Warren Buffett, the owner of Berkshire Hathaway, did something I’m sure you heard about. He offered $1 million every year for life to any Berkshire Hathaway employee who picked the winners in the first two rounds of the 2018 NCAA tournament exactly right.
Rhino Times editor John Hammer made a similar offer for all Rhino employees: If any employee picked every game of the tournament correctly then they would get a new stapler for their desk.
I was really hoping to win that since my stapler jams all the time – but all of us here knew the odds were steep because, unlike Berkshire Hathaway’s contest for its employees, in ours we had to get every game right, not just the ones in the first two rounds.
On Thursday, March 15, the first day of the 64-team NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I was annoyed because everyone around me happened to be a Berkshire Hathaway employee with a million dollars riding on their picks. Since Yost & Little Realty is now Berkshire Hathaway Yost & Little, my brother and father along with many others I know were talking about winning the million dollars. And later that night, on the first night of the tournament, I had to cover a Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting, which meant I sat all night next to a News & Record reporter – also a Berkshire Hathaway employee – who had a million dollars on the line with her bracket picks. (If you somehow don’t know, Buffett bought the News & Record about five years ago.)
So, anyway, there I was that Thursday with a new stapler riding on my NCAA bracket picks and with everyone around me in the running for a million dollars with theirs – and not just a million dollars, but, as they each pointed out to me all day long, a million dollars a year for life.
So imagine my utter delight the next night, Friday, when I saw the most amazing basketball game in history instantly take everyone out of the running for Buffett’s money. I’m talking, of course, about the utterly unimaginable game played by the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), which, as you well know, suddenly stood for U Must Be Cinderella.
Now, I know you sat there Friday night just like I did, glued to your TV, getting more and more wide-eyed as the game progressed; and I realize that you know the story is astonishing, but I don’t think a lot of people really grasp exactly how astonishing it was.
People talk about the Miracle on Ice or Buster Douglas’ knockout of Mike Tyson or Chaminade’s 1982 win over Virginia, and they ask whether the UMBC game was a bigger upset than those.
So let me get this out of the way up front: The Friday, March 16 victory of UMBC over Virginia was the greatest upset in the history of sports. That includes every game in every sport since the beginning of time, period.
In fact, this wasn’t an upset so much as a pure, out and out miracle. It was a miracle every bit as much as if a passenger jet with complete a loss of power were falling out of the sky and a giant hand had come out of the clouds, grabbed the plane and gently sat it down to rest on the ground. As far as what was previously understood about the bounds of the possible, UMCB’s defeat of Virginia was what’s known as an extinction level event.
As you know, before this game, a number one seed had never beaten a number 16 seed in the tournament, but Virginia wasn’t just any number one seed. It was the team that was far and away the NCAA tournament’s overall number one seed. You know the team: the one that had just spent the previous three months decimating the rest of the ACC and the one that had just sliced easily through the ACC Tournament like it was a walk in the park.
That Virginia team.
Which, on March 16, was beaten by a team called the Retrievers (named after Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the state dog of Maryland), wearing uniforms that, as one Twitter user pointed out, looked remarkably like the uniforms of Michael J. Fox’s team in Teen Wolf.
The school is in Catonsville, Maryland, which isn’t even a real town. Catonsville is “a census-designated place” that has no legal status – it’s just a lot of people in one place that the census people group together for data purposes.
Now, the part that makes this truly miraculous isn’t what happened on Friday night, March 16, 2018, but instead what happened on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018.
On that day, UMBC Retrievers played the Albany Great Danes. Now, people always talk about the top 25 ranking in college basketball but the computer-calculated power rankings actually go all the way down. The Albany Great Danes were not in the top 25. Nor were they in the next group of 25, or the next group, or the next. In fact, Albany ended up this season as the 145th-ranked team in the country.
Now, on Jan. 21, Albany, the 145th team in the country – the Great Danes – beat UMBC by 44 points in an 83-to-39 massacre.
And that exact same team, that lost by 44 points to the 145th team in the country, beat Virginia.
And here’s the other amazing part: Not only did they beat Virginia – they utterly dismantled them. It’s not like UMBC squeaked by Virginia. It’s not like they beat them on a last-second buzzer beater after a controversial call, which still, in itself, would have qualified as a miracle. No, they had their way with them utterly and completely from start to finish. They didn’t just beat UVA – they took them to school. They took them behind the woodshed and beat them like a rented mule every which way to Sunday. For two hours on Friday, the team that had lost by 44 points to the 145th worst team in the country, made one of the best teams in the history of college basketball look like they were a group little schoolgirls who had never played before.
UMBC gave Virginia its worst loss all year in what was the worst defeat of an overall number one tournament seed in the history college basketball.
You should think about that the next time you are feeling down and depressed or defeated. The game was a crystal clear message in living color that anytime, anywhere, it may be your time. You should think back to that game whenever someone tells you the odds are against you, or that something is impossible, or any time the doctor tells you that you only have a one in 10,000 chance of living.
UCMB proved beyond a shadow of doubt that, on any day, at any time, absolutely anything in the world can happen.
No matter what you’re facing or how bad it gets, hang in there. Because you never know. That could just be your 44-point loss to the 145th Great Danes.
An hour, a day, a week or a couple of months later, you may wake up one morning and find that all the planets and all the stars across the universe have aligned perfectly in your favor like you could have never imagined and you may suddenly find yourself an all-powerful dragon-slayer whose time has come.
Just ask UMBC.