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My dad passed away almost 9 years ago. He loved everything sports. He loved competition. You could say I picked up a few things from him! I can definitely wrestle with my attention to sports at times. It can very easily become an idol and a distraction from more important things for me. But I think March Madness is about more than the fun of sports for me but a carrying on of a tradition, of the memories I have with my dad and March Madness. I remember watching Duke upset undefeated UNLV in 1991 after getting creamed by them in 1990. We watched Laettner hit that last second shot against Kentucky in 1992. We watched the Fab 5, rooted for the West teams, and just lived and breathed NCAA basketball for 3 weekends every year. I enjoyed March Madness not so much because of the games but the fun connection with my dad. I enjoy it now in some ways because my fond memories of him still. As I said though, my dad was a competitor and what would March Madness be without a family pool?

My Family’s NCAA Pool

I can’t remember when we started our family pool or how my dad came up with the system, but we still use it today between my own family, my brother and his girlfriend, and my mom. It’s not the normal system. We don’t pick every single game. All we are essentially attempting to do is to pick the final 8 teams.

11mens_bracket

Your goal is to pick the Elite 8. You pick 8 teams: 2 per region, 1 per quadrant. You get 1 point for a first round win and double each round thereafter. A win in the final is worth 32 pts. You also get 1 bonus team that is a 7 seed or lower. But with these teams, the points are higher. A 7 or 8 seed first round win is worth 2 pts, a 9 or 10 seed is worth 3 pts, a 11 or 12 seed is worth 4 pts, a 13 or 14 seed is worth 8 pts, a 15 seed win is worth 16 pts (only happened 4 times), and a 16 seed win is worth 32 pts (never happened). That is a total of 9 teams – your elite 8 plus a bonus team that you think could pull some upsets.

Even My Kids Make Picks

Yes, even my kids (all 6 and under!) make their picks. How? When they were really little, I would have them roll the dice. Yes, I know, I am bit into this! For the past few years though, I have made slides with the top 6 teams for each region showing the animal mascot for each of those teams. I try to use an actual picture of an animal wherever I can. They just pick the animal they like!

2011 MARCH MADNESS EAST TOP 6 SEEDS

At least one of my kids has beat me every year since I started using the pictures and my daughter Zinnia won the whole pool by the role of the dice 2 years ago! No male (my brother, my son, or myself) in my family has won in nearly 4 years!

Is It Worth It?

It’s very easy to get sucked in and end up watching way too many hours of games. One pastor I know actually said that the last 2 minutes are usually the only that you need to see! That’s pretty true actually. I’m not a fan of filling out 10 brackets and trying to track all of them. Keep it simple. Don’t ignore your family the next 3 weekends (I am preaching this to myself more than anyone!). Think about the fact that the gospel in a sense frees us to enjoy life. Yes, we should not be wasteful with our time or escape into it. But enjoy the fellowship, enjoy the underdog winning, enjoy the young athlete coming through in a hard moment, ache with the team coming up just short, enjoy the coach finally getting a title, and remind yourself that in Christ we ourselves are in a match, a race to receive a prize that is imperishable. Also remind yourself that the best player in the league, an unstoppable force, is on your team and He is not you.

I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:22-27 ESV)

Pool Resources

2011 MARCH MADNESS Mascot Slides by Region (PDF)

2011 MARCH MADNESS Scoring Blank Spreadsheet (My Family Rules) (Excell)

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"There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart." – Derrick Brooks (former NFL linebacker)

Jay Cutler

I have played sports my whole life. I played varsity soccer in high school. In the middle of my junior year season, I took a hard tackle and injured my right ankle pretty bad. I couldn’t hardly walk the next day. It wasn’t even my first ankle injury, it wasn’t new to me. I tried to hide how bad it was and kept telling myself I could play. A couple days later we had a game against a rival and there was absolutely no way I was sitting out. So I played. Terribly. I was tentative. I was hesitating. I found myself feeling limited and in pain. Needless to say, I sat out most of the second half feeling downcast at how bad I played and frustrated that I couldn’t play my best even if I had wanted. Should I have been able to gut it out? Should I have been tougher? Maybe. But that was where I was at.

Cutler’s own hell

Let me sum up the last 24 hours for Jay Cutler. He starts at quarterback for Chicago Bears in a huge playoff matchup against their rivals the Green Bay Packers for the right to go to the Super Bowl. He had a rough first half, struggled with his accuracy and was hit hard multiple times, dinging up his elbow and at some point getting his knee hammered. After halftime he comes out for one series and then is out injured for the rest of the game. Then the hate ensues. Multiple NFL players attack him via Twitter. Denver radio has been all over him. He and his teammates get asked multiple times if he was actually injured that badly. Why didn’t he stay in? Was he really injured? What a quitter. I have to admit, I was questioning his toughness a little as well.

If he’s not The Most Hated Man in the NFL, he’s in the running. His expression is usually that of a man wearing sandpaper underwear. He looks everywhere but into your eyes. It’s a tie as to which he enjoys more — smirking or shrugging. – Rick Reilly

Jay Cutler not exactly Mr. Personality

Jay Cutler does not seem to be well liked around the league. He’s been called “emo,” distant, self-absorbed, arrogant, and not a team player. He’s not very charismatic, does not interview well, and does not like attention, even when doing something nice for some sick kids. But is that a reason to question the guys’ heart? He plays starting quarterback for the NFL, one of only 32 such positions in the world. He ran the option for Vanderbilt in college, taking a regular beating in one of the tougher conferences in the nation, the SEC. This year, he’s been sacked 52 times, getting knocked out of one game with a concussion and fighting through multiple injuries to help carry a team to a 12-4 record. Doesn’t he deserve the benefit of the doubt? Turns out, he had a sprained MCL and teammates said his knee was actually wobbly just standing in the huddle!

My Translation of Urlacher: Take the log out of your own eye!

Who cares what they think? That’s my response to them. They are not playing in this game. Jay was hurt, obviously. There’s no reason for him to be out there if he can’t get it done. He was obviously hurt pretty bad or he would have played. For them to question his toughness is stupid to me. – Brian Urlacher

How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. – Luke 6:42

What right does anyone have to hammer Cutler outside of a reproof from his own teammates to his face? Cutler is not a personality, but an actual person. It’s very easy, as I struggled doing this as well, to take potshots at him from far away, judging his heart for that matter. I love how his teammates and coaches have defended him. Sure, he might be hard to get along with. Sure, it was tough loss. Sure, he didn’t play great before he got hurt. Maybe he didn’t seem to handle not being in the game very well and did not seem to be the greatest cheerleader. But would you respond differently? How do you know? This is national TV, a huge game, and he’s been injured and not able to continue. How positive would you be? I had to tell myself as the day went along: Just shut up about Cutler. I have no right to judge him as he’s been picked apart. For that matter, I acted the same way on a much much smaller stage with a much weaker injury with much lower stakes.

He’s a battler who’s done amazingly well considering the swinging saloon-door offensive line he has to play behind. The man has been sacked more times this season (52) than in his three seasons in Denver combined (51). Yet he never complains. – Rick Reilly

Rooting against people is honestly no fun

Cutler has yet to defend himself. He shouldn’t have to. He probably won’t. But somebody should. As a Bronco fan, I did not like it when he demanded out of Denver. I have rooted against him the past two years. It’s not that fun, honestly. It’s amazing how easily we root for people to fail and then attack when they do. I don’t want to be that way. After the last 24 hours and all the harsh words directed his way, I will definitely have a hard time rooting against Cutler moving forward. Regardless of the person he shows himself to be.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8

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This is what I posted on Twitter on Thursday, July 8:

“The overexposure & ridiculous “decision” special (compare to @KDthunderup) about to make @kingjames a villain unless he chooses Cleveland”

I then posted this, a retweet of The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons (@sportsguy33):

“RT @sportsguy33 Totally fine with LBJ switching teams. But doing that to Cleveland via a one-hour TV show was absolutely brutal. An unprecedented Eff You.”


The whole circus of LeBron James, an NBA basketball player, and his impending free agency team decision had been a bit much to say the least. As a born and raised NBA fan, I followed it hoping that LeBron would stay in Cleveland and show some loyalty. When he chose Miami, to play with Wade and Bosh, I was disappointed. His decision coupled with the narcissistic display of the decision show on ESPN, as well as his entrance to Twitter and calling himself @kingjames, soiled my opinion of him a bit. Glory hound. Narcissist. Prima donna. Selfish. Another millionaire self-focused American athlete.

What a Pharisee I am. Yet another way you can tell if you’re being self-righteous: making a person into a personality.

That’s exactly what my first response was. At worst, my judgments are correct and LeBron is no worse than I would be in his shoes. At 25, with a tens of millions, in the spotlight, deified by millions of fans, what would I do? I can have my own tv show where I announce what team I’m joining? Sign me up! Shoot, I get puffed up looking at my blog stats when I see all of 10 hits! Could I even handle what LeBron deals with and not yield to the praise of men?

But think about his decision. What would have been the typical NBA free agent decision for LeBron, Wade, and Bosh? Money! Every year plays out that way unless you’re an older player at the tail end of your career, like what Pierce, Allen, and Garnett did in 2007. NBA teams overpay, players gladly take their money and go to the highest bidder for the most part. Never has anyone made a decision like that these 3 did. They chose friendship and titles over money! LeBron chose friendship over fans! Think about that for a minute. LeBron made a decision that would leave him vilified by fans and tarnish his public image. He chose friendship and the chance to win over reputation and fickle fans and a company whose love for him was conditional anyway (as evidenced by this)! Isn’t that wisdom? Isn’t that what we might do? We might have crushed him even if he stayed with Cleveland and made an extra $100 million. One more thing: he chose less glory. He chose to join Wade in Miami instead of being #1 banana in Cleveland, Chicago, or even New York! Isn’t that something to be praise? I think when I first pushed out those tweets, I was just thinking like the world and poking at someone who chose less glory, less money, and less respect.

I don’t know where LeBron stands with Jesus. I pray that he treasures Jesus above all fame, winning, friendships, money, and worldly pleasures. But I have no place to just hammer this 25yr old millionaire kid. All of us have fallen short and all of us have need of a Savior, most of all me.

A few other good reads:

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What are the biggest what-ifs of this world cup for team USA? I like this question because, as you’ll see, we tend to focus on the negative instead of the positive breaks…

1. What if Charlie Davies had not nearly lost his life in a car accident last fall?

Charlie Davies was a major contributor as a striker for pretty much the entire world cup qualifying campaign the last 2 years. He had speed and was becoming a solid finisher in international play. But he was a severe car accident in which one female friend was killed and he fractured his tibia and femur along with other life-threatening injuries. He came all the way back to be able to practice with Team USA but was too far off to play in this World Cup.

What happens if we have Davies starting up top instead of Findley (a +/- of -3)? Buddle and Gomez were not entirely effectively either and definitely did not have the finishing touch. Altidore made some things happen but just could not get the ball in the back of the net. Maybe Davies could have added some spark in those dreary first halves.

2. What if Feilhaber had started every game?

Feilhaber came on at midfield for Findley (moving Dempsey up top) in multiple games and ended up having a +/- of +4! You could see the difference versus Ghana. He stabilized the midfield with Bradley, solidified the left side of the field, and simply helped calm things down and allow the US to control the field much better.

What if he starts? Edu and Clark were inconsistent and a little out of control and having Dempsey up top seemed to generate a lot more scoring chances.

3. What if the 2 stolen goals had counted?

This one is funny. If the goal counts against Slovenia, then I think we’re robbed of a fantastic game against Algeria. If the first half goal against Algeria counted, we’re again robbed of a insanely memorable finish. Think about it, if they beat Slovenia, that changes both of the final games. England has less pressure and the U.S. could even afford to lose against Algeria. Maybe then they have more gas in the tank and less of an emotional let down against Ghana. Maybe they finish even stronger against Ghana.

Really though, I’m glad now that both of those goals were disallowed. I will never ever forget that last minute goal by Donovan and the guts the US had to keep pressing in that game. They went from out of the World Cup to 1st in their group with that willed goal in 92nd minute. That made it special.

4. What if Tim Howard saves Ghana’s first goal?

Howard is one of best goalies in the world. He loves Jesus. I love the guy. He’s saved the US team’s rear on many an occasion against some of the best teams in the world. But he did not make hardly a single big save in this tournament and he definitely had a shot at that first Ghana goal. The more replays I watch, Howard is out of position and not protecting the near post. It’s a shot from outside the box where Cherundelo had position to cut off the far post.  But Howard gets beat on a decently hit roller to the near post. What if he stuffs that? Then maybe the US settle down and go on to have another battle like versus Algeria and when they take control in the second half, they get the winner instead of tying it and force Ghana to open up the game a bit.

However, the US had a few wildly good breaks.

5. What if Algeria’s shot off the woodwork early in the 3rd game goes in?

It was a great shot that had Tim Howard beat and looked to be going in. But the US team gets spared by the cross bar and the shot glances off. The US somehow survives the early stages without giving up a goal and go on to win on Donovan’s last second goal. But what if that shot goes in? The US again concede an early goal and have to fight just to tie the game, let alone win the game. Would they have had enough to pull out the victory? It took everything just get one goal let alone two. I think they go home early if that shot goes in.

6. What if Robert Green doesn’t gift USA the goal against England?

The biggest what-if that should encourage Team USA – when Robert Green gaffed on the shot by Dempsey and the ball trickled in off of his arms. Now tied at 1-1, all the momentum changes and the US nearly steal a victory if Altidore sneaks in that goal in the second half (actually a really good save by Green). I ache for Green. That is such a crusher to give up that goal and then for him to not even get a second chance – he did not get to play in any other games for England after that. Numerous other goalie gaffs have occurred so far in this tournament (the ball?) but his got the most attention. I pray that he knows Jesus and can rest in His acceptance despite what he might end up being known for the rest of his career and life even.

But that goal was a gift to the US. If he saves that and the US loses that game, it changes the tournament for them. They likely have more pressure in the Slovenia game and then have to beat Algeria by a much wider margin. On top of that, England then ends up likely not needing points in the game versus Slovenia and the US take another early exit.

Those last 2 what-ifs are absolutely huge breaks for the US that they should be thankful for. Green’s gift likely changed the tournament for them.

Well, that’s enough for the fun What-ifs. It was a good run for the US. As I said previously, the US met expectations, showed a lot of heart and guts, and Donovan gave us an unforgettable goal to send them into the 2nd Round and win their group for the first time in the modern era.

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Why you had to love this US team over the past 2 weeks:

1. Heart, Guts, and Strong Finishing

Yes, they had terrible starts to games, giving up 3 goals within the first 15 minutes of games. Yes, this was due to poor team defense and early mental lapses. But you have to understand, in past world cups, the US would never come from behind. Usually, for them to win or tie, they had to get a few breaks, go up early, and then hang on for dear life. If they went down early or in the first half, mentally they would have a hard time getting back into it and didn’t have the talent anyway.  This US team fought back from 1st half deficits not once or twice but three times. Down 1-0 to England and Ghana, and down 2-0 to Slovenia, they came back to tie the games.

The Algeria game was the epitome of this. After having a good goal taken away in the first half, hitting the woodwork on another, and missing multiple other chances, the US and Algeria were tied at 0-0 late in the second half. The US were about to go home with England winning versus Slovenia. Watching this game with a few friends at a relatively packed sports bar (at 8am!), we thought it was over. We didn’t think they had any gas left in the tank and Algeria was playing hard. Then this happened:

Against Ghana, they were getting pounded the whole game by a much more physical team. They were down 1-0, coming off short rest from the grueling Algeria game, Dempsey was beat up, and they got owned in the first half by a team that seem to want it more. But one more time they came out fired up in the second half, Dempsey earned the equalizing penalty kick goal, and they had a shot to win it.

2. A True Team

This US team had maybe 3 world class players: Donovan, Dempsey, and Howard. Even Donovan and Dempsey have been borderline starters for teams in the English Premier League. These guys are definitely some of the best players the US have ever had but when you look at even a young team like Germany, they have at least 8 world class players. This US team had to win with fantastic chemistry, guts, and relying on their midfielders to finish off goals.

3. Donovan, Bradley, and Dempsey

Donovan showed much more assertiveness, nearly single-handed got them back in the Slovenia game, ended up with 3 goals, and played significantly better than World Cup 2006.

Dempsey lived up to his known creativity and aggressiveness coming in. He seemed to make things happen with every touch and he played a part in 3 goals, and another another worthy goal stolen from him.

Bradley was the revelation. All over the field, Michael Bradley helped control the midfield and start the attack. You’d really have say the US has at least 4 world class players with the way he played in this tournament. At only 22, he’ll be a key cog in the 2014 team for sure.

4. Finally coming through on expectations

People will say this team should have beaten Ghana and taken advantage of the maybe the easiest path to the semi-finals they might ever see, with no traditional world powers standing in their way. However, given the talent level, the poor team defense, the lack of a reliable striker, and the injuries that stripped this team of their depth, they actually met expectations. That is huge for the US because it seemed like every instance prior to this when they were favored or expected to move on, they couldn’t handle the expectations and failed. This team did not fail. This team came through. Yes, they could have gone farther but they came first in their group and then lost a hard fought battle to a solid team that had all of Africa behind them.

I’ll remember this US team for coming from behind, Donovan’s last minute goal, and for beating out England for first in the group stage.

We all want to start well, but the reality of sin means we all start poorly and under the weight of our sinfulness. Through the Cross and the grace of Jesus, we should aspire to emulate the fight and guts of this US team to finish strong and not give up.

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