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March Madness takes more ominous tone

March Madness has arrived.

They're also playing a basketball tournament.

Bombs will fly. Three-pointers, too.

Top seeds will fall. Along with Baghdad and, likely, some of our sons and daughters.

This is a difficult time, a fragile time, a time when the real world and our fantasy world collide.

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How are we supposed to concentrate on our brackets when our troops are filling up positions in the Persian Gulf?

How are we going to work up an outrage at a referee's call or question the strategy of a head coach when we've gone to war and there are much bigger problems staring us in the face?

CBS makes contingency plans to move the wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament over to ESPN so that live coverage of the killing fields can be brought into our living rooms.

How's that for reality television?

It is the juxtaposition of all those fresh, young faces filling up our extra-wide screens that makes it all so difficult, maybe uncomfortable, to digest. Over here, we have college kids doing the things college kids should do: growing, learning, playing, blowing off steam. Over there, we have college-age kids -- and citizen soldiers of all ages -- doing the ugly things that must be done, in the name of the republic.

The questions will come up, and the debate will arise again: Should the games go on in this atmosphere, under these circumstances?

And the answer is a resounding yes.

This is different than the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when it was proper for the big-time sports machine to take a timeout to reflect, to remember, to honor the thousands of innocents who were struck by the hammer of terrorism. This is different than the November weekend in 1963 when the NFL blindly and callously stuck to its schedule in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.

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This is a time -- no matter our individual feelings on the political decision to go to war -- when we stand resolute behind our troops and reinforce the reason they are putting their lives on the line. That is, for our way of life, which includes the noble ideals of freedom and democracy, but also the frivolous, such as seeing whether UNC-Wilmington can beat defending national champion Maryland in the South Regional.

Just don't call 3-pointers "bombs," and don't refer to a single-elimination basketball tournament as "life-and-death," and don't say making a free throw in the final seconds of a tied game is particularly "courageous." There are men and women on the other side of the world to whom those words more aptly apply.

Fran Blinebury

Houston Chronicle

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