Last week, the state of Iowa had three chances to make an impact in the NCAA college basketball tournament. But all three teams -- the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa -- couldn't make it past the Round of 32. Dreams were crushed, hopes shattered and brackets likely distorted to obscurity. We look at what it was all like before the madness.
Bob Roe was sitting at the bar of his Transit Plaza restaurant when Larry Doeschot walked through the entrance, holding a single sheet of paper. Doeschot held it up with his left hand, offering Roe a firm handshake with the other.
“Hey Rabbit how you doing?” said Roe, calling Doeschot by his nickname. Roe eyed the paper and grinned. “What you got there?”
Doeschot slapped the sheet on the countertop; it was a completed NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college basketball tournament bracket, submitted a day before the first round games were to begin.
“I favored the Big Ten and the Big 12,” he answered, adjusting his glasses as he looked at his predicted championship spot. “Wisconsin and Virginia, that’s what I got. You probably have Kentucky and Iowa State, right?”
Roe, wearing his dark gray Iowa State jacket, only laughed and said, “You’re right!” Roe’s Cyclones have always been placed in rather high standings on his brackets; it’s what one comes to expect from such a diehard fan. So his predictions haven’t changed much in the last 20 or so years that Bob Roe’s Point After has been holding the NCAA bracket tournament.
He is one of many people in the United States who fill out brackets for March Madness. It’s a friendly competition, Roe explained.
“You compete against your friends since they’re filling them out, too, and you wait to see who gets the most points,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting. You are looking up every day to see whose team is beating who.”
Filling out a perfect bracket is near impossible – the chances of it happening this year is one in 9.2 quintillion – so Roe decided to follow his heart when choosing which team will come out the victor. First and foremost, Iowa State placed high. The rest of his picks depended on the preliminary rankings of each team as well as how many Big 12 Conference teams are competing.
“There are seven teams from the Big 12 and I got them all winning at least one or two games to start out,” said Roe. “But we’ll see how that works.”
Doeschot was less optimistic about Roe’s favored Iowa State making it any further than the “Sweet Sixteen” spot.
“I got Gonzaga beating Iowa State,” Doeschot said with a sly smile.
“Uh oh,” Roe said, unaffected by his friend’s subtle smack talk.
“That Gonzaga’s pretty good.”
“Yeah, they are.”
“But Iowa State’s a good team, too. I got UNI, of course, winnin’ and Iowa gettin’ beat the first round.”
Roe shook his head and laughed. His team was scheduled to play the next day and you could bet he was going to watch.
That day -- March 19 -- Roe met with his daughters – Terri Rexius and Amy Weimer – who were part of a group of March Madness fans, traveling from bar-to-bar to watch the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The ensemble was led by Curtis Anderson, front man of the radio program Your Sports Show on 620 KMNS, who began the day at Townhouse Pizza & Lounge. An assemblage of chairs surrounded four, square tables arranged back to back. The tabletops were adorned with mason jars filled with light beer, accompanied by pitchers for immediate refills, while baskets of hot wings were within arms reach. If there was ever any doubt that this wasn't going to be a party, the selfie stick lying on the table certainly quelled such ludicrous notions.
"The idea is to make it last a while or make it all day -- whatever the case is," said Anderson. "It's our day off to just sit back, relax and watch basketball, which is awesome."
Anderson had already filled out his NCAA bracket. He, like Roe, predicted Kentucky to compete in the championship game. His bracket strategy, however, didn't stem from his experience talking about the game on his radio show.
"I pretend to know something sometimes with me being a sports guy, but that never works," he said. "But the quicker you pick, the better you do. Don't think, just pick."
Anderson and the rest of his crew laughed and cheered as the Townhouse TVs hummed to life, broadcasting the Notre Dame and Northeastern game. The largest screen was reserved for the regional Iowa State game against UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham).
Roe joined his daughters and Anderson near the end of the first half. The game was reasonably even at that point, which wasn't a good sign. The third-seeded Iowa State was having trouble against the 14th-seeded UAB, but spirits remained high with the group, especially for Jesse Johnson who had taken the first two days of the tournament off.
"I've taken those days off ever since I had a job," he said. "I never went to class on those days, either, when I was at Wayne State. It should be a holiday!"
Johnson, a Hawkeye fan, separated himself from the three Iowa State fans -- Roe and daughters -- sitting near the front, closest to the TV. His team wouldn't play until the next day, recovery day after the group's March Madness bar tour. His bracket, however, was more in favor of Iowa State. The Notre Dame game was simultaneously broadcast on TVs adjacent to the Iowa State game.
"I have Notre Dame in a lot of my brackets and they're losing right now," Johnson said with a shrug of the shoulders. "Usually by 2 o'clock on Thursday I'm always out of my bracket game."
When it came time for the second half of the Iowa State and UAB game, the tension started kicking in. The group leaned forward on the edge of their chairs, legs jiggling in anticipation during each commercial. Suddenly, the fun and lighthearted atmosphere took a solemn turn when the score became too close for comfort. The cold jars full of beer turned lukewarm. The whole bar grew silent, save for a shrill yelp whenever Iowa State managed to score a few points.
With one minute left, the patrons transformed into sideline refs, spouting out bad calls.
"Foul! Travel! That's a foul! Block that! Come on! Oh, bull sh**! What are you doing? Call timeout!"
When the timer hit zero, the game was over. The group was still. Iowa State had lost against UAB by one point (60-59). It was a dramatic upset. Patrons threw their hands in the air, their mouths agape. The game's commentators were baffled. After a long silence, one of them said, "Well... that's why they call it March Madness."
Roe turned around in his seat, disappointed by the loss. Before he left Townhouse, someone asked him, "Hey Bob, does this mean you're a Hawkeye fan now?"
He just laughed and said, "Well I gotta root for somebody, don't I?"