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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Greetings from Houston

Ah, there's nothing like a 5:30 AM flight to get the blood flowing. That's what we encountered this morning, as we made the annual sojourn to be with the Maguire University buddies at the NCAA Final Four.

Before we get into the wonderful world of Maguire, here's just a few items from the flight this morning.

First, I just love the reaction of people when they know they have to sit next to me on a plane for three hours. The guy today saw me sitting there, rolled his eyes to the heavens, said, ``You got to be kidding me,'' then proceeded to sit down and say in Spanish, "Gordito madicon.''

Now, did this bastion of wonderment actually think I didn't understand what he said because I happen to look caucasian? I grew up in Jersey City. I took Spanish for seven full years of my educational life. I know what ''Gordito'' means. Yes, I'm fat. I understand that I'm fat. In my case, people may say that thin is in, but fat is where it's at. Know what I'm saying?

But the other part my seat mate hit me with? I have never once had a man's genitalia in my face, mouth, what have you. So he only got half of his name about me right. I am fat, no question, but ''madicon?'' Moi? PLEASE!!!

Here are another few pearls of my journey. The guy directly in front of me was about 6-foot-4. He saw how big I was when he sat down. But as soon as he gets into his chair, he does one thing _ reclines the seat, which drives my already compacted knees into my throat.

I asked him nicely to put the seat back up and his response, "Hey man, I'm tired.''

Well, he got his come-uppins in the final hour of the flight when his girlfriend/wife/travel partner/what have you proceeded to hurl her early morning breakfast in his lap. No need for the bag, because there wasn't enough time.

I love the idea of air travel, but the Wright brothers must have been 5-8 and 145, because when they invented the airplane, they didn't have monstrosities like me in mind.

Now, for Maguire University. A lot of you probably never heard of Maguire. The school's basketball team has never been ranked among the top 25 in the Associated Press poll. It's never produced a Nobel Prize winner or a Pulitzer winner. But every year, Maguire goes to the Final Four, or as the great people of Maguire call it, ''the Final Five.''

This year, in Houston, the Final Five consists of UConn, Kentucky, VCU, Butler and Maguire.

Ok, here's the lowdown on Maguire. It isn't a real university. It began as a result of Loyola of Chicago going to the Final Four in 1963 and a group of avid Loyola fans wanting to go to see the games that year.

They were told that the only way to get tickets was through the NCAA, which had its offices in Shawnee Mission, Kansas at the time. The group of avid fans were asked if they were from a school. They said, "Sure, Maguire University,'' because they were hanging out at Maguire's Pub at the time.

They provided the NCAA with the address of the school, which of course was the address of the bar. The phone number was the bar number, naturally.

And they got their Final Four tickets, tickets they continued to get for the Final Four under Maguire University for several years, until Bill Jauss, the legendary Chicago Tribune sportswriter, told the tale of Maguire in the Trib.

Needless to say, the NCAA wasn't too pleased when they learned of the hoax and took away the tickets. But the people of Maguire still celebrate the Final Four, er, Final Five every single year.

I first met the people of Maguire in Tampa in 1999 and partied like it was that year in true Prince fashion with them. I can taste those 16 ounce cans of Budweiser in some outdoor bar that I stayed with the Maguire group for like 10 hours. It was impressive intoxication, to be sure.

I ran into them again in 2006 in Indianapolis, enrolled in classes in Maguire in Atlanta in 2007 and last year, I received my degree in mixology and toxicology from Maguire.

Now, I'm back at the Final Five with the great people like Art Duffy _ junior and senior, John and Polly Kelly, George Hoey, Dave Butts (the best girls' basketball referee in Illinois), Beth LaRocca and the one who keeps everyone in line, Villanova's best alum next to Scottie Reynolds, Meg Comer.

The administration and board of directors at Maguire University make me feel like a true graduate. I wear my Maguire fleece with pride throughout the college basketball season and get a kick when I tell the story to someone when they ask, "Maguire University? Where's Maguire?"

So if anyone is headed to Houston, make sure to stop by the Maguire hospitality suite in the Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott on Dallas Street. You'll be glad you did.

I cannot comprehend that it's Opening Day of the baseball season and snow is forecast for Yankee Stadium. Please, enough with this snow...please...

And as for my beloved Mets, it will be like Stewie Griffin on Family Guy. If anyone hasn't seen the clip, check it out on Youtube. It's classic and this year, it's so very true.

Adios for now from Houston. I think I see a green bottle with my name on it.

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