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At West Regional, teams and fans can be anything they want to be

There's something to be said for the cast of characters the NCAA tournament attracts, which in Anaheim included the coaches, four Jesuses, cuddly Wisconsin fans and others.

March 28, 2014|Chris Erskine
  • The four "Jesi," (left to right) Erik Velie, Eli Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Jerry Park, at Honda Center Thursday night.
The four "Jesi," (left to right) Erik Velie, Eli Gordon, Ryan… (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles…)

The Arizona coach is like a quivering tea kettle. Wisconsin's guy is witty enough to do stand-up comedy. The only one of these four head coaches I'd ever buy anything from — a toaster, an annuity — is Baylor's, and he's gone.

Also gone is the Aztecs' Steve Fisher, who had to be the inspiration for Coach T in those Toyota spots. In the postgame confab Thursday night, he lashed out over a breach of protocol, then ended the odd session by asking the media about the timing of a goaltending call.

"Somebody help me, when was that goaltending call made?"

These college coaches are an interesting lot, all right. They seem a breed of people almost unto themselves, superior in some ways (hand-to-hand combat) and lacking in others (stress management).

Maybe that's why I relate to them so well, though I don't understand why none of them ever wears a beard.

You know who does have a beard? Jesus. And I was talking to someone who looked like him Thursday night in Anaheim, during the West Regional at the Honda Center.

Found Jesus in Section 201, Row M.

What was particularly divine about the Honda Center was that if you didn't get a good answer from one Jesus, you could turn to another. I counted four in all. These days, you can never have enough.

That's right, four Jesuses — or "Jesi," as they pluralize themselves — who were wanded by the security staff before entering Honda Center.

"They almost didn't let us in," says Jesus No. 1.

"See?" says Jesus No. 2, showing me a smartphone photo of them lined up against a wall.

"We had to come out here and support our Aztecs, because it's a little-known fact that Jesus was an Aztec," says Jesus No. 1.

Holy Dwayne Polee, I don't remember that. But a lot of Sunday school went right by me.

Yet, forget the scores and your disastrous bracket for one moment and breathe in this wonderful NCAA tournament going on at the Honda Center and at three other asylums across the country.

There is a playfulness to the college game — the costumes, the pep bands, the barrettes in the cheerleaders' hair — that eludes the pro game, which prefers stagecraft and glitz. I'll take March Madness over the NBA playoffs any day, though it would be nice to be able to buy a cold beer at the Honda Center.

Speaking of brewskis, the cheeseheads are back. Regulars at the Rose Bowl, Badgers fans are good and hearty guests. On Wisconsin! Seriously, if these fans were any more cuddly, they'd be Muppets. It's as if a chunk of Canada fell south and they turned it into a state.

Two of them showed up in red tutus and the requisite cheddar lids the other night, creating quite a stir. I wanted to get their take on the growing tensions in Ukraine, but they were working the Club Level pretty hard before they bellyflopped into some suite with a guy who looked like Bradley Cooper. Might have been Bradley Cooper. More likely, a Miller distributor from Norwalk.

Aaron Rodgers was definitely here the other night, as was Pat Riley.

But mostly this tourney belongs to the hard-core collegiate fan, from all points West.

It's like a big cocktail party, sans cocktails. At one point, I found myself chatting with Andrew Bates of Hawaii, who went to high school in London with Gary Markowitz, then college in Paris with Markowitz as well. Erudite and composed, the two old friends sat in the lower bowl wearing clown hats.

This was the opener Thursday, and the Wisconsin-Baylor game got so bad that we started talking North Korean politics. Bates knew too much — sounded vaguely CIA to me — till he started spouting a limerick about Ted Kaczynski and Monica Lewinsky.

Now I think I understand why they're not serving beer at Honda Center.

In any case, don't expect any political talk when the Wildcats take on the Badgers, teams with formidable fan bases. The Wisconsin folks seem a little more fun, frankly, and they've got that gangly and ambidextrous center Kaminsky, who sometimes thinks he's a shooting guard. How fun is that?

The Baptists of Baylor had no answer for him. The Wildcats of Tucson might.

The Jesi? Last I saw them they were heading for Hooters.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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