Special "Nation Challenged" Edition
Greetings, sports fans! Welcome back to the Big Dance! And the Big Dance is bigger than ever. When they said the terrible events of September 11 changed everything, they meant it; it changed even this. As Americans, we here at the eXile feel the clarion call to National Service. And so, March Madness moves home.
The tournament scheme - click to enlarge (1024x692, 32Kb image)
Venue is everything in sports. Without luxury boxes, you can't re-sign Jonathan Ogden. The dead spots in the Garden's famed parquet floor helped the Celts cheat the Lakers for years, but when push came to shove, Boston, too, opted for a Fleet Center. Heinz Field brought new revenue to Pittsburgh, but its open-end design also created a hell for placekickers-and after one bad special teams play, the Steelers had to watch the Super Bowl from home.
The eXile's annual Worst Hack Contest is the same way. As much as we love it here in Moscow, the sad fact of it is, there is no news in Russia anymore. As one local journalist put it lately, "The only Russia story they're interested in back home these days is a feature about how bad the Russians must feel now, because we kicked Afghanistan's ass in two months, while they spent ten years there just to get beat in the end."
That's really it. TV6? Please. After 9/11, Americans are willing to give up free speech in their own country, so far are they from caring about what happens here. Chechnya? It's not even a Russia story anymore. Instead, it's just a small part of a larger epic of martyrdom America is claiming entirely for itself, the "war on terrorism." Nobody gets to hurt as much as we do from now on -- not the Russians, and certainly not the Chechens. Nobody else has victims, nobody else's servicemen are valiantly defending their country on the field of battle, nobody else has a reason to stick a flag in his SUV. There is only one realm of grief and bravery left in the world -- one venue -- and that is the United States of America.
The names are mostly the same: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal. Big-program basketball is the same on any coast. You scan the countryside for 6'10'' sex criminals with killer j's and low-700 SAT scores; you give Mom a Fannie Mae loan, a Church's franchise to Dad, and the kid himself a bag of high-grade ice. Before you know it, sweatshirts are selling out at the campus store. Old alums who made it as execs for a big company called Enron suddenly start showing up offering endowment money.
You win the SEC outright, avoid the NIT and head straight to the big dance for a first-round matchup with Gonzaga.
Will you lose? With four and a half minutes to play, will your star point guard suddenly start discovering human rights violations in Guantanomo Bay? During the critical time out, will the guy at the end of your bench lean over and ask the coach to tell him again exactly what the proof was that Al-Qaeda bombed the towers? The answer: not if he wants to keep playing for Duke, he won't.
With the game on the line, the big papers all go back to the same game plan: you call the President a genius, kiss the grieving child of a victim, salute the troops, and when the other team drives to the basket, you quickly issue a call for unity, forcing him to shoot the one-and-one.
March Madness is awesome, baby!
Just as the lane is wider in Europe than it is at home, there are some differences between this year's U.S.-based March Madness tournament and the previous Moscow incarnations.