It can all happen in the blink of an eye. The time it might take is only a mere second or two. One shot, one pass, one mistake is all it takes to immortalize a player, coach, team, town or school for the rest of time. [mad]
One such moment took place in Austin, Texas on March 27, 2005. After battling in one of the best games of the year, a relatively unknown junior guard from Kentucky threw up one of the biggest prayers in NCAA tournament history.
Patrick Sparks, a Kentucky native who was just fulfilling his dream of playing for his hometown team, might not have known it at the time, but he was about to plant himself smack dab in the middle of tournament lore with names like Jordan and Bird.
With less than 20 seconds remaining in the 2005 NCAA Austin regional final, MSU led Kentucky 75-72. After a mad dash like fury and several missed three point attempts by the Wildcats, Sparks picked up the ball at the top of the key and threw up the heave.
The ball seemed to bounce around the rim with extreme indecisiveness for what seemed like forever before deciding to finally fall and tie the game at 75 apiece. What made it look like it took even longer was the five minute delay and review of the shot to determine if Sparks’ foot was behind the three point arc or not.
Never mind the fact that the Spartans then put on one of the more gutsy performances in tournament history to come back and finish off Kentucky in double overtime to advance to the Final Four. Forget the thought that Sparks’ three is still debated to this day, and forget the notion that neither of these teams actually won the title that year.
For that one moment in time in Austin, the world watched as an unknown kid living out his dream slammed himself into tournament history.
Yes, March is back again, and with it come the usual suspects. Unplanned snow storms, teasing summer afternoons and overall insanity in every major college town across the country.
The NCAA tournament is an annual event that creates legends, breaks hearts, fills sports bars to capacity and captivates the entire nation for a month long span like no other sporting event during the calendar year.
It has become such a large part of American culture that even people who couldn’t tell the difference between a slam-dunk and a three-pointer, let alone the difference between a Hoosier and a Bruin, can’t wait to get their hands on those beloved March Madness tournament brackets.
East Lansing has not been an exception to the madness over the past decade or so. From Mateen Cleaves and the “Flintstones’” miraculous tournament championship of 2000 to last season’s gut busting run to the Final Four, Michigan State basketball certainly has the town’s attention every March.
Magical Memories
Every college basketball fan reacts differently to the tournament, and each has his or her favorite moment from the past.
MSU journalism sophomore Allison Crawford is no doubt one of those fans who inexplicably feels the insanity every March.
Crawford’s best memory of the NCAA tournament takes her back to spring break of eighth grade. This was the season when MSU last won the national title and captivated everyone from Detroit to Iron Mountain. Crawford fondly recalled being in Lansing during the team’s triumphant return home as well as the victory parade.
Now a co-director of MSU’s famed chaotic student section, the Izzone, Crawford has developed a sort of expertise when it comes to the ways of the sports fan.
“I always try to get into the bracket pools and my parents will sometimes try to get to some of the early round games,” Crawford said. “So I try to catch a ride with them when I can.”
Crawford, a die-hard fan, explained how her superstitious behavior tends to shine through at tournament time. “If the team is playing and they are wearing the white jerseys, then I always have to have my white Izzone t-shirt on,” Crawford said. “For games when they are in the green jerseys, it is my green Izzone sweatshirt.”
Shaun Ramsey, a Lyman Briggs physiology sophomore and another Izzone co-director, is yet another collegiate-sports-die-hard who has fond memories of tournaments gone by.
Ramsey, who, along with Crawford, might just be one of the most die-hard Spartan fans on the planet, followed the squad to St. Louis last season for the Final Four.
“The whole thing was great, just pulling into town at night and seeing those arches was enough to give me chills,” Ramsey said. “Just to have the feeling that we were one of the four teams left playing for it all was very cool.”
But it wasn’t just the trip to St. Louis that was surreal for Ramsey, the overall aura of the tournament here in East Lansing was something he says he won’t soon forget.
“Just the week leading up to the Final Four and the buzz in the air around campus was great,” Ramsey said. “The way we beat Kentucky and Duke to get there was great and then for me to actually get to go and watch them…it was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope to have again soon.”
But what makes the tournament so special and unique isn’t just the games themselves, it is everything that’s at stake. And so much more.
“Anything can happen,” Crawford said. “You can try to predict every game but there are always those Cinderella teams that come out of nowhere; every game has to be treated equally.”
Even simple daily tasks become tougher to do when the madness hits the air in March.
“It’s really tough to go to class during the tournament with all the games on, it’s pretty much all you think about,” Ramsey said. “What makes the whole thing so special is that you have college players fighting their hearts out for their school and their pride, there is just something about college sports that makes it great.”
Business Boom
But not only does March Madness create rituals and memorable moments for students and fans alike, it also serves as a massive cash cow for sports bars all over town.
[wings] Twenty-eight-year-old Buffalo Wild Wings general manager Aaron Weiner said that the NCAA tournament is usually the direct reason for March being the busiest and most profitable month for his business.
Last year’s Final Four appearance for MSU was certainly no exception. On the Saturday of the national semifinal, Weiner made it into work at around 10 a.m. and experienced the madness in all its glory.
“We didn’t open that day until 11 a.m. and the State game that night was at 9 p.m.,” Weiner said. “When I got there at 10, there were about 300 people standing in line [to get inside], which was crazy.”
Weiner said he was told that people were standing outside his bar as early as 6 a.m. just to get a seat for the game that didn’t start for another 15 hours. If people stay for the entire 15 hours do they have to order food the entire time they are there? Can they just sit and wait?
“We opened up right at 11:00 and were immediately at capacity for the rest of the day,” Weiner said.
Weiner credits both his bar’s location, which is within walking distance for many students on campus, as well as the success of the team for the business boom. In addition, this season’s tournament also crosses over with another green and white major bar holiday. “The second day of the tournament this year is St. Patrick’s Day,” Weiner said. “So we will definitely be busy then.”
Helen Widener, the 27-year-old manager of Reno’s East Side Sports Bar, agreed with Weiner on the level of business brought in by the tournament. “I can’t think of a busier time of year for us,” Widener said. “It [the amount of bar patrons] depends on who’s playing, but once it all gets going it becomes an all day thing.”
Widener also added that the bar makes sure it takes special preoperational steps to get ready for the insanity. “We try to staff up and stock up on everything to be sure we are ready,” Widener said. “We also have over 70 televisions with the special sports package that let’s us show every game, so it doesn’t take a lot to get people in here.”
With all of the pomp and circumstance of having up to two rounds of play and 64 teams in action over the course of a four day span, things clearly could and have ended up out of hand around campus and town.
Putting any and all raucous past experiences behind them, local authorities are looking to the next tournament with optimistic eyes and want to make sure all crowded areas are as secure as possible. “Our main plan is always to make sure the students and everyone else is safe,” said MSU Department of Police and Public Safety Master Sergeant Florene McGlothian-Taylor.
“We always encourage students to party smart and watch out for large crowds,” McGlothian-Taylor said. “The main message is to celebrate responsibly.”
One Shining Moment
Clearly there is no other event during the school year that single handedly can captivate the entire university like the NCAA tournament. The camaraderie it brings between students, family, athletes and even complete strangers is unprecedented. At no other time during the year can you find yourself cramming into a local sports bar with perhaps a hundred or so complete strangers and yelling yourself hoarse on a Thursday afternoon hoping for a tournament win.
It has been a CBS tradition to play the song “One Shining Moment” to a video montage of the winning team after the tournament ends in April. It is something that players, coaches and fans alike dream about seeing for their entire lives. It can bring grown adults to tears and inspire the dreams of young children across the country.
“The time before the tournament starts, it almost feels like the feeling you get before Christmas morning,” Ramsey said. “Just the excitement of all the games and how everyone has a shot is incredible.”
So whether you bleed Spartan green or just want to fill out one of those brackets, have a very merry March Madness.
After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

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