Welcome to Cooler Day!
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Word came down from the Schedule Makers on high that Cooler Day -- the official Best Day of the Year, when baseball's Opening Day collides with the NCAA basketball tournament's championship game on a Monday in April -- is kaput.

Pour out the last drops of your Sparkletts, dwellers -- in memory of dear, departed Cooler Day.

Bon Jovi
The NFL went all the way to Exit 7 in its talent search.
For some cockamamie reason, the NCAA tournament starts a week later this year. Doggie-piling on top of that is baseball's decision to start its season in Japan with the A's and Mariners next week. What's next: Bon Jovi arriving by helicopter to kick off an NFL game on a Thursday night? Never mind.

Anyway, we're all about turning the page here on Page 2.

As such, we're nominating 2003's Cooler Day as this very day! Right here, dwellers. By confluence of fate, and by the desire to not let a calendar year go by without Cooler Day, we took a long hard look at this date -- St. Patrick's Day, colliding with the First Full Day to Ponder Your Brackets -- and said: Hell, good enough for me.

Head to the pub. Pull out your brackets. Dial up a pint, and let the good times roll. Is there anything that says revelry more than green lager spilled on your LSU-Purdue pick? Anything that says Good-Time Charlie more than Guinness stains obscuring your Oregon-Utah selection?

And what brackets they are, my friends. It's socialism, run amok. The NBA's pilfering of top-shelf talent over the past five years has finally leveled the college playing field to the point where we have our first, legit Free-For-All in the tourney. You know all those absurd, ridiculous, half-drunk picks you've made in the past? When you tabbed Gonzaga to win it all? Or Valpo to go to the Final Four? Your day hath come, dweller.

This is the most egalitarian playing field ever. Anything goes. Let it all hang out. Of 65 teams, shoot, maybe, maybe Kentucky and Arizona have a slight edge over anybody else. Then again, I just watched Arizona lose to the worst UCLA team since the New Deal was a legitimate political force, so all bets are off.

Pick Dayton! Pick Mississippi State! Pick Illinois!

It's an all-skate, dwellers. Just last night, my 10-year-old nephew barked out at a family gathering: "The teams with the best chance to win it all who nobody thinks will are Xavier and Marquette." I gazed admiringly at the little bookie-to-be. The kid's in the fourth grade -- and from his lips to God's ears! We could have gathered Digger Phelps, Dick Vitale and Andy Katz in the same room, and they couldn't have come up with a weightier statement.

On, then, to the Weekend List of Five, with a Monday morning toast to the holy day that is St. Pat's:

1. Recognizing the legitimacy of this day
Let me trace the evolution of St. Patrick's Day, from one American's viewpoint.

When you agree with this poster, you've arrived.
Age 0-4: No cognizance of St. Patrick's Day. Too busy watching "Sesame Street."

Ages 5-11: St. Patrick's Day is a phenomenal excuse to pinch the bejesus out of anyone at school who fails to wear green. I mean, really drill 'em. Get, like, fingernails involved. Go deep.

Age 12-18: St. Patrick's Day means nothing.

Age 19-25: St. Patrick's Day begins to take on intense meaning, as it is easily the most raucous drinking day of the year, and no self-respecting college town won't have some lift-the-roof rager that will have you wearing one of those green plastic bowlers and doing lime Jell-o shots.

Age 26-34: You get too cool for St. Patrick's Day. You look down on it, and call it "Amateur Hour." You feel smug, and do your heavy drinking on March 16, or March 18.

Age 35-onward: Coming to grips with a pending mid-life crisis, and realizing that this trail of tears we call life is speeding towards the grave, you embrace St. Patrick's Day with a bearhug not unlike the one Sammy Sosa laid on Mark McGwire after No. 62. Are you kidding me? A day in which society has unofficially sanctioned the right to get obliterated? Who would pass this up? A toast! To our dwindling days of happiness!

All of which is by way of saying: Pick Notre Dame! Why the hell not?

2. The missing
UCLA is out.

North Carolina is out.

Bobby Knight is out.

Steve Lavin
When you reach the door, just keep walking, Steve.
And you're worried? My friend, those names are so 20th-century.

What to make of these college hoops legends all failing to qualify?

Well, we can't speak for the Tar Heels or the Red Raiders at this Cooler. We can, however, issue our parting words for Mr. Sunshine, Steve Lavin. This guy's three-month long woe-is-me act wore thinner than a silk-screened T-shirt made in Malaysia. Bottom line: We, the UCLA community, gave this guy the keys to the kingdom. Next thing you know, decay sets in, and rats have overrun Pauley Pavilion.

So Lav goes on this media campaign, in three parts:

Act One, he plays defiant, making jokes about who should succeed him.

Act Two, he grows maudlin, talking about how much he'll miss annual trips to Corvallis and Pullman.

Act Three, he tries to go noble, talking about how much he'll root for the young kids next year.

My answer is one act long: Put a sock in it, chief.

Now, pack your boxes and go quietly.

3. Kings-Mavs: The bee's knees!
Finally, the NBA is cooking this year, and it took two teams who, a scant 10 years ago, couldn't have gotten The Food Network to broadcast one of their games.

Now, Dallas-Sacramento is marquee stuff, and ABC breaks out in hives of excitement over a Sunday broadcast.

And legitimately, this rivalry has it all. It's got bad blood. It's got Eurotrash, ranging from the carton-a-day nicotine freak Eastern Euros like Divac and Stojakovic; to the Black Forest Middle Euro Saxons like Nowitzki. It has guys who were indicted by federal grand juries, lending a bad-boy feel; and it's got gutty little white guys like Stevie Nash, who prove that you, too, can one day shag Liz Hurley. It's got coaches who stretch the fashion limits -- Adelman in the t-neck, Nellie still unable to live down the Fish Tie and sneakers days.

It's got fast breaks, great passing, lots of scoring and it has our interest.

Man. It's all so good I half-expect to see an old Hall and Oates "One on One" NBA ad during commercial break. Old-school memories. Nice. Not that I liked Hall and Oates, or anything like that.

4. Johnny Miller: Don't hold back, my man
Flipped on the end of the Honda Classic, just in time to hear NBC's hammer-dropper Johnny Miller assess Davis Love III's back-nine:

"Davis is collapsing."

Classic Miller. Matter-of-fact delivery, just bringing down the mallet on a guy whose throat is wondering what happened to the saliva and whose lungs are wondering who stole the oxygen.

Davis Love III
Oh, Davis, and Miller also hates your shirt.
"Davis is collapsing."

Man. I'll tell you this -- Johnny Miller is a damn entertaining analyst, but I'd shiver to think what he'd say if he followed me around for a day, in that plain, normal, unaffected style of his.

"Another malnutritious breakfast. No wonder you're teetering out of shape."

"The next time you think about cleaning your side of the room will be the first."

"Boy, I wouldn't go to work wearing those pants. Has this guy ever heard of an iron?"

"That's a little early for a first beer, isn't it?"

Whew. Thank God Miller doesn't have the color analyst job on my life.

5. Final Cooler Day thoughts
We offer an old Irish toast, the better to get you through a bracket-filled Monday and the better to rush you to the pub at quitting time, when you slide down the dinosaur tail at 5 p.m.:

    "May the road rise up to meet you,
    May the wind always be at your back,
    May you take the over in the next Kings-Mavs game,
    And until we meet again, may my 10-year-old nephew's words hold you in the palm of your hand: 'Of all the teams who can win it all that nobody is thinking of, Xavier and Marquette have the best shot

The kid's good.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



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