess is KING.
His modus operandi is simple: stealing the spotlight in any and every game he officiates, and making blatantly awful calls in huge situations. His style is so controlling and aesthetically depressing that we're all compelled to notice the man in black and white. Now and again, he pulls off truly spectacular stunts. There was the incident in Raleigh, for instance, when he ejected N.C. State legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the premises for heckling him. In that case, even the head of ACC officials admitted Hess was wrong. This year, Hess managed to line up UConn and Marquette facing the wrong direction at the start of overtime, incorrectly disallowing a UConn basket in a game Marquette would go on to win.
And then Hess (somehow) earned himself a Final Four assignment. When he took the court for Louisville–Wichita State, even I knew something amazing would happen. Cardinal fans were well aware of Hess's legend, having watched him give Rick Pitino a technical for yelling at his own player in the Elite Eight last season. The Shockers were less familiar, but that wouldn't last long.
What better way to celebrate the upcoming Final Four than to bust out another mailbag? I again got a ton of great e-mails, and after sifting through all the ones that were some variation of “I’m a Kansas/Ohio State fan, and I need you to help talk me off the ledge,” I was left with these. Let’s talk a little college basketball, shall we?
While watching The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a promo to hype the Brock/HHH match, I couldn't help but wonder about his self-proclaimed nickname of "Mr. WrestleMania.” Even in professional wrestling, you would think one would have to have an outstanding record to warrant such a lofty nickname. But his record is 6-11, and this includes his matches while he served as the captain of the Rockers.
Is he only Mr. WrestleMania because he has competed at 17 of them? Surely it isn't because of his win-loss record.
Malcolm Armstead was the first one up the ladder. The senior point guard, the one who’d outplayed Aaron Craft all afternoon, made his way up the steps, scissors in hand, and gave a wave to the Wichita State crowd. After the climb down, Armstead tied his prize — a three-inch piece of Staples Center nylon — around the strap in his backward hat, and making his way out the lane, blurted to no one in particular:
“This is real.”
Questioned whether he actually believed that yet, Armstead said that for this team, he’d believe anything. “After everything we’ve been through,” Armstead said, “it’s real. From day one, just talking about the players and their life situations.” One of those situations belongs to Armstead — a transfer from Oregon who came to Wichita State without a scholarship and paid his own way by working part-time at a local car dealership. Carl Hall has his own story. Four years ago, a heart condition that caused more than one on-court collapse had forced him out of basketball. He didn't play for two years, opting for a job on an assembly line in a light bulb factory in Georgia. Eventually, church league games gave him confidence to return to the real thing, and his performance at Northwest Florida State caused Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall to take notice. And now, both Hall and Armstead — and the rest of the Shockers — roamed the Staples Center floor, wearing T-shirts declaring them regional champions, under a scoreboard that read Wichita State 70, Ohio State 66. The Shockers were going to the Final Four.
In case you were busy planning the ultimate prank (hint: you need Krazy Glue, a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and three rubber snakes), here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Despite a gruesome leg injury to reserve forward Kevin Ware, Louisville knocked off Duke, 85-63, to book a spot in the Final Four. "Man, that's the worst thing that I've ever seen on a basketball court," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino at his postgame press conference, "and I'm not talking about the refereeing. Zing. But seriously, I'm just gutted by what I saw today. Really soul-shaking stuff out there. And not just the refereeing — I'm sorry, I just can't stop zinging those guys. I know this isn't the time. Much as it wasn't the time for them to call a foul on every play right after Kevin hurt his leg. Damn it! Must. Stop. Zinging. Refs."
Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears were shocked by the Louisville Cardinals in the regional semifinals of the Women's NCAA Tournament, 82-81. "Can you dunk away the tears?" Griner asked her teammates after the game, before a horrifying wave of loneliness washed over her as she realized she was the only person in the room who could answer that question. Griner was later seen, alone in the deserted Chesapeake Energy Arena, yelling, "I feel nothing!" as she dunked ball after ball through the unguarded nets.
As Aaron Craft dribbled down court last night, with the game tied and 20 seconds remaining, the Staples Center looked it might on any other night. A 4:45 p.m. local start time had meant a slow-arriving, slower-to-settle-in crowd, but by now, the place was mostly full, and everyone was on their feet. Craft took the ball from the top of the key, drew an extra defender, and found sophomore LaQuinton Ross for an open 24-footer on the left wing. With no hesitation, Ross pulled up. The shot went down with just two seconds left, giving Ohio State a 73-70 win and a trip to the Elite Eight, and the Buckeyes crowd, much of it contained directly behind the team’s bench, exploded.
Inside the Ohio State locker room — normally reserved for the Lakers — the scene was like it might be after a big win in March. The nameplates were missing, but the cameras were there. The horde gathered around Craft, his baby face still beet red, but rather than slide on their designer shoes and quickly make for the door, the game’s lesser names all sat hunched over in their chairs and dug into plates full of meatballs, pasta, and chicken. There are only so many free meals.
In case you were busy waiting in line at a food truck for what turned out to be not the best pork buns you've ever eaten, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Syracuse rode a dominant defensive effort into the Elite Eight, upsetting the Indiana Hoosiers, 61-50. "It's a disappointing loss for sure, but we can hold our heads up knowing we went down to one of the best coaches of all time in Jim Boeheim," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean after the game. However, Crean was apparently unaware that Syracuse had replaced Boeheim two years ago with a VHS tape of alumnus Jerry Stiller yelling, "2-3! 2-3! Rotate! Rotate! Come on, boys, get it together," playing on a loop on the sideline.
Marquette continued its impressive tournament run, as Buzz Williams's Golden Eagles knocked out Miami, 71-61. This marks Marquette's first appearance in the Elite Eight since 2003, which means it's time for About Last Night's newest feature: "What Ever Happened To " For our first "What Ever Happened To " we're going to look at former Marquette star Dwyane Wade, who led his team to the 2003 Final Four. It turns out that Wade has been playing basketball professionally with the Miami Heat since his college days. Thus concludes our first episode of "What Ever Happened To " If you have an idea for a long-lost star who you want to track down, leave his or her name in the comments, and we'll look into it for you.
Today is the first of March, and so I wish you a Happy March Day. March Day is the lesser-known cousin of May Day, which is a pagan holiday celebrated on May 1. But March Day is far more important because it means we're getting close to the most essential time of year: The Madness. When 64 become one, all shall be revealed. Hail March Day, for The Madness Is Upon Us.
(If there's ever an apocalypse that wipes out most of humanity, I hope the only thing future societies recover from our time is the paragraph above, with absolutely no context.)
Time for the top 10 games of the weekend. Note that a week from Sunday, the regular season is OVER.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Syracuse got a huge scare from 16-seed UNC-Asheville in the NCAA tournament on Thursday. The Orange only escaped with a 72-65 win after receiving several favorable calls in the second half. "Guess I just had some good karma coming!" said Jim Boeheim, who, for some reason, was lighting a cigar with a $100 bill. In a related story, the last mystical gnome died from pollution yesterday at 5 p.m., and his last words were: "Magic is gone from the world."
VCU! In on them, right? Maybe? At least you probably were last year, when the 11th-seeded Rams toppled NCAA powerhouse Kansas to advance to the Final Four. (They would later lose to the Butler Bulldogs, whom we all liked too, remember?) Anyway, here's the highlight reel from that 2011 Kansas game, which the VCU Department of Something apparently decided to set to "All of the Lights." Of course.
"Where is this Wichita State?" I bet you are not actually asking yourself, because clearly it is in Wichita. (Kansas.) (Not, like, the state of Wichita.) (That is not a state.) (Come on, guys.) Well, if you are really asking, that's OK! For the answer to that question — and the answers to many others about the Shockers — take a look at Shane Ryan's primer, posted on Grantland this February. We quote:
We asked Mark Titus for five predictions before Thursday's March Madness games. Here's what he had to say about tonight's matchups
Half of last year’s Final Four will lose
This year, the most popular 12-over-5 pick seems to be VCU over Wichita State. This might be partially because people don’t know how good Wichita State is, since they haven’t seen the Shockers play. But most likely, it's because of VCU’s run to the Final Four as an 11-seed last year. My guess is that a lot of people figured if the Rams could make it deep into the tournament a season ago, there’s no reason that they can’t win a couple of games this year.
With an emphatic 21-point win over indie darling Creighton on Saturday, Wichita State poked a tentative head out from the underground tunnel of mid-major anonymity. The Shockers made their first appearance in the AP Top 25 poll this week, tied for 24th, and are looking more and more like a lock for the big dance. But what do we really know about them? Let's tackle this Q&A style.
Q: Where is Wichita State? A: In Wichita, Kansas. "Wichita" is a Native American word that means "Witch's Toe." (I made that up.)
The school was established in 1895, and the official motto is: "Thinkers, Doers, Movers and Shockers."