By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Thursday marked one of the best days on our collective sports calendar. The term March Madness refers not just to the breeding season of European hares, as you animal sex enthusiasts all know, but also to the craziest, most rapt time in American basketball. And the opening day of the NCAA Tournament — which was Thursday and not the stupid play-in games that the organization invented out of whole cloth and started trying to get people to call “the first round” or “the First Four” and confused everybody in the process — is the sport’s single greatest day. But is it the best single day in sports?
We as sports fans are graced with a whole bunch of unexpected great days — maybe a fantastic NBA game gets played on the same day as the final nail-biting round of a PGA major or an epic NHL playoff game happens after a horse comes a length shy of the Triple Crown. Those impromptu days are the surprise parties of our sports lives. But we are fortunate to have several “birthdays” every year, days that are marked on the calendar beforehand that we anticipate will bring us the compelling displays and gamut of emotions that are the very reasons (besides any of our money involved) we watch.
I’ve ranked the best sports days that come annually. You are free to disagree and be wrong if you like.
12. Olympics Closing Ceremonies: “But, Baffoe, you said ‘annually.’ The Olympics are biannual or biennial or whatever. You’re wrong.” Thanks. I don’t like the Olympics because they are organized by a massive corrupt entity, bring out the worst in fans and mostly involve pseudosports people force themselves to care about briefly. And for two weeks I have to hear about them. The Closing Ceremonies signal an end to the suck of it all. Oh, joy.
11. Christmas: Early games of Dec. 25, 2013 excluded, this is an NBA fan’s … well … Christmas. The league goes out of its way to make this its marquee game slate. After opening up a bunch of crap you plan on returning or re-gifting, you’re likely to get a day of constant, solid basketball in its best form. And a lot of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”—maybe the most overrated Christmas song in existence — when going to commercial.
10. Thanksgiving: Football is everything, including the escape from having meaningful interactions with your loved ones you don’t want to be around. And it goes great with gluttony.
9. Derby Day: Everyone should attend a Kentucky Derby once in his or her lifetime. It’s a fascinating and thrilling experience that perhaps has the biggest chasm between what it looks like on TV and what it really is. It involves quite a bit of debauchery if you’re not in the stands and instead one of the groundlings on the infield (and you should be on the infield away from the snobs). And when you’re not at Churchill Downs to hear “My Old Kentucky Home” live and drinking overpriced awful juleps, make a day of it at a local racetrack or OTB. The Derby should not be merely the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.”
8. Masters Sunday: Realizing I’m of an age where I can watch hours of golf in one sitting is kind of depressing, but even in my younger days the final round of The Masters had my attention. Every year CBS hypnotizes you into thinking this haven of crusty Southern stereotypes is home to the most compelling thing since a hostage situation. And it’s all done with soft piano and sylvan scenes. Augusta National has landmarks that even the most casual sports fan knows, like Amen Corner, Sarazen Bridge and Ty Cobb’s Armpit. No trophy presentation is more famous (and awkward) than that of the green jacket. The rest of the day also contains pro baseball, basketball and hockey, making this Sunday a dandy.
7. Baseball Opening Day: Everyone is happy and hopeful. It’s sport’s symbol of spring, and we forget about the specter of death that probably enveloped our favorite teams in other sports over the past cruel winter. Even Cubs fans get to be optimistic for a day. OK, maybe not this year. But baseball gets to be all shiny and new again, and we forget that it’s a marathon of a season full of a bunch of DL stints, quirky wins and losses that individually mean almost nothing to the whole and lots of arguing and yelling and happiness and frustration. Of course Bud Selig’s MLB has screwed this day up with the isolated openers in foreign countries at weird times that suck some joy out and force us to coin “Opening Series” and “Opening Night.” Hence America’s pastime finding itself not in a better position on this list.
6. First Saturday of college football: Your favorite team is ranked and will beat a directional school by 57 points today, and you’re budgeting for road-trip-to-somewhere-warm-in-January tickets. So many things are happening at once, and your TV remote trigger thumb returns to its famous gunslinger form. You begin reacquainting your stomach to a weekend diet of awful processed meats and cheese and corn-like products and booze and Musburger. It’s fairly awesome.
5. Opening Day of NCAA Tournament: We get to be hopeful idiots for a little while and tell everyone about our bracket, which is never annoying. People telling you about their brackets, though, is the worst. We get to fall in love with a Cinderella that isn’t looking for a long-term relationship from us. Our brackets are very personal, as though an extension and measurement of our sportsness. What keeps this day from being higher on the list is that we’re at work for the start of the mania and can’t fully enjoy the experience. That and the product is inferior. Our excitement, the upsets and the last-second deciding of winners often blinds us to what is actually some not-so-good basketball. last night, NC State-St. Louis featured a combined 32-for-63 showing from the free-throw line. Texas won a game Thursday by shooting two airballs. Oklahoma shot under 35 percent from the field and still scored 75 points.
4. First Sunday of NFL: College football is fun. NFL football is a validation of your existence. Even when it’s really bad, it’s still good. And this day means the return of the crack cocaine of sports — NFL Red Zone. Your fantasy team is winning. Now it’s losing. Oh, you’re winning again. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT PICK, STAFFORD? WHY DID I DRAFT YOU AGAIN? You’re not playing fantasy football again next year, you swear. And it’s not even time to make irrationally hate Joe Buck in the 3 p.m. game yet.
3. Super Bowl Sunday: Should be a holiday, meaning the next day off of work without having to lie about a death of a loved one. If that means moving the game to Saturday, so be it. It’s a day revolving around sports where, unlike current holidays, we for the most part choose to be around the people we’re with and enjoy the game. Imagine what Thanksgiving would be like if you could magically omit from the guest list your racist uncle or the cousin that’s always getting over an illness but is still contagious. Or, hey, I’m having my Fourth of July barbecue inside this bar with 800 flatscreens and where I don’t have to do the cooking of the equivalent of seven whole chickens I’m going to eat.
2. New Year’s Day: BOWLS. BOWLS. BOWLS. Kids celebrating. Kids crying. You not considering they all will likely make more money at 23 than you at 43. It’s like the NCAA Tournament on steroids. Literally, actually. And we now get to go from bitching about how a computer we don’t understand decided matchups to how a committee we don’t understand decided matchups. If you’re smart, you didn’t go out last night. Not only because you’ve avoided a hangover but also because New Year’s Eve is for shallow people. Hey, there’s an outdoor NHL game and some NBA, too.
1. NFL Conference Championship Sunday: As we realized the hard way this past Super Bowl, that game can suck. But this day has two potentially great games, and the chance of both sucking is minute. Sometimes the two best teams play each other on this day. I look forward to this day more than the Super Bowl because it is never anti-climactic. There’s always something compelling that is not also a forced or tired narrative like Peyton Manning’s legacy. It is consistently the best ratio of quality to quantity in the best televised sport in the world.
Apologies to fans of soccer and auto racing if you have some special day, but I don’t really care about either of you. Now everybody yell at me on social media about this list.