Everything has to start somewhere: Someone has to say, “What if we put in Gehrig while Wally Pipp’s out?” or “Hey, John, maybe you should play some songs with that McCartney kid.”
This Thursday, the NCAA tournament kicks off on St. Patrick’s Day.
Or, as it shall be called henceforth, St. Patrick Ewing’s Day.
It’s like Leap Year, only more rare—it won’t occur again until 2022—and alcoholic.
And while the thought of adding another holiday may be exhausting for those still worn out from celebrating Johnny Appleseed Day on March 11, remember that both March Madness and St. Pat’s are relatively recent developments that exist in their current form because one noble visionary mused:
“This seems like a great thing to do instead of working.”
And another declared:
“This is a fine excuse to drink.”
Here’s a quick guide to how those March traditions came to be and why they shall be such solid foundations to construct the shrine of St. Patrick Ewing.
A Short Summary of St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day has always been far more about Irish-Americans than the Irish. It didn’t even become a public holiday in Ireland until 1904. (And back then it would have been unrecognizable to today’s celebrants: Until the 1960s, it was a day bars were closed.)
Whereas in North America the first recorded celebration of Irishness on a March 17th predates the U.S. itself, taking place in Boston in 1737.
Initially a celebration of Irish-American pride in the face of harsh discrimination, during the 20th century something funny happened: Other Americans decided they didn’t hate the Irish that much and wanted to join in the fun.
And thus the holiday evolved from being a meditation on how Irish Catholics could maintain their heritage while embracing their American home to an excuse to do shots while wearing green T-shirts with messages like “Me Lucky Charm” above an arrow pointed at your crank.
Meanwhile, throughout the 20th century, another March staple was evolving.
We must make St. Patrick Ewing’s Day a national holiday. Considering the presidential election we will be suffering through for another eight months, we deserve this, America.
The Making of March Madness
The NCAA men’s tournament started in 1939 with eight college basketball teams. And not necessarily the best teams either: The NIT would remain the tournament of choice for roughly the next two decades.
Between 1975 and 1985, the NCAA tournament finally snapped into shape. During just over a decade, it:
1. Grew to 32 teams then to 40 and finally 64 in 1985. (Now 68 thanks to play-in games.)
2. Added seeds for the first time.
3. Made the first official reference to a “Final Four.”
4. Drew unprecedented viewership thanks to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, whose 1979 championship game clash earned a record 24.1 television rating (still the highest for a basketball game at any level).
Then in 1989 #16 Princeton nearly defeated #1 Georgetown—incidentally, Mourning totally fouled on that last shot, which I say not because it’s my alma mater but because it’s the truth—stopping major conferences from hoarding all the selections and creating the thriller we all love: a tourney where a school you’ve never heard of can surge to the Final Four, electrifying fans and shredding brackets. (Thanks again, George Mason.)
Oh, and estimates suggest it costs us roughly $2 billion in lost national productivity, particularly over those crucial first two days of the tournament, when even the person who would sooner watch C-SPAN than UConn tunes in for Arkansas-Little Rock versus Purdue.
But you know what, America?
This year, we can do more. (Except in terms of actual work, in which case we’ll do much, much less.)
Because in 2016…
The Hardwood Meets the Hibernians!
March 17 does not usually fall on a Thursday, landing there most recently in 2011. (A day I was, tragically, employed.)
In 2005, I served a far less restrictive employer.
I was supposed to go back to the office after an hour for lunch but figured no one would notice if I extended that window by, oh, 20 hours or so, in the sense I did not return to work that day.
The bar was standing room only, and our fellow revelers included:
Many, many cops. (It was apparently located near the end of the parade route, with the result numerous fully uniformed officers came by for a pint.)
Children. (Hey, police, kids and binge drinking are just a logical mix.)
A dwarf dressed as leprechaun. (I would have blamed this on a drunken hallucination, except I touched him and he was real.)
Somehow, two already amazing traditions were improved.
What better way to experience the suffering of the Irish than by watching Kansas lose in the first round after you picked them to reach the title game, while a three at the buzzer to give your upset pick the win should be celebrated with Guinness and a Pogues sing-along.
And sometime after the moment I met that leprechaun, I realized there was one man who embodied this magical merger.
The Story of St. Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing has lived the highs and lows of March Madness: while player of the year and a national champion at Georgetown before going on to a Hall of Fame NBA career, he’s best known for two of the most brutal losses in NCAA history.
1. The 1982 championship game, when his Hoyas lost 63-62 to the Carolina Tar Heels as freshman Michael Jordan officially started his legend with a title-winning shot.
2. The 1985 championship game, when his Hoyas lost 66-64 to Villanova in one of the great upsets in sports history.
In other words, Ewing was five points—two tip-ins and an and-one—from three titles.
This heartbreak would surely make him honorary Irish, even if he wasn’t born on a small island famous for its friendly people and often troubled economy. (Jamaica, but close enough.)
The course is clear: We must make St. Patrick Ewing’s Day a national holiday. Considering the presidential election we will be suffering through for another eight months, we deserve this, America.
Except creating a national holiday takes a lot of work, so instead let’s just celebrate like it’s already a national holiday.
This Thursday, follow these steps.
The Celebration of St. Patrick Ewing’s Day
1. Put on something green and/or New York Knicks-related—that St. Patrick’s Day Carmelo jersey the NBA makes is the absolute sweet spot.
2. Go to a bar.
3. See if it’s showing basketball. (If it’s not, yell to the bartender, “How about showing some basketball? I’m Irish!”)
4. Start a tab or guilt folk into adding you to theirs. (“After Cromwell’s atrocities during the Rebellion of 1641, it’s the least you can do!”)
5. Make March history.
And when you wake up on March 18 with a wicked hangover and several busted brackets, remember:
You don’t have to honor St. Patrick Ewing again for six years.
Photo illustration by AnnaMarie Houlis.