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Madness at dangerous levels, and it's spreading

by | CBSSports.com Columnist

If you see a Mayan coming toward you during your week, give him twenty bucks and back away slowly. He knows stuff, and more to the point, he is not to be messed with.

Or you can look at your bracket today, see Virginia Butlerwealth and UConntucky and assume that sometimes things just happen.

Well, no. There's a hand at work here, it's been working for damned near 10 years, and it's getting closer and closer to Somethingorotherageddon.

The Final Four is a glorious pie fight foreseen by nobody in their right minds, but that's not what should convince you that the planet isn't rotating the way it should. It's just one more brick in the wall that slowly but surely strangles the history we all have come to believe as the guide to the future.

It all started with the Red Sox in 2004, when all the baggage of being a baseball fan in Boston finally got delivered. We hate to give the Red Sox credit for this because it also meant the end of the cuddly, charming Red Sox fan -- a casualty of the times to come.

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It's what happened next, though, that should have tipped us off to the weirdness to come. The White Sox, who had waited even longer than the Red Sox, won the Series the next year by beating Houston, which had never been anywhere. Two years later, Colorado got in and lost to the Red Sox, who were just showing off at this point. Then came Tampa Bay, and then last year, San Francisco won its first title by beating Texas, which also had never been in a Series before.

The NFL also descended into unimagined areas, and even further back. The breakout Super Bowl was Rams-Titans in 2000, but it quickly swung through Baltimore (which is the old Cleveland Browns, no matter what Cleveland fans say they are), Tampa Bay, Carolina, Seattle, then finally Arizona and New Orleans before lapsing back into orthodoxy with Packers-Steelers last year.

The NHL broke through the cheesecloth curtain in 2002 when Carolina reached the Stanley Cup Final against Detroit, and then kicked up non-traditional participants from Anaheim, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and finally last year, when Chicago won its first Cup in 40 years.

There are exceptions here, of course. The NBA has never been about championship diversity -- its past two first-time winners were the 1999 Spurs and the 2006 Heat, and its fan base wants nothing but familiar faces in familiar uniforms. The last real stretch was Sacramento in the 2002 Western Conference finals, and we all know how spectacularly bad that went.

Women's college basketball has been about four teams -- UConn, Tennessee, Stanford and Baylor -- since Baylor joined the Big Three. The women's game is not yet ready for regular bracket-busterism, with Maryland's surprise title in 2006 the last to defy convention.

Most soccer leagues have become top-heavy for the wealthiest few, while everyone else plays not to be relegated, a cool twist on the sport that nobody else seems keen on emulating.

But the general madness has never been more rampant than in this tournament, with these results. Everyone speaks of the history-making absence of any 1- or 2-seeds, but it gets more bizarre than that. Virginia Commonwealth, which had to sit at the kids' table when this tournament began, has more double-digit wins, four, than the other three finalists combined, and the two coaches in the Butler-VCU game are one year younger together than Jim Calhoun of UConn is on his own.

And nobody is winning your office pool without cheating, or at the very least with a score so low that it would normally get the holder eliminated by the round of eight.

That's a lot of money left on a lot of tables, and that concept alone sets people on a course of insanity that can only bring out the Mayans, Druids, Hittites and their fellow doomsday propheteers from their celestial hiding places to see if perhaps the time has come to start calling in their IOUs.

In short, if you're at work this week and you see a very tall figure in a robe and scythe, flee. It is the harbinger of global death, and he can't get what he can't catch.

Unless, of course, he also works in Human Resources. There's no escape from them, ever.


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