Rocky Top Rowdies

When I was in the fifth grade, I could name the starting lineups of the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Redskins (favorite players? Al Bumbry and Charlie Brown). It was a great time to be a kid in Annapolis, Maryland. Both were world champions that year, and both remain my all-time favorite teams. I think every adult sports fan probably spends the rest of his or her life trying to recapture the joy and excitement of that first crush. The cliche works: being a fan is like an addiction, and each new fix pales in comparison to nostalgic memories.

To carry this silly analogy a bit further — and to indulge for a second in my other current obsession, The Wire — I gotta say that University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl has got the best “package” right now. The Vols are 24-2 (their best record ever), ranked #2 in the polls (highest ranking ever), and they’re playing a ridiculous brand of high-energy basketball — “controlled chaos,” Pearl calls it. And this Saturday, at 9 pm on ESPN, we’re playing the undefeated, top-ranked, and much-loathed Memphis Tigers in what will be, without question, the biggest game of hoops ever played in the Volunteer state.

For the first time in my life, I can name the top twelve players in a basketball team’s rotation. (And “rotation” is the right word here: Pearl substitutes players like line shifts in hockey. Eleven of the twelve average more than ten minutes per game.) When I learned yesterday afternoon that last night’s game with Auburn wasn’t televised, I walked across the street to the arena and bought one of the few remaining tickets. When I run into players on campus, I feel starstruck. When I read ESPN’s profile of Tyler Smith one day at work, I worried that someone might walk into my office to find me choking back tears. I’m so hooked.

Last year I came in dead last in the first annual Long Pauses March Madness Pick’Em. Counting the days . . .