In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.
I have lived my entire life in Erie, Pennsylvania. In Erie, our summers are full of blissful, Presque Isle postcard-ready sunsets and free, live, outdoor music. Our winters are full of soul-crushing combinations of snow and cold that we begrudgingly accept and even embrace. As a community, we roll our collective eyes as other areas of the country declare “a state of emergency” for one day of bad weather that we endure for months at a time.
Last week, as Erie enjoyed its first stretch of above-freezing temperatures in 2015, I couldn’t help but smile at the melting snow and ice all around me, especially the thick layer of arctic refuge that had engulfed my driveway since shortly after Christmas. It was a subtle reminder that spring was coming, and that even if Erie’s snowfall total isn’t yet finished for this season (we know better than that), brighter days lie ahead. Living in a four-seasons state has its perks. Even if sometimes the seasons feel less like winter/spring/summer/fall and more like winter/post-winter/summer/pre-winter, there is a comfort in the cyclical nature of the seasons.
I am a creature of habit. In addition to living my whole life in Erie, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life as a student and/or teacher, which means my personal/professional life has been shaped year-by-year by the academic calendar. Yet every year as the calendar turns to March, my mood instantly perks up, and it has nothing to do with the impending spring break. The time changes, the snow melts, and, most importantly, the madness begins.
March Madness is the ultimate annual event. From the buildup of the conference tournaments to the anticipation Selection Sunday to the frenzy of the opening weekend to the spectacle of the Final Four, March Madness has it all. Collectively, it is unrivaled. But how many of the various stages of March Madness actually rank among the top 30 on my list of favorite annual events? (Spoiler: the list is sports-heavy). Read on to find out.
30. The first sign of spring
As I wrote in the introduction, Erie winters are long. That’s why the first sign of spring is such a welcome blessing whenever it arrives, typically in March. Even if it’s immediately followed by a snowy reminder that a sign of spring doesn’t actually equal spring, that first balmy day that promises spring is near warms me at my core.
29. New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday. I am not a socialite and therefore generally prefer not to partake in the hoopla of a year-end gala, but I have had some good New Year’s Eve gatherings with friends, including closing the curtain on 2014 with my sister-in-law’s band providing a live soundtrack for the evening. Plus, New Year’s Eve often doubles as the culmination of the yearlong gin rummy series between Jessie and me. (Don’t ask me who won last year.)
28. New Year’s Day
Although this one isn’t as blatant, New Year’s Day is the first of many football-related entries on this list. The new college football playoff re-emphasized the importance of New Year’s Day bowl games. Who knows, maybe Michigan will even play a New Year’s Day game again sometime in the future now that they got Harbaugh to coach. In any case, starting the calendar year with family, food, and football is a win, win, win for me.
Admittedly I often find that I like the idea of Halloween more than the actual practice of it, but it’s a holiday I see myself getting a rejuvenated joy out of someday when I become a parent. Well, that is until that Erie weather wreaks havoc on Halloween night trick-or-treating!
My appetite has grown and my palette has expanded over the years. I used to be known as “the picky eater” by my in-laws. Not anymore. Nowadays I’m always thankful that I get to enjoy more than one Thanksgiving meal courtesy of two sides of the family that each have their fair share of excellent cooks.
25. NBA All-Star weekend
I think I owe my love of NBA All-Star weekend to Sports Illustrated’s Dazzling Dunks and Basketball Bloopers VHS from the late 80s. The 1988 slam dunk contest championship round showdown between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins was legendary. And while the slam dunk contest has seen better days, I still try to tune in to All-Star Saturday Night and the All-Star Game on Sunday to see the biggest names in basketball put on a show.
24. The first day of football season
Hope springs eternal as summer winds down and football season begins. “This is going to be our year” never sounds more promising than at the season opening kickoff, especially for fans of the Raiders and Wolverines over the past decade or so.
23. Independence Day
Fireworks were never my favorite, but celebrating the red, white, and blue with summer picnic staples like Smith’s hot dogs is tough to argue against. Smack dab in the middle of the summer, the Fourth of July, often celebrated at Uncle’s house, is a date circled on the calendar year after year. Fun fact: Jessie and I started “officially” dating on July 4, 2005.
22. The last day of school
Whether as a student or as a teacher, everyone’s happy on the last day of school. Bring on summer vacation!
21. The first day of school
When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher used to tell me that in May she counted down until the last day of school and then by the end of August she started counting down until the first day of school. I never thought I would agree, but after teaching for a few years, I have to say that I enjoy the anticipation, promise, and challenges of facing a new year, educating a new crop of students, and making a difference in the lives of young people.
20. College football bowl season
This one kind of feels like cheating since this “annual event” stretches out longer and longer every year as the number of bowls increases. Who knows, maybe the MattHubert.com Bowl will become a reality someday. In all seriousness though, the culmination of the college football season goes from late December to early January. With bowl pick ’em contests, every game matters, which means I have the opportuniy to watch meaningful football nearly 7 days a week.
19. World Series
I’m the first to admit that I don’t follow baseball nearly as closely as I do basketball or football. I just cannot commit to the 162-game season. However, once the World Series rolls around, I’m fully on board with America’s pastime. I wish there was a way to measure drama per pitch because when the World Series gets good, baseball produces an edge-of-your-seat, biting-your-nails quality that is second to none.
18. April 15th
April 15th is a significant date. The Titantic sunk on April 15, 1912. Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947. Tax Day has typically fallen on April 15th since 1955. My brother Jeff was born on April 15, 1989. Yet for me, the day will forever be remembered because of April 15, 2005, a date which Jessie and I simply refer to as 4.15.05. What began as a typical Friday for me as a college sophomore turned into an impromptu campus tour/unofficial date with Jessie. The date inspired a Matt’s Mix musical soundtrack, a poem, and a lengthy final entry into an online journal I had been keeping since 2002. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first of several WWE events to make the list. There is some nostalgia at play here, sure. But I’m still a fan. SummerSlam is the biggest wrestling event of the summer, and since it usually takes place in late August, it’s often the final big event of the summer before it’s back-to-school time.
16. NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 weekend
I know, I know. I entered “College football bowl season” as one entry, but I broke the NCAA Tournament into segments. Sorry, but it is my list, so I make the rules. I have too much to say, and each segment of the tourney feels like it’s own event. The Sweet 16 is sandwiched in between the frenzy of the opening weekend and the spectacle of the Final Four. The Sweet 16 has produced plenty of memorable March Madness moments, but none of them any more magical for me than two years ago when Michigan’s Trey Burke hit an extra long distance 3 against top-seeded Kansas to send the game into overtime. The Wolverines went on to win and advanced all the way to the championship game before falling to Louisville.
Both the secular tradition of finding (or struggling to find) my Easter basket as a kid/teenager/not-that-young adult and the religious tradition of attending mass and celebrating the good news that Jesus is risen earn Easter a solid spot on this list.
14. Selection Sunday
This was the event that motivated me to compile this list in the first place. It has become slightly less significant now that bracketology has become such a highly scrutinized and well-publicized science. I fondly remember the days—pre-Twitter, pre-DVR—when we had to scribble down the team names as they were announced on CBS or else wait to read them in the newspaper the next day. But I’ve been drawing brackets since I was in first grade. I still remember some of my classmates asking me why I was drawing “rocket ships,” but I was forecasting my Final Four long before I knew that 64 was a perfect square. Even though some of the mystique of Selection Sunday doesn’t exist in the information age, I still get giddy when the tournament brackets are first unveiled. As I tell my students, March Madness is an unofficial holiday in the Hubert household.
13. Royal Rumble
Nowadays the Royal Rumble has additional prestige because it kicks off the road to WrestleMania. I remember the 1988 inaugural Royal Rumble when the winner of the rumble match won nothing more than bragging rights, and the match wasn’t even considered the main event. I was still hooked on the match’s format, which was essentially a battle royal in reverse. It’s still one of the most entertaining and time-proven gimmick matches that WWE showcases, even if they can’t figure out to make Daniel Bryan more prominently involved.
12. NFL Playoffs
Again, I lumped the playoffs together as one event for convenience, although if I had to parse it out, I think I’d rank the Divisional round the highest because it’s the last weekend with four games, Conference Championships next because of what’s at stake, and Wild Card Weekend last because there’s sometimes one or two teams that aren’t on the same level.
11. NBA Playoffs
The NBA playoffs are almost like a second season. Stretching from April through June, this is the longest “annual event” entry on the list. Growing up as a Lakers fan, I have been privileged to watch many lengthy playoff runs. I love how the drama builds with each game of a 7-game series as well as how the intensity increases with each subsequent round of play. Nothing can compare to the thrilling nature of the NCAA Tournament’s lose-and-go-home format, but in terms of just the level of play, there is no higher quality of basketball to watch than the NBA playoffs.
10. Christmas Day
You probably know the reason for the season (Jesus). As for the reason Christmas just barely cracked the top 10? Well, family tradition. Check out #1 on the list for a more detailed explanation.
9. NCAA Tournament Final Four weekend
In most sports, making it to the semifinals is not particularly memorable, but teams cut down the nets when they earn a trip to the Final Four of the tournament. It means they get to play on Saturday of the biggest weekend in college basketball. I’d be remiss without giving special mention to the championship game on Monday night and the annual tradition of “One Shining Moment” that closes the curtain on the tournament after the final buzzer sounds and the champion is crowned.
8. The Game
The Michigan vs. Ohio State football rivalry needs no superlatives: it’s simply known as The Game to fans of the Wolverines and the Buckeyes. In 2000 it was ranked as the greatest North American sports rivalry. In all, the two schools have faced each other 111 times dating back to their inaugural contest on October 17, 1897, which Michigan won 34-0. Since 1935, their annual showdown has come at the end of the regular season every year except 1942, 1986, and 1998. Michigan holds the record for the largest win (86-0 in 1902) and longest winning streak (1901-1909). However, Ohio State has seized control of the rivalry more recently. They have lost just once since 2004 and have won the past three meetings. The Game will be back in the headlines again in 2015 when former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh makes his coaching debut for the Wolverines against reigning national champion coach Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Suffice it to say that November 28, 2015, is already circled on my calendar.
From Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant at the Silverdome in front of 93,000+ fans at WrestleMania III to Bret Hart pinning Yokozuna at Madison Square Garden at WrestleMania X to Edge spearing Jeff Hardy from the giant ladder at WrestleMania X-Seven in Houston to Daniel Bryan overcoming the odds to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania XXX last year in New Orleans, the “Super Bowl of wrestling” delivers memorable moments year after year. When I was younger, I often had to wait until they came out on VHS or DVD, but nowadays I pay to see the action live and cannot imagine missing a WrestleMania broadcast any time soon.
6. Super Bowl
Had I been born in the 60s, or 70s, I would have grown up watching my beloved Raiders compete in the Super Bowl pretty regularly. Instead, I was born in 1984, 9 months after the Raiders won their last Super Bowl. The only Super Bowl the Raiders did make did not go so well. Nonetheless, there is no bigger spectacle in American sports than the Super Bowl. Regardless of who is playing, the game is must see TV, even before factoring in the commercials and/or halftime show. In the past, the game was often a blowout, but with the exception of the Seattle-Denver shellacking from last February, the Super Bowl has delivered several instant classics over the past 10-15 years, including the Patriots’ win over the Seahawks last month.
5. NBA Finals
The NBA Finals double as the start of summer. As the calendar flips to June, the best basketball teams in the world square off for the Larry O’Brien trophy. My first memory of life is watching the Lakers win the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons while sitting on my dad’s lap. The Lakers are the only team that my sports-crazed family supports together, so June was a fun, albeit stressful time in the Hubert household growing up. The Lakers’ 31 Finals appearances are 10 more than any team; unfortunately, they’ve lost 15 of those championship appearances, leaving them one title short of the Boston Celtics’ record 17 titles. Still, I’ve been alive for 12 of the Lakers’ trips to the NBA Finals, including 8 Lakers championships. To put that in perspective, over the same timeframe, the Raiders went 0-1 in the Super Bowl, the Athletics went 1-2 in the World Series and 5-11 in postseason series overall, Michigan football won one national championshop and went 3-6 in the Rose Bowl, and Michigan basketball went 1-3 in the national title game, although two of those losses were vacated. Clearly, the Lakers and the NBA Finals brought me more sports joy than any of my other teams.
4. NCAA Tournament opening weekend
The opening weekend puts the “madness” in March Madness. Office productivity plummets across the country around noon Eastern time on Thursday as the ball is tipped in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. What follows 12 hours of uninterrupted buzzer-beating, bracket-busting basketball that repeats itself again on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I make it a point to catch as much of the action as possible and can proudly proclaim that I’ve seen at least parts of all 48 games on more than one occasion.
3. My birthday
If this whole 30 at 30 project wasn’t evidence enough, I take my birthday pretty seriously. For 364 days out of the year I prefer to stay behind the scenes and out of the spotlight, but I enjoy being the focal point every September 7th. The 30th birthday commemorative book that Jessie organized for me was one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received.
2. My wedding anniversary
Jessie and I have been fortunate enough to take trips on or around our anniversary to Los Angeles, Chicago, and Naples for the first three years that we have been married. I don’t think we can afford to keep up that lifestyle or pace for much longer, but wherever we go or whatever we do will never live up to the original thing. Our wedding day was the best day of my life. I’ll never forget the love and freedom I felt knowing that I was surrounded by all of my favorite people and marrying the love of my life. I was smiling, dancing, laughing, and loving every minute of it. Because of how great that day was, the anniversary holds a special place in my heart.
1. Christmas Eve
Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. It was special enough to inspire a pair of top-30 lists already (Christmas movies and my dad’s ceramic ornaments). Yet among the many Christmas traditions that I love, among all of the annual events that I love, none can top Christmas Eve. Every year since before I was born, my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Rich have hosted a Christmas Eve party that is the highlight of the year. Highlights include a letter from Santa, which comments on each of the families and the individual kids’ accomplishments throughout the past year; a “grab bag” of gifts, which are passed out by “Uncle” Santa and include off-the-wall items like novelty glasses, bandanas, and fake mustaches; a singalong of Christmas carols, which is features raucous, rowdy, and mostly off-key renditions of traditional favorites; and a late night pool tournament, which often goes well into early Christmas morning. When the night full of good family fun finally comes to an end, my thought is usually “I can’t wait to do this again next year!”