OpEd Columns

March Madness from the Tube to the Mall (Indianapolis Star 04/02/05)

My five-year old son Joel has reached sports consciousness. And I couldn’t be happier.
It happened about two weeks after Christmas. It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment, but it began with the Colts, then the Steelers, then the Patriots. Then the entire NFL.
Who won? What was the score? Who plays next week?
A few months later, his passion for sports poured over into March Madness. Who won? What’s the score? Who plays next week?
This March, as I watched in a grand moment of father-son bonding, Joel filled out his first set of tourney brackets. And when The Syracuse (as in The Colts, The Steelers, and The Patriots) lost to Vermontana (he’s still learning the names), Joel experienced that same sinking feeling we all have when our pick to win-it-all gets bounced in the first round.
But unlike The Syracuse, Joel quickly bounced back and onto the next round of the TV tournament.
Onward we went, my son and I, experiencing CBS’ coverage of the NCAA tournament together. Well, most of it. Every TV timeout I had to shield Joel from the slew of CBS promos, pumping the homicides of CSI and Cold Case, or promoting the latest bad-for-TV movie “Spring Break Shark Attack”. It’s sad. We couldn’t watch a college basketball game on television without regular reminders of the death and fear lurking in prime time.
After a series of buzzer beater moments where I quickly turned the station just before the CSI cadaver filled the frame, I turned off the TV, took my pre-schooler to the mall, and took shelter from the litany of reminders to watch sharks eat bikini-clad coeds.
Whew! The mall. A safe haven where your child can get some exercise during the cold weather months and you can get a free sample of lotion at Bath and Body Works to soothe that cracked winter skin.
We strolled toward the children’s play area.
“Dad, look, it’s the Longhorns!” Joel stopped in front of Victoria’s Secret, and gazed up at what I like to call the Wall of Thong. An in-your-face, floor-to-ceiling window display of thirty pairs of women’s thong underwear.
Apparently, where I saw women’s underwear, my five-year old saw sports.
Yes. When mounted to the wall, the shape of the underwear did in fact bear a striking resemblance to the University of Texas Longhorn logo. Hook ‘em Horns.
“Dad, who did the Longhorns play in March Madness?”
“They lost to Nevada.”
“Did I pick Nevada to win?”
“Yes, you did.”
“Cool. Who does Nevada play next?”
Stumped, I looked up at the underwear, across to the Disney Store, then yonder to the Easter Bunny, who looked like he just ran off the basketball court and into the food court after two hours of March Madness mascot duty.
I tried to shelter Joel from the Bunny. But you can’t get from Victoria’s Secret to the romper room play area without crossing The Bunny. And that’s no accident. Want to sit on the Bunny’s lap? That’s $12.99 plus tax for the digital photo. Smile!
“Look Dad! It’s the…”
There he was, the Easter Bunny, occupying the same throne that Santa Claus kept warm from the time the last piece of Halloween candy was sold until the final second before the mall doors swung shut on Christmas Eve.
I could explain Santa’s presence to Joel much easier than the Bunny’s. Santa had real eyes that blinked. A voice that spoke. A beard that was passable.
The Easter Bunny however , was a steroid-injected stuffed animal, legs crossed, whiskers painted, oversized eyes frozen open with a stunned look of amazement. This was…
“Pacific University!” I shouted. “The Jack Rabbits!” (Actually the Tigers, but Joel can learn that later in life.)
“Nevada plays Specific?”, Joel asked. “Who did I pick to win?
We quickly skirted past The Bunny hoping not to catch his watermelon-sized eye. He started to wave to Joel.
“Go Specific!”, Joel shouted. Dazed, the Bunny returned to his picture posing tasks. Joel skipped over to the play area, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I just saved $12.99.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2005 Ted Mandell