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March 14, 2006

Beware those suffering Boobus Hoopus Americanus

Spotting this species is like obscenity...You’ll know it when you see itGood morning, students, and welcome to the Vitale Institute of Basketball Insanity. Today we are going to discuss the species known as the fan, identified in your textbooks under the generic name, Boobus Hoopus Americanus. In some areas of the country, individuals with this type of mental disorder become particularly virulent in March, when the NCAA (National Crazies Addictive Association) holds a month-long suicide watch involving 65 teams and the unbalanced masses who invest their self-esteem in the winning and losing of tournament contests.It is often difficult to identify Boobus Hoopus Americanus with the naked eye. He or she can appear as sane and well-adjusted as, say, your next-door neighbor. Or the dufus with the comb-over sitting next to you at the Rotary Club.So it’s important to look for telltale signs, such as a certain gleam in the eye or spittle that appears at the corners of the mouth when somebody says, “I think Coach K is great,” or “Texas Longhorns are nothing but a bunch of bull,” or something equally provocative on your basic intellectual level.If you happen to live in Kentucky or Southern Indiana, never trust anyone who says, when asked if he or she is a Kentucky Wildcat or Louisville Cardinal fan, “Oh, I like them both the same.” This person is a dangerous liar who should be avoided at all costs. They’re pretty much in the same league with an Indiana fan who says, “I’m glad Bobby Knight is gone and I don’t care if we ever win another championship.”Rather than wasting your time with these sort of mental midgets, it’s much better to hang out with somebody who goes to games with their bodies painted. Or basketballs on their heads for caps. At least these are honest crazy people. What you see is what you get. You know what you’re dealing with.During March, you will find a heavy concentration of Boobus Hoopus Americanus in the state of consternation, city of Bracketville. As the tournament progresses, they begin muttering curses to themselves. Some of the more extreme cases take to shrieking and throwing heavy objects at their TVs — even if they’ve taken a second mortgage to buy the thing. They swear to never, ever pick the choking-dog Florida Gators to beat anybody in March, including Winthrop, wherever in hell that is. The mere sight of Clark Kellogg or Jay Bilas is enough to make them leap out of their La-Z-Boys, babbling incoherently.With the worst cases of Boobus Hoopus Americanus, you begin to see the true depth of the sickness, not to mention the heartbreak of psoriasis, when you peel away the outer veneer of respectability. Then you come face to face with paranoia in all its many sad manifestations.The true fan’s mantra is “we got screwed by …” — and here you can fill in the blanks with — take your pick — the referees, the NCAA tournament committee, the rival coach, Billy Packer, the Mafia, the CIA, the Internal Revenue Service or all of the above.Nothing is ever as it seems. Everywhere you look, there’s a conspiracy against the fan’s favorite team. Just look at the tournament bracket. Everybody knows Duke always gets the easiest road to the Final Four because Duke is the NCAA’s poster child for playing by the rules.Once you get past the paranoia stage, class, it really gets weird.The truth about Boobus Hoopus Americanus is that he or she fears and loathes failure by his or her favorite team because it would, by extension, brand the fan himself (or, increasingly, herself) as a loser. That’s what happens when you allow your sense of self-esteem and well-being to be tied up in the performance of a team.This leads to mood swings that can affect job performance, family happiness and homeland security. The sheer giddiness that comes with victory always is replaced by utter hopelessness with every loss. Mania followed by depression followed by mania. It’s the reason God invented talk radio.Ah, talk radio. What did hoopsaholics ever do without it? It’s a wonderful platform for Boobus Hoopus Americanus to display his or her ignorance, prejudice and all-around instability. And that’s just the host we’re talking about.A couple of March Madnesses ago, a guy called a talk show and identified himself as a University of Kentucky fan who “bleeds blue.” (Anyone who makes such a claim, and is proud of it, should immediately be filed in the Need-to-Get-a-Life category of the loony bin.) This nutcase said he was hoping the Wildcats would not — repeat, NOT — do well in the NCAA tournament “because then we won’t be able to get rid of Tubby.”At the time, the Cats had just posted another season of 20-plus victories, won another Southeastern Conference championship and earned another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But that’s not enough for this blue-bleeder. He wants the team to get beat in the NCAA so the university can get rid of Coach Tubby Smith.He is a textbook example of Boobus Hoopus Americanus.So, for that matter, is anybody who’s a fan of cheerleading.Cheerleading is actually cheerstopping. The home crowd can be really rocking. The opponent calls time-out. And then, instead of an explosion of noise and exuberance, everything grinds to a halt while the cheerleaders take the floor to attempt a “stunt” that might end in tragedy.Suddenly silent, the crowd watches breathlessly, everyone waiting to exhale. Then, when the stunt is completed, the noise again begins to rise, not because of happiness over the game but because of relief that no cheerleader has been dropped on his or her head.Just the other day, a cheerleader from Southern Illinois fell off a “pyramid,” or some such stunt, and lay motionless on the floor. They brought out a stretcher to cart her off. On the way out, as the band was striking up the school fight song, the cheerleader raised her arms in rigid robotic fashion and began pumping them up and down.The crowd went nuts. What a trouper! What school spirit!Sadly, too many basketball coaches now are coaching like cheerleader coaches. Their teams run plays without conviction or enthusiasm. The players look wooden and robotic. They move in synchronized lockstep, like the cheerleaders, instead of letting their instinct and creativity take over.Basketball cannot be choreographed. But don’t try telling that to Boobus Hoopus Americanus. Aided and abetted by instant replay and over-analysis, he or she insists on dissecting every nuance of every play, ad nauseum.Finally, after stripping away the outer layers, we get to the core of the fan’s brain. The heart of darkness, if you will. It’s obsession that defies all reason … the essence of a fan’s being … the monster within.It’s called … recruiting!Always be wary of any so-called adult who breaks into a cold sweat when recruiting is mentioned. Chances are, you have stumbled onto some closet Whack Job who knows more about the habits of a 7-foot teenager from Ethiopia than he does about how many hours his or her own children are spending on the Internet.Around Kentucky and Southern Indiana, where the quality of hoops has been strained this season, they’re not talking about the NCAA tournament. They’re talking about recruiting. Is Rick Pitino’s prime recruit coming to U of L or going to the NBA? Is Tubby ever going to get a big man who can play? Have all of the future superstars made their grades?Everybody’s fired up that the McDonald’s All-American Game is coming to Freedom Hall — poor old, outdated, shabby Freedom Hall, mind you — next spring. This will give all of our basket-cases their chance to further swell the heads of a bunch of insufferable teenagers who already have grossly inflated opinions of themselves.So, class, this is sad truth about college basketball fans: They are pedophiles. Not the kind that need to be locked up forever. Just the kind who are obsessed with where young boys with hyperactive pituitary glands might go to college. A Boobus Hoopus Americanus always is looking ahead. He or she does not understand what Pitino calls “the precious present.”Throughout March Madness, be cautious. You never can tell who might be sitting on the stool next to you at the bar. You can never tell when the next-door cubicle in the office might be harboring a recruiting nut who’s secretly trying to find out who’s the highest-ranked fifth-grade player in the nation and whether the Cards have a shot to be “involved” with him.Oh, yeah.Villanova will win the NCAA tournament.Class dismissed. And be careful out there.