TAKE IT TO THE HAUS: February is the Cruelest Month

Sports fans, leap into the air, pop open the Grey Goose, and let the celebration begin.

February, the undisputed ugly duckling of sports months, has finally ended, and we didn’t even have to endure a 29th day like last year.

The 2005 rendition was as frustrating and meaningless as any in recent memory. After the first weekend of the month, there was no more NFL—save the irrelevant Pro Bowl—no NHL in sight, and no chance here in Cambridge of seeing the men’s basketball team finally head to the Big Dance.

Harvard’s dreams of postseason play effectively ended on Feb. 4, when it lost 70-57 to Penn and fell three games behind the Quake Show in the loss column. With no Ivy League tournament, the Crimson (12-13, 7-5 Ivy) has basically been playing out the string of games ever since, having lost virtually all hope of even an NIT bid.

The team, led by the frontcourt tandem of Brian Cusworth (14.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG) and Matt Stehle (13.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG), is nevertheless playing its best ball of the season, and it finally swept a weekend series with its recent dismantling of Yale and Brown at Lavietes Pavilion.

Despite a surprisingly solid campaign, the team has been playing third fiddle all season to the men’s and women’s hockey teams, and the trend continued last Friday and Saturday nights.

The attendance figures look okay—1350 on Friday night against Yale, 1721 on Senior Night versus Brown—but as usual, the majority of the fans seemed to be either fifth-graders or cheering for the visiting team.

Judging by the noise of the bands and the crowds, it was hard to believe that the Crimson was actually hosting the pair of games.

An otherwise pleasant weekend sweep was marred by some rather annoying visiting fans.

It started on Friday night, with Yale’s cacophonous band and embarrassingly unimpressive cheerleaders attempting banal chants such as, “Let’s get fired up”—“We are fired up.”

Then came Saturday night, when Brown’s band drowned out the cheers of the Crimson faithful and offered some similarly worthless and inexplicable chants, such as “Safety School.”

At least Harvard took care of business on the court, winning all four halves of basketball and even dominating at halftime, thanks to the nationally famous Crimson Dance Team. Still, it was little consolation in a season that has been essentially over for nearly a month.

Speaking of hot women, one of the redeeming qualities of February is the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But the best two-page spread this year did not involve swimsuits or models, and instead hinted at one more reason to dislike the month: it was a humble four-color ad for ESPN, with a black-and-white photo of Celtic greats Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Larry Bird at the Boston Garden. The heading on the opposite page read, “Without sports, 32-00-33 wouldn’t be considered beautiful.”

The great photo and caption were a reminder of the sorry state of the NBA compared to its glory days of the eighties. The problems involve more than a mawkish yearning for the good ol’ days of Bird and Magic.

Far too many players have well-documented off-the-court problems, but equally discouraging is the fact that the players simply change teams too often.

The trade deadline just passed, and never before have so many superstars been dealt in such a short span.

Baron Davis, Chris Webber, and Antoine Walker were among the marquee players who switched teams last week, this following an offseason that saw Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, and Shaquille O’Neal, among others, change uniforms.

Couple these moves with the countless jerseys worn by the average journeyman role player, and we see a league that, more than any that of other professional sport, is increasingly difficult for the average fan to keep up with.

The NBA couldn’t save this February, but it still gets pretty exciting come playoff time.

Meanwhile, it’s finally March, and the first spring training game is today.

Combine the purity and romanticism of the new baseball season with the Madness of college hoops, and we’re set for a pretty amazing month.

Even if Harvard doesn’t play much of a role in it.

—Staff writer Stewart H. Hauser can be reached at hauser@fas.harvard.edu. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.