March Madness has started, and the Ides of March have become the Odds of March. With over 9.2 quintillion bracket possibilities (9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to be exact), and more than 40 million people betting on 70-million-plus brackets, things are bound to get a little heated by the office water cooler. But if you prefer to stay out of the madness, you can still enjoy the occasional bracket buster and reminisce about the Cinderella stories. Especially one that is near and dear to all Lehigh alums.
Going into the 2012 NCAA tournament, Lehigh was an unassuming number 15 seed that had been to the Big Dance only four times before. Those prior appearances had been spread out over twenty-seven years. Our opponent on the other hand, the Duke Blue Devils, were seeded number 2, and were quite skilled at The Dance. Their school had previously made an appearance in the tournament 35 times, and four of those had resulted in national championships.
But like any good underdog, Lehigh didn’t let the odds intimidate them. They played their game with heart for themselves, their teammates, their families, their classmates, and everyone who ever called Lehigh home. Because of their determination and focus that night, we joined the ranks of perennial basketball powerhouses such as Louisville and Michigan State – a club of teams that had beaten Duke in the NCAA tournament – and we danced our way into the Round of 32 with a glass slipper on.
When asked “What do you think it’s like right now in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?” one television announcer responded, “Tearing it up.” That was an understatement, though. I know because I was there. Think when Lehigh beats Lafayette. Now multiply that by ten: students running around campus screaming “Lehigh beat Duke!”; fight songs ringing out from every side of South Mountain; stretches of roads shut down as we invaded them, chest-bumping and high-fiving to music blaring from off-campus balconies; a burning branch being waved on the front lawn because one enthusiastic kid decided we deserved our own bonfire for this. Even if you weren’t into March Madness, you were out there celebrating because you were into Lehigh.
The celebrating didn’t stop in Bethlehem. It reached everywhere Lehigh alums were. If you weren’t at Lehigh, you were still celebrating and telling any person who would listen (and even those who wouldn’t) that Lehigh beat Duke. Did they care? Probably not. If they did, it was because they were one of the 6,373,890 ESPN bracket makers whose dreams of winning their office pool sunk along with CJ McCollum’s last free throw. So they most certainly weren’t celebrating the win of that team from…where was it? And as people asked the internet that very question, Lehigh soared to the top of the most Googled terms and became much more than “that team that beat Duke.”
We may not be in the tournament this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relive the excitement of our Cinderella moment. Every time a UAB or a Georgia State busts out a win and has everyone bemoaning their brackets, you can smile, knowing how those schools are feeling. Because everybody loves a Cinderella story, especially when it’s theirs.