A couple days ago, I needed to run to grab a thing at Ikea and some stuff at another couple places nearby. In Pittsburgh, that entails getting on the Parkway West and driving for longer than it should actually take, because Parkway West traffic, duh.
That Boulder show was the first bit of live Grateful Dead I had heard besides stuff the band had released. Steve, Mark and I were just getting into the Dead, and (I think) the older brother of a friend hooked us up with copies of the cassettes of the show, labeled “Boulder 1″ and Boulder 2”; the funny thing was that none of us knew enough about the band to notice that the tape labels were on the wrong sets, but that didn’t matter. It was a hot show, no matter what was played when.
The mislabeled Boulder 2 tape closed with what is still my favorite version of China > Rider of all time. It crushes all of the combo’s expected peaks and Garcia’s guitar is especially good. And that’s where I was in the playlist as I charged out to Robinson on the parkway: Jerry was tearing up a solo just before Weir delivered the “Sun’s gonna shine…” line, and I was feeling good.
When Jerry started on his line “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train,” my bliss was interrupted by a car that jumped into the fast lane just ahead of mine. I was annoyed for sure, until I saw what the universe had just handed to me: the license plate on the car that cut me off began with the letters JSK.
I broke into a grin. And said, out loud, to whomever was listening, “You are that light, my friend. You are.”
In just over two weeks, we’re going to meet in Columbus to celebrate Steven’s life. And I say “we” because if you knew Steven, I hope I see you there, at the service (1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14 at Northwest United Methodist Church, 5200 Riverside Drive) or at the picnic after (3 p.m. at the North Shelter House in Thompson Park).
You don’t have to bring much, besides a hug for Mary and smiles, hugs and memories for everyone else. I’m getting better at smiling when I think of Steve instead of feeling sad, but his death is still — and will be for quite a while — a hard thing for me to digest; if it is for you as well, let’s help each other out on Aug. 14. See you then.
Folks, I have to apologize. I normally would have had this update ready by midweek at the latest, but real life got in the way in a pretty significant manner this week.
But writing about basketball — and the Fourteenth Kind Of Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub*) is the kind of distraction I need — so let’s get down to bidness.
As longtime AUCNFFC players will recall, no one has any points yet — that doesn’t happen until teams actually reach the Final Four after Monday night’s games.
We can, however, begin to ascertain how things might shake out, based on the results of the first weekend. Quite a few of us picked Ohio State as our eventual champion, for example — and that’s not going to work out so well. A few others of us went all in on the Big Ten — and that’s really not going to work so well.
But most of us — well over half, in fact — were able avoid real disasters associated with early upsets, and are therefore in pretty good shape. And there two of us — just two of us — who have an intact Final Four still alive.
I have done no math associated with this so far, but in general, I’d give the advantage to those who are still working with their pick to be national champion over those who are trying to move on without. And so, we begin with the bad news and move on to the good.
One FF team alive, champ pick is out:
One FF team/champ alive:
Two FF teams alive, champ is out
Three FF teams alive, champ is out
Pgh Rugby Ref
Three FF team/champ alive
Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl
Aunt Annoyed Angel
Styx 4 Curl Girl
North Coast Matt
And our best of the best, as we go through the second weekend of FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*):
All FF picks/champ still alive
There is one more player I haven’t mentioned, and that’s Juan, oh he of little basketball knowledge. When I started this thing, I was concerned that I wouldn’t get enough entries to make it interesting, so I badgered the hell out of my family and close friends to get in. Most were accommodating, but Juan dug in his heels, giving me BS reasons like “I don’t like college basketball” and “Why are you torturing me?” When he finally made it clear that he was out, I decided to enter him anyway, using a variety of methods that pretty much guaranteed that he wouldn’t come close to ever winning this thing. He grumbled about it at first, but eventually came to appreciate that he would be entered in AUCNFFC with zero effort and almost zero chance of stressing about it at all. It became a standing joke, one of a looooooong list of standing jokes we had between us.
Juan — that’s not his actual name — was my friend who died this week. We’re not going to worry about his picks for the rest of FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*), and if I do this again next year, I suspect the tournament will be named in his honor. Which he would find as funny as I would hope.
I hope your teams do well this weekend, and I’ll be back on Tuesday — I promise this time — with the first look at our official FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*) standings.
I had to come sit outside. Away from TV, my phone, music in the kitchen. Just the moon, a few stars, some wispy clouds and the soft lights of our front porch. It had been a gorgeous day, and it was still warmer than you’d expect for a late-March evening in Pittsburgh.
I didn’t know what to do. I was utterly unprepared.
After a few minutes, I began to hear a dad and his young son walking up the street towards our house. The boy is happily chattering away and I hear him say, “Hey! Let’s play I Spy!” Dad agrees, and as they reach the side of our driveway, the boy spies, with his little eye, something white. Dad looks across the street, points at a neighbor’s white minivan and says, “Is it the van?” The kid releases his father’s hand long enough to clap.
“OK! My turn!”
I’m smiling now.
Dad glances at the flowerbed next to the driveway. “I spy with my little eye something yellow!” There is silence for a split second before the son shouts, “Is it the flowers?”
Dad says it is. The boy giggles. I realize our daffodils have started to pop. I hadn’t noticed before. I mean, the last two days have been pretty hard.
I’m still smiling — genuinely smiling — when Dad and the now-skipping boy spot me on the stoop. The man asks how I’m doing and I return the greeting. The boy turns a little shy but says he’s good, and thanks me when I wish them a good night.
That little bit — the bouncy, happy kid in the orange shirt, the yellow flowers starting to appear — was enough to lift me up out of my seat.
My smile faded, though. I had to go tell Mrs. Crappy that my best friend — the one I met pretty much as soon as we started seventh grade, the one who roared through Athens and Granville and New York and Colorado and Columbus with me, the one who was the best man at our wedding — died this afternoon.
I will see you again someday, my friend. Love you.
Sister Jean says it’s go time. And we never argue with Sister Jean.
Because you never argue with a Chicago nun.
But we don’t need to be afraid of Sister Jean — or of rogue yardsticks: There is championship basketball on our screens and the Fourteenth Kind Of Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub*) is underway.
As I do every year, this is the post where our picks are revealed and we all begin the painful public shame and humiliation of sports prognostication — and for one lucky contestant, never-ending glory and $50 for drinks and food at the legendary Piper’s Pub. So — who ya got?
As is tradition, we begin with Yours Truly:
Gonzaga and Michigan on one side of the bracket and Houston and … wait for it … Ohio State on the other. Title game is the Zags and my Buckeyes. And the champion? Gonzaga is this season’s Team Of Destiny — but the Buckeyes are winning the title. And they’ll win by a score of 74-68.
Next we have the contestant I’m rooting for: Mrs. Crappy:
Gonzaga vs. Alabama, Purdue vs. Illinois. Illinois beats the Zags for the championship, 82-79.
And now, the rest of yinz guys, pretty much in no particular order:
Strang, who isn’t rolling with her hometown Bonnies:
Final Four: Houston, Texas, Iowa, Ohio State. Championship Game: Houston vs. Texas Winner: Houston (80-77)
Morgantown Socialist Joe:
Final Four: Gonzaga, BYU, Arkansas, West Virginia National Championship: Gonzaga, West Virginia Winner: Gonzaga Tiebreaker: 136
Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl, Esq.:
My FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*) picks as selected by pulling my sweet sixteen selections out of a hat: Final Four: Baylor v. WVU, Kansas v. Texas Semi-finals: Kansas v. WVU National Champion: WVU
Aunt Annoyed Angel, who’s been doing this for as long as I have:
Ok, here goes. Final 4: Gonzaga/Alabama, Ohio State/Tennessee. Final 2: Alabama v Ohio State. Winner: Alabama. 73-68I’m well aware that one side of my bracket is very family & personal preference influenced… I just couldn’t get past it no matter how I tried.
And this is a first in the long and storied history of AUCNFFC: Entries from an entire family: AAA’s sister Lianne and the kids who bestowed upon AAA that first A: C and G Haviland.
Ok- here is my info- Final four- Oregon, Baylor, Alabama, Illinois Champ game: Illinois vs Baylor Champion: Illinois (75-68)
final four: Gonzaga, Baylor, Colorado, Houston. Champ game- Gonzaga vs Baylor. Champion- Gonzaga (83-79).
final four- Gonzaga, Baylor, LSU, TN. Champ game: TN vs Gonzaga. Champion- Gonazaga (87-82)
My question for AAA and Lianne: Do the kids have to take you guys out for dinner if one of them wins?
Next up: Cleveland Kelsey, who is as much of a homer as your Uncle Crappy:
FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*)! Final Four: Ohio State, M!ch!g@n, Iowa, West Virginia. OSU/scUM in the championship. OSU wins 72-71
Gonzaga over Michigan. West Virginia over Villanova. Gonzaga 71, West Virginia 63. (If this looks like I haven’t paid any attention to college basketball this season, it’s because I haven’t.)
Kewyson, who apparently discovered brevity somewhere between 2019 and 2021:
With Covid rules in play, one never knows – but I stuck with the tried and true (and no Duke Blue) – M*ch*gan / Iowa – with the Team up North prevailing Illinois / Baylor – with Illinois coming through with the win Final victor goes to Illinois – 87 – 83
Styx 4 Curl Girl, another contestant who’s been doing this for a very long time:
Final four: Gonzaga vs. Alabama, Ohio St. vs. Houston Championship: Alabama vs. Ohio St. Champion: Alabama Tie Breaker: 78-72
Good luck everyone!
What does Chachi say? Chachi Says:
Gonzaga v Texas Houston v Baylor
Final Gonzaga v Baylor
No Cardinals and no Panthers? No problem for Calipanthergrl:
I have watched like 20 minutes of MCBB this entire season. But I’m in! Here are my entirely laughable picks: USC/Michigan & Syracuse/Purdue. Michigan/Purdue. Michigan (84-73)
My #CnCShow partner Carla knows college football. Does she know college hoops as well?
Next up is Dudders, the baddest woman in all of Pittsburgh:
I would like to join that basketball event you host each year! I like to randomly pick teams and not do any research. Final Four: Purdue, WVU, Gonzaga, Alabama. Final Two: Gonzaga and Purdue. Gonzaga❤️
She added in a subsequent message that her tiebreaker is 91-88.
My former colleague North Coast Matt:
Final Four: Gonzaga, Alabama, Houston, Illinois Championship Gonzaga vs. Houston Champion Gonzaga total combined score: 157
Your defending AUCNFFC champ, the Sports Chump:
Against my better judgment, I’m going chalk. Give me all number one seeds in the Final Four.
Illinois, Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan with Gonzaga beating Baylor in the final game 82-67.
But what do I know?
Pgh Rugby Ref has taken over Kewyson’s claim to the most-verbose contestant each year:
The day the brackets came out I completed one quickly, without any research or thought (other than no number 1s in the Final Four). After I looked at my selections, I figured there was no chance of winning (hell, I might even Blutarsky). All week I had the intention of putting in some effort for a real bracket (I’m sure you know about intentions and what road it paves). It’s a little more than an hour before deadline, and no extra work has gone into selections, so you get my original choices: Virginia over Colorado West Virginia over Arkansas Virginia Final score total 124
A blast from the past: M Fulk:
Hey, why not?
Final Four: Kansas vs. Alabama, Purdue vs. West Virginia Championship: Alabama vs. Purdue Champion: Alabama Tie Breaker: 80-85
Spoon, on behalf of his basketball-playing boys:
Kids picked this one. I’ll think about getting them Piper’s if we win.
Final Four: Gonzaga vs. Alabama, Ohio St. vs. Clemson Championship: Alabama vs. Ohio St. Champion: Ohio St. Tie Breaker: 77-75
Susan, who did, in fact, get in just under the wire:
Hopefully getting in under the wire: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio St, Ilinois. Michigan/Ohio St. Michigan. 151. Please do not reject based on my winner.
Dish, who is an actual person and not a restaurant on the South Side:
Gonzaga over Alabama, Illinois over Arkansas. Gonzaga over Illinois, 83-77. I did at least 90 seconds of research for this!
My Penn State friends are partial to hockey and football, but TraiLion paid more attention to the Lions’ hoops season this year than she would probably admit. Her picks:
Ohio State over Illinois, Iowa over Michigan, Iowa over Ohio State (sorry). 112 points.
The lion’s spouse JCK158:
Gonzaga over FSU, Baylor over Illinois, Gonzaga over Baylor, 158.
It’s excellent when you guys provide me with your own nicknames. Right, Scooter (38 seconds from being defending champions)?
Gonzaga, Alabama, Baylor and Illinois Gonzaga and Baylor Baylor 150 F the Mutant Twins
As to Scooter’s final comment: If you know, you know.
And finally, we have Juan, oh he of little basketball knowledge. He is entered each and every year against his will (or, at least, without his awareness); I couldn’t find picks from Phil’s Mom, so we’re going with the virtual version of the Penny-Flipping Method — ESPN’s random bracket generator. And while it’s not going to win him a damn thing, I’m going to be pulling for these picks anyway:
To be clear, this is my Bobcats vs. Texas Southern on one side and Purdue vs. Liberty on the other. And in what would be a championship matchup for the ages, Purdue will beat OU in the title game. And no, I’m not picking a tiebreaker. C’mon now.
And there you go, boys and girls. I have to say that I’m disappointed that I didn’t get any TikTok entries; that might be a thing we’ll work on for 2022. As is always the case, if I missed your entry, it’s nothing personal — I’m just an idiot. Let me know and I’ll add you to the list. Let’s all enjoy the hell out of the hoopage. And good luck to everyone. Especially me Mrs. Crappy.
Fun NCAA tournament fact: The last time a 13 seed advanced to the tournament’s Sweet 16 was 2012 — when the Ohio Bobcats shocked Michigan in the first round and continued to advance.
The Bobcats’ seed this year? They’re a 13. Look out, Virginia.
Am I suggesting that you pick OU in your entry to Fourteenth Kind Of Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Final Four Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub*)? Ah, probably not — fandom and gambling are different things, and the contest isn’t called Fourteenth Kind Of Annual Uncle Crappy NCAA Sweet Sixteen Challenge (Brought To You By Piper’s Pub*), because hooboy that would be a lot of extra work for me.
I am suggesting, however, that you make sure you have your FKOAUCNFFC (BTYBPP*) picks in soon. Remember: It’s easy. Give me — via the social media messaging channel of your preference — your final four, your championship game contestants and your national champion. Remember also: It costs you zero American dollars to enter. Remember also also: The winner will get a $50 gift card from the legendary Piper’s Pub.
Deadline is noon Friday.
Fifty bucks at Piper’s for the winner.
Picking the Bobcats to win the whole thing probably wouldn’t be smart.
Fall used to be a lot busier than it is these days.
For most of the last two decades, about half of our fall weekends were spent driving to Columbus, prepping a tailgate party for somewhere between 10 and 20 people, going to Ohio State’s home game and then coming home on Sunday. For several of those years, we would get home just in time for me to turn around and drive to work for my regular Sunday night shift.
It was a blast. And even when we were in our early forties, it was exhausting. And now that it’s ten years later? It would be impossible.
For me, there was a turning point a few years ago, with a game against, I think, a directional Florida. It was early September and stinking hot, as Columbus can be. It also rained all the way through tailgate “party,” which mostly consisted of us huddled under a canopy, eating soggy food and trying keep rain out of our beers. And when the rain ended, it didn’t help — it just made it feel even more humid.
There was talk among the adults initially — even in my mid-40s at that point, I am not one of the adults — and several decided they were going to do the comfortable thing: Go home and watch on TV. At that point, I was pretty hardcore — even leaving the game early was something you just did not do; skipping a game entirely was out of the question.
But once the sweat became so profuse that I could feel it running down my back, I started listening: Air conditioning. Cold beer. No lines for food or bathrooms. A 70-inch television, comfortable chairs and no danger (well, not much) that someone would dump a gallon of Diet Coke down my back.
OK. I relented. And it was awfully nice.
With the exception of the mostly-annual big deal non-conference game or the home opener, the September games were the first to go. They generally didn’t mean much, and Columbus can be as hot in September as it is in July.
Next, we started paring back on the not-as-big-deal Big Ten games. You know the ones — they would be historic upsets if they happened (and they occasionally did), and who wants to brag about watching Illinois upsetting Ohio State in Cbus in 2007?
(Spoiler alert: We were there. BUT I’M NOT BRAGGING.)
Once my folks made the decision to stop going to games, this became a bit easier. We had one season, two years ago, when we had four seats together, and four of us made it to a few games that season together — and they were awesome. But there were only a couple of them, and realistically, it was too much of a chore for my folks to get into the stadium, deal with the crowd and still be able to enjoy — or even see — the game.
I’m not at all suggesting that they are responsible for this change. It was part of it, but we’re getting old too. And when we were able to do a full weekend, we were exhausted by the time we got home on Sunday.
So we don’t do it. And life is better. We did four home games last year, and we’re about to go to our second of four this season. Mom and dad still love the tailgate parties — so do we — and we’ll have four good ones in 2019. They go home and watch on TV, and we go inside the Shoe and see some college football that many fans would kill to see live.
I haven’t made too many concessions to my 52-year-old self yet, but this one has been good. And I still get to see Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State, have great tailgate parties with the Killer Nuts Tailgating group that’s been doing this for 20 years — and I don’t feel like I’m doing to die by the time December begins.