These two teams were not just playing for a championship. They were playing for history. Florida won last year, and wanted to be the first team since the 1991 and 1992 Duke teams to win back-to-back titles, and the first team ever to win back-to-back titles with the same starting five. Ohio State hadn't won the title since 1960 when a reserve named Bobby Knight sat on their bench — instead of throwing it.
One couldn't help noticing well before the game that Florida and Ohio State were the opposite of each other in many ways. The Florida players talk trash in their sleep. They always presented themselves as the picked-upon, getting no respect, angry underdogs. Some underdogs. Their "us against the world" attitude was exemplified by their emotional leader, Joakim Noah. He always looked angry when you'd think he should look happy — like after making a basket. He pounded his chest so often and so hard that I was afraid he'd crack a rib.
Ohio State's leader, Greg Oden, is shy, polite, and soft-spoken. He has always let his playing do the talking for him. He displays emotion so rarely on the court, that when he does act excited, you know it's for real, and you get excited, too.
Oden, a freshman, is expected to leave college after this year and turn pro. Many sports writers have written that he would be crazy not to. On the other hand, the three Florida stars: Noah, Corey Brewer, and Al Horford turned down the possibility of millions of the NBA's dollars after winning the championship last year, and decided to return to college for another year to try to win another title. Even though none of them said the reason he wanted to stay in college was to learn more about physics or art history, they were lauded for "following their hearts" instead of following the big bucks. The same sports writers who think Oden should go for the money wrote that these young men were definitely doing the right thing by not going for the money.
Nobody on Florida could stop Greg Oden in Monday's championship game, so maybe he is ready for the pros. He and his buddy and former high school and grade school teammate, Mike Conley, Jr., scored 45 of Ohio State's 75 points. That was part of the problem. Ohio State had two stars. Florida had at least five.
As I always do, I had a great time at this year's Final Four weekend. It was completely escapist. I have been totally immersed in basketball from when I arrived in Atlanta on Friday until now, a couple of hours after the final whistle of the final game. The whole time I've been here, I haven't read a newspaper, checked the news on the Internet, or watched the news on TV. As far as I know, President Bush may have endorsed Hillary for the presidency, scientists may have discovered that ice cream cures obesity, and Britney Spears may have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Okay, I'm exaggerating — the president would never endorse Hillary.
Even though I work for a news organization, I highly recommend this self-imposed news blackout once in a while. There's nothing wrong with just dealing with something that's pure fun, like sports, and taking a break from hearing about killings, rising gas prices, and melting glaciers that are going to flood our living rooms some day.
But going to the games wasn't all fun. There was one particularly serious moment. During the second half of the final game, the NCAA issued a "safety advisory," and had people distribute a piece of paper with the details of the advisory on it to the members of the press. I assume that they chose this method of informing us of the problem rather than announcing it over the P.A. system to avoid panic.
The advisory dealt with the specific dangers of something that was planned for immediately after the game: a "confetti drop."
I'm serious. They actually printed and distributed these "advisories." They were warning us so that we could be prepared for the "drop" in time to protect our "laptops," "our eyes and hair," and to avoid having the confetti drop into any food or drinks we may have.
And you thought basketball was a rough game just for the players.
Despite the dangers, I can't wait for next year.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of which should have been made into confetti.
By Lloyd Garver