On a Sunday evening in mid-March, as the tournament selection committee starts seeding the brackets, we are glued to the television. Once the seeding's completed, we hover near the computer, waiting for the official tournament brackets to be posted to the various websites, such as ESPN.com. We then print out the brackets: one for each member of the household. The next two days are spent in study, as we make our picks for the tournament's 64 games; the days are also spent trying to secure our picks from the prying eyes of others in the household. Though no one would dream of trying to cheat -- mainly because each of us is too convinced of his/her superior knowledge and winning strategy! -- we still eye each other suspiciously as we go about our business.
At the appointed hour, all picks are turned in -- and then the needling begins. "You picked that team for the Final 4? You're goin' down!" The prize at stake is dinner at the winner's choice of restaurant, paid for by the losers, so other trash talk may include, "Yeah, while you were studying the ratings index, I was studying menus."
This last year, the banter was conducted mostly over the phone or via Internet, since Greg and I were in Dollywood; "Uncle" Jerry was at home in Port Charlotte, while Greg's sister and brother-in-law were at home in Belleair Beach. And though, for the whatevereth straight year in a row, I did not win the bracket competition, I still got to eat at my chosen restaurant, because my brother-in-law's choice of restaurant was the same as mine. (The only catch was, I had to pay for my meal, as well as pay for a share of John's.)
John's choice was Bert's Bar & Grill, in Matlacha, Florida. As they say on the back of their menu, "Most of Florida's tiny fishing towns are disappearing and giving way to McDonald's, high rises and hotel chains. But not Matlacha. Here you still find cozy cottages, bed & breakfasts, fishermen tending their nets, bait shops and shrimp boats."
The five of us finally got around to paying off the "bet" last Tuesday. It was a fun day! We sat out on the deck, enjoying the view of Matlacha Pass and San Carlos Bay. Crows and other feathered friends squawked and begged for a handout. Seated next to a long dock as we were, there was the occasional whiff of marine fuel, but the gentle breeze quickly dissipated it. We enjoyed fish dip on flatbread crackers, "beach bread," and fish and chips ... and one of us enjoyed the "best bar pizza" to be found in the area.
The NCAA men's basketball season is just now getting into full swing. When I win -- finally win -- the 2009 pool, we'll be going back to Bert's!