It took 54 years for the Pacific Northwest to once again be represented in the NCAA Men’s Final Four. Now, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Oregon Ducks are heading into this weekend with just one goal in mind: to make it an all-Pacific Northwest showdown for the national championship. Please, basketball gods, let it be so!
After years of Bruins, Dukes, Huskies, Tar Heels, with the occasional outlier from Villanova thrown in, it’s time for the northwest to grab the national spotlight. Not since the Arizona Wildcats won the championship in 1997 has a winner of the NCAA Tournament been from this side of the Rockies. And, not since just before World War II began has the winner (Oregon) been from this far north and west of California.
Ratings be damned, and the ratings will be fine regardless, we don’t need two teams from the Carolinas. Hell, we don’t need one. That region of the map has had its moment for the past two years and beyond. It’s time for likes of Eugene and Spokane – Oregon and Washington – to grab the headlines and leave the east and the south in a timeout for this one.
Besides, If the Carolinas couldn’t have figured out its differences from the 1700s to remain one, solitary State, then both don’t deserve be in the NCAA Championship game together.
Oregon last went to the Final Four in 1939, the same year it won the title. Gonzaga has never been this far. We all know that North Carolina has been here before. South Carolina? This is its first Final Four appearance, as well. Maybe next year I’ll root for the Gamecocks, though I highly doubt it. But, they have the women to root for.
Gonzaga has been on the precipice of Final Four greatness for what seems like years now. Ever since their first Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1999, Mark Few and the Bulldogs have been the victims of more snark than success when it comes to filling out tournament brackets. They are the perpetual Cinderella team, only now Cinderella is in her mid-30s with a great 401K and is finally ready to settle down and make a commitment. After all, Gonzaga is a one-seed this year.
Oregon, meanwhile, has been constantly overshadowed by its football team. Not anymore. Equivalent to being footballs’ ugly step-sister, Oregon basketball has finally let down its hair and taken off the glasses. The Ducks basketball team can now win a national title before the much more vaunted, earlier successful, football team. Who would have guessed this scenario just a few short Chip Kelly coaching jobs ago?
When outsiders think of the Pacific Northwest, the feeling is that we live within a Twin Peaks-like haze, traveling on horse and buggy while maneuvering through Wesen protesters and sipping upon rivers of microbrews. Oh, if only it were so! But, rarely is the word championship uttered without a chuckle.
The Seattle Seahawks have at least given this geographical location a major title recently. Now, most people, fair or not, remember the Seahawks more for a failed pass play on the one-yard line than winning a title. There have been successes in MLS and NWSL as well, with the Timbers, Sounders and Thorns all winning a championship within the last five years. We have had our moments of glory.
But, we need more. Not only more trophies but we need a championship game that is Pacific Northwest centric; where no matter who you are rooting for, the winner is going to be from the rugged terrain of the upper west coast. We need to show the rest of the country that winners play here.
Our winter has been brutal. Our mood has been less than ideal, if not downright miserable. So, what better way to lift the spirits of two States that need it the most than to see a Ducks-Zags NCAA Championship game? We deserve this. We need this. The winter of our discontent could appropriately end in Phoenix, Arizona.
It would bring great joy to this part of the country knowing that the states of New York, Connecticut, the quibbling Carolinas, and even California, would have to sit through an entire championship game knowing the title of “nation’s best” will be going to a place where Doug-Firs, flannel shirts, Bigfoot and Carrie Brownstein all coexist peacefully in a small little corner of the United States.
It should be raucous crowds at both The Cooler and Jack and Dan’s this Saturday night, only 500 miles separating these two college towns. Hopefully, the patrons filling up these local hangouts will be celebrating, responsibly of course, well into Monday evening when Oregon and Gonzaga will potentially face off for the national championship.
Go Ducks! Go Zags! Go Pacific Northwest!
You can follow John and all his musings on Twitter (@Stupak77).