When I think back of where my love for the NCAA Tournament started, it wasn't with my own alma mater Drexel during its heyday. Yes, I got to watch Malik Rose, and I got to celebrate the Dragons taking out Memphis in the first round.
And that started me on my quest to prove the little guy deserved his due. But it wasn't when my love for the underdog began, and it actually began because I picked the team that wasn't the underdog in my NCAA bracket.
Back in 2000, Butler wasn't yet the Butler team we think of when we imagine what it means to have sustained success as a mid-major program. They were just a team that could dream of eventually playing in two straight National Championship games. No one could even imagine a scenario where it was possible.
During the 2000 NCAA Tournament, the No. 12 seeded Bulldogs were the team that a lot of people pinned their hopes on for the fabled 5-12 upset. I went with Florida, a team that no one wanted to root for because, well, they were Florida, and they were coached by this guy with slicked back hair that looked like he just wanted to be Pat Riley, or maybe the next coming of his former coach, Rick Pitino.
And in a back and forth game, where I was never actually worried that Florida would lose, they certainly looked like they were going to fall victim and break up my bracket (one that went on to beat all my friends in the pool that year. Oh the joy).
I watched my friends, most of whom who had no reason to root, root, root for Butler, scream and cajole the team, and then curse the refs with every call that went against them. I learned by watching that rooting for the underdog in this greatest of events is maybe the best joy we will ever have in sports. It is the shared experience that hundreds of thousands of people take on across the country, rooting for a team that they have barely heard of, unless they read Mid-Major Madness.
I started rooting for Butler to win, if only because everyone seemed to be having a really fun time losing their minds over this. It also could have been one of my friend's semi-gambling addiction, but we digress.
But it wasn't to be. Despite going to overtime, and then leading with just moments to go, Mike Miller would stop all the celebration in Indianapolis with an athletic play in the lane that saw his shot drop through the net as time expired. 69-68, Florida moved on, all the way to the title game.
Either way, that love is what made me pull even harder for the little guy to get his due. It is what made me over the moon when George Mason made it to the Final Four, or when VCU went from First to Final Four later. It is what has driven us at this site, and what has helped us to push Wichita State every step of the way to be better and more than the team that so surprised and delighted us last year within seven minutes of beating the eventual champions.
For one night, any team can be better, and can make us remember the joy of sports, and forget that we went to another school, playing in another region, or tournament, or just sitting at home watching with us on television.
For one night, anyone can be Cinderella, and those are the teams we cherish each and every season.
So watch Matt Ufford pay tribute to the teams that we all root for during March. We think you will remember a few moments of your own.