The smell of victory
That time of year is upon us once again. The days are longer; flowers are starting to push through the frozen tundra; and animals are starting to shake off the cold starkness of a cold winter. It's the time of year when a young man, such as myself, turns every waking thought to — college basketball. The NCAA men's college basketball tournament has always held a special place in my family's heart, and you're about to find out why.
When my wife and I were married many, many, many years ago, we thought that it would be fun to start a tradition of wagering on the tournament brackets. When I say wagering, I'm not talking about any money of any kind exchanging hands because in the catastrophic, unthinkable event of me actually losing, I'd have to ask her for a check to pay off my debt anyway.
No, our wager was to be based entirely on personal pride. The bet was that on the upcoming Easter Sunday, with our entire family present, the loser of the bet would have to announce, in front of everybody, that they were married to the smartest person in the world. It was a simple little bet that I had every intention of winning. I was finally going to get the recognition that I so richly deserved.
When we first started making our bracket selections, I rapidly determined that I had the upper hand. After all, I watched countless hours of basketball on television, both college and professional; I listened to hours upon hours of sports talk radio; and I was an avid reader of Sports Illustrated. Even the ones that weren't the swimsuit issue. I absorbed all the information I could about college basketball. I studied the Xs and Os. I knew the weaknesses and strengths of all 64 teams. On the other hand, my wife made her decisions based mainly on the team mascots and their uniforms. She'd say things like, "Oh, those uniforms are pretty," or "What's a Jayhawk?" This was going to be like taking candy from a baby.
Being the basketball guru that I was, coupled with the fact that I am practically the nicest guy I know, I magnanimously attempted to assist my wife with her picks. She wouldn't have any part of it. She was determined to win this thing on her own. Her actions were both admirable and foolish at the same time. I just hoped she wasn't going to be too upset over the drubbing that she was about to experience. I hoped that our young marriage would be able to survive this storm.
I can remember waking up the Thursday morning that the tournament started. The air smelled crisp and clean. It smelled like — victory.
And then the games started. By three o'clock in the afternoon, the first day of the three-week tournament, I was mathematically eliminated from any chance of winning. I felt like the Chicago Cubs on May 1 — done. It was horrible. My picks had become the kiss of death for many of the elite college basketball programs across this great land of ours.
Meanwhile, my wife's "pretty" teams were pulling off upsets left and right. I wanted to take her to a casino right then and there. The majority of the teams she picked, moved on to the next round. Her bracket looked all nice and neat. Mine had little red scribbles all over it that signified my teams getting knocked off, at least right up until I ripped it off the fridge, wadded it up and threw it away.
When Easter Sunday rolled around, I was dreading what I was going to have to do. I was hoping for a small crowd. Many Easters, several of my family members have not been able to make it back home for Mom's family dinner. This was not one of those Easters. There were people in attendance that I didn't even know. The place was packed.
I can still picture taking my last bite of Easter ham and looking across the table as my wife wickedly smiled at me. This was it. Time for me to swallow my pride and declare that I was married to the smartest person in the world.
As I stood up at the table, I cleared my throat and asked if I could have everybody's attention. As a hush grew among the hundreds, possibly thousands, of relatives that were in attendance, I started out by saying, "I have an announcement. I would like to publicly announce that my wife …"
At that point, it got a little weird. Apparently, when you are the husband in a newly-married couple, and you stand up at Easter dinner in front of your entire family and start a sentence with, "I would like to publicly announce that my wife …," you really need to finish the sentence with "… is having a baby."
Before I finished the sentence with "… is the smartest person in the world," I could tell that people were going to be disappointed. I can picture everybody's eyeballs getting wide with excitement and anticipation. My Grandma was starting to beam. My Mom was already figuring out what kind of baby paraphernalia that she was going to knit. My sister was sitting there stunned with her mouth wide open. (I believe that she was eating mashed potatoes at the time.) They were all eagerly expecting my next words.
The confusion and ultimate dejection registering on people's faces when I told them that my wife was the smartest person in the world is something I'll never forget. My bewildered Grandma leaned over to my Dad and asked, "What did he say? Is she having a baby?"
Dad replied, "Nope. She's just smarter than him."
To which I believe my Grandma replied, "Why did he make such a big fuss about announcing something that we already knew?"
You can contact Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on his blog at http://gregwallaceink.blogspot.com.