MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

It’s so wonderful the birds have come back. I spent 10 minutes sitting in the car early last evening, watching an Oriole (an omen) reacquaint himself with the place.

It doesn’t matter if we get two feet of snow at this point (well, yeah, it kind of does), it is now spring. Spring, I tell you, when, in the words of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, “everything else begins again, and blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill winds come …”
Stop right there (hear needle-scratch sound on the LP). Baseball season is just beginning; it’s not stopping and leaving us to face the fall alone, so let’s not even talk about fall.

Fall brings the southward flight of birds. It brings #NFLTheTVShow, dark twilight, cold morning, a new school year (hey, it’s a mindset), and the inevitable segue to (please don’t say it) winter. And in the immortal words of Jessica Tandy in the movie “Best Friends,” winter kills. At least it tries to.

When it comes to winter, I’ve never been a buyer of the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” load of bull. Winter’s sole objective is to try to eat away at you, to break you, and to make you take the garbage out when it’s below 20 degrees and all you’re wearing is a sweatshirt and gym shorts.

You know what winter’s most clever, yet devious, trick is? Say it’s January 11 and you leave your house to go to work and the sun is shining brightly, the air is still and clear and you can see for miles away. Subconsciously you find yourself filled with hope, as though it’s an early March day rather than an early day in January, and as you take in the fresh air, you ever so briefly allow yourself to believe that more of these beautiful days are finally coming.

But it’s a trick. The comfort of beautiful days is a thing of the past, at least until late March, which is precisely where we find ourselves.

It’s spring, come hell or high snowfall, which means it’s all about possibilities.

And speaking of possibilities, how about a men’s Final Four of No. 5 seed San Diego State, No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic University, No. 4 Connecticut and No. 5 Miami?

Not a No. 1 seed to be found.

Cinderella is dead. Color her Grace Kelly.

Sans the No. 1 seeds, which were four absolute busts, the sexy picks to reach the Final Four by a lot of folks who know were UConn and No. 2 Texas, both legit picks; but San Diego State and FAU? Nobody picked them, though I’m sure somebody using an app did.

To think FAU trailed Memphis by a point with seven seconds to go in the first round and Memphis had the ball? And now FAU is in the Final Four?

As for the top seeds, Kansas, though being the best team I saw all season, was up against it without head coach Bill Self, and Houston laid a giant egg in not taking advantage of hosting the Final Four in Houston.

Alabama, after drumming Maryland in the second round, appeared to have a straight shot, but was exposed by San Diego State in the Sweet 16 to be a team of large athletic players, but basically one true basketball player. And Purdue? They became the second No. 1 in history to lose to a No. 16, Fairleigh Dickinson, of all people, while the first team to do it, not to be outdone, No. 4 Virginia returned to old home week by losing to No. 13 Furman in the first round.

And how about Miami coming back from 13 down in the second half to overrun Texas? Not that I have any love for the ACC, but I do really like Hurricanes head coach Jim Larrañaga, who is taking his team to the Final Four 17 years after taking George Mason (yes, George Mason) to the Final Four.

Miami was Maryland’s best win of the season, particularly in retrospect, because Maryland blew out Miami and now Miami is in the Final Four.

The Hurricanes were flawless in the second half, particularly on the glass and at the free-throw line down the stretch, led by the remarkable performance by Jordan Miller, who was perfect from the field and from the line, bringing back March memories of Bill Walton and Christian Laettner.

No, there is no Cinderella anymore. Basketball is a global sport, 365 days a year. The parity in talent is real. See what N.C. State started in 1983?

It seems like it’s been with us forever, this March Madness 2023, because we’re near its end; yet it’s been just two weekends. You become so engrossed in it you feel as though each game is a full day; and it all began in earnest with a great game from Maryland and West Virginia just two Thursdays ago.

The birds are back, March is mad, and the possibilities are endless.

Three days to Opening Day.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT