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Kirby: On special assignment far away from NCAA Tournament's Final Four

Published March 27, 2013 1:32 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I confess there was a time when I thought NCAA stood for "National Colored Advancement Association." I am not kidding.

It turned out I was confusing the National Collegiate Athletic Association with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization that promotes people a whole other color than me.

I'd feel worse about the mistake if I actually thought college basketball mattered. But it doesn't. Not to me anyway. In fact, it would be hard to imagine something I care less about than organized sports.

For example, I have no idea who is playing in March Madness other than some guy named Gonzaga. And the only reason I know about him is because it's not the kind of name you can forget even if you want to.

I explained my lack of sports savvy to the editor who hired me in 1997. I had no sports experience beyond a single season of Little League, during which I was hit by fly balls no less than five times.

Editor: "So you're not interested in covering sports?

Me: "I'd rather watch someone clean bathrooms at the Legislature."

A few months later I was on a plane to cover the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, Texas. The University of Utah had made to the playoffs and The Tribune, ever on the cutting edge of journalism, wanted an idiot's perspective.

On the plane, I wrote down everything I knew about the sport: 1. I think there's a ball involved; 2. It's played by tall men in their underwear; 3. This sucks.

I spent four days going to basketball games, press conferences, post-game parties, pregame parties, and that Alamo. And except for watching some ticket scalpers being arrested, I didn't have clue one what was going on.

Note: It would have been five days but I got on the wrong bus and ended up at Randolph Air Force Base. Oddly, it was easier to get in there than into the Alamodome.

Here's the thing: Basketball is a religion to some guys, a faith so deep that it's almost holy. Fifteen years later, I can still impress real college sports fans by telling them that I have been to a genuine Final Four.

At church last week, some guys were deeply engrossed in the liturgy of the layup, reeling off player stats, game plans and how great it would be to go to the Final Four playoffs.

I casually let it drop that I had once been to a Final Four. I sat near Ashley Judd. I was close enough to smell the stink of desperation on North Carolina players when the Runnin' Utes beat them.

The guys stopped talking and looked at me as if I had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Guy No. 1: "You went to the Final Four?

Guy No. 2: "Are you serious?"

Guy No. 3: That's like hearing that Rasputin went to heaven.

In the end they didn't believe me. It couldn't be that someone as competitively dead as me had actually been to the Holy of Holies. I swore on a stack of sporting magazines that it was true. Didn't matter.

Not being believed bothered me enough that I actually applied to go to Atlanta to cover this year's Final Four. I had done it before. I could do it again. It would certainly establish my sports credentials.

The editor turned me down. She wants me to go up to the state Capitol and do a color piece on bathrooms.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.