I must admit, though, it's all a lot more tolerable when you're on the inside looking out.
The Vanderbilt men's basketball team busted almost everyone's bracket last week by knocking off North Carolina State to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1993. The Commodores may not be as noteworthy a "Cinderella" as UAB or Nevada, but they have caught the attention of the national media nonetheless.
True, the proverbial "clock" may "strike midnight" on Kevin Stallings' team Thursday when it meets powerful Connecticut in the NCAA round of 16 teams (6:10 p.m. CT; CBS-TV; 650 WSM-AM). But for Commodore fans thus far, it's all been one giddy, unforgettable joyride.
We may not be able to say it too much longer, so let's shout it from the top of the beautiful mountains that surround Phoenix while we still can: "Vanderbilt is one of only 16 teams left in the nation with a chance to win the NCAA national basketball championship!!"
The Commodores have joined a group of basketball's perennial elites that includes such household names as... Duke... UConn... Kansas... Kentuck-- oops, forgot, they were beaten out by some Conference USA team (!).
Looking at the bigger picture, Vanderbilt is one of only four schools in the nation to place both its men's and its women's teams in the Sweet 16 (Duke, UConn and Texas are the others). I'd say it's officially time for Commodore fans to do a little crowing.
Seems like every few months a few pinheaded columnists (the Knoxville News-Sentinel's John Adams, the Mobile Register's Paul Finebaum, to name a few names) seem to come forward with a column suggesting Vanderbilt has no business competing in the SEC. The Tennessean's Larry Woody seems to submit the same unimaginative column to his editors every three months or so, with only a name changed here or there.
Strangely, such columnists have made themselves pretty scarce on this subject lately. Yeah, Alabama fans are here over in the other wing making noise about their Crimson Tide, but they're just as surprised and delighted to be here as we Vandy fans are.
As for the rest of the SEC schools... the Kentuckies, Mississippi States, Floridas, Tennessees and the rest...they'll all be at home watching on TV, hee hee. The Tide and Dores are the only ones left to carry the banner.
Vanderbilt's sudden rise in the sport of basketball could hardly be better timed-- it comes six months after Chancellor Gordon Gee's declaration of war on the "jock culture" in college athletics. View those two unlikely events together with the same pair of glasses, and the result has been a flood of positive publicity from the national press that simply couldn't be bought at any price.
The New York Times, USA Today and CBS Sportsline all chimed in with glowing articles Wednesday, and the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune followed suit Thursday. All seemed to make the connection between last fall's restructuring and Vanderbilt's unlikely ascendance to the Sweet 16. "Vanderbilt mixes brains with victories," read one headline.
It makes for nice sportswriting, and Kirkland Hall will certainly kindly accept all the favorable publicity it receives from the national media. But given the opportunity to connect those same dots earlier this week, Head Coach Kevin Stallings declined.
"Frankly I don't see that anything has changed relative to our emphasis on athletics," Stallings said of the restructuring. "I don't think it's impacted anything that's happened with our basketball team. I think this is more a statement about our basketball program and the kids in it.
"This has got nothing to do with anything that's happened administratively in our university. This has to do with 12 guys who have really come together for a common cause and made something very special happen."
At Wednesday's press conference at America West Arena, Stallings continued to pound the underdog theme which served him so well last week in early-round victories over Western Michigan and N. C. State.
"We are an extreme underdog," Stallings said. "There is just not much belief or thought out there that we can win. Connecticut is a great basketball team-- probably the most talented in the NCAA Tournament."
Unlike last week, his words of praise for the opposition ring true-- Jim Calhoun's Connecticut team is now favored by many to win the whole darn thing. A Vanderbilt win would send shock waves around the country in a tournament that has already seen its share of stunners.
Does Vanderbilt really even belong here? All I know is, my clock is set on Mountain Time today-- and when a bunch of us Vanderbilt fans look out our hotel room window this morning, we see Saguaro cactus.
In the fairy tale, the original Cinderella was known not only for her beauty, but for her purity of heart and nobility. But in the oft-corrupt world of college athletics, some of the more traditional powers have more in common with the devious, conniving stepsisters.
A school that tries to do things right by its student-athletes, plays by the rules, graduates its players, yet still places both of its basketball teams in the national Sweet 16? Now, that's a true Cinderella story.
Contact Brent at email@example.com