Oct. 17, 2010
Let’s start by answering the question that was on many an older-generation Hoya fan’s mind leading up to Friday night:
It rhymes with Sade.
D.C.-based rapper Wale—the special musical guest at the 2010 edition of Georgetown’s annual Midnight Madness celebration—is something of a Seinfeld fan. He’s used the influential 1990s sitcom as inspiration for two well-received mixtapes: 2008’s The Mixtape About Nothing and 2010’s More About Nothing. The songs are peppered with lyrical references and clips from famous Seinfeld episodes, many of the tracks used Seinfeld’s “The _______” titling convention, and Wale’s silhouette appears on the cover art of both mixtapes alongside the four principal Seinfeld cast members.
Though I’ve enjoyed both of Wale’s Seinfeldian jaunts, I hadn’t given much thought to profundity of embracing the infamous “show about nothing” as artistic inspiration until I encountered a case of writer’s block brainstorming how to recap an event I’ve now attended ten times.
What could I do with Midnight Madness after ten years? How could I describe similar contests and performances to those I’d seen many times before? (GU even tried the guest rapper idea when I was a sophomore). Where could I find the thematic underpinning in another night of dunks and dancing?
And then it occurred to me (while microwaving soup…I kid you not): my internal arguments sounded a lot like something I recognized from an episode of Seinfeld.
In the 1992 Seinfeld episode “The Pitch,” Jerry and George meet with a group of NBC executives to discuss their idea for a television show. As George is explaining his concept of the show about “nothing” to the head of NBC, they have the following conversation:
“What did you do today?”
“I got up and came to work”
“There’s a show. That’s a show.”
“How is that a show?”
Seinfeld ultimately became a successful show for Jerry Seinfeld and co-creator Larry David in part because they were able to mine the “nothing” of everyday life for “something”—be it a universal theme of the human condition, or merely the absurdity of everyday life in a big city.
After ten years of Midnight Madness, Friday night felt kind of like I woke up and came to work just like any other average day.
But there’s always…something…about Georgetown basketball.
Soulja Boy and GUGS smoke.
Midnight Madness among the many Georgetown campus events is a unique sensual experience—you hear it and even smell it before laying eyes on it.
I emerged from the Southwest Quad parking lot into a dark crisp evening, guided to the night’s festivities not by the glow of spotlights, but the synthesized steel drums of “Crank Dat”—GU has been doing the Superman thing at Midnight Madness since Jerry Rice strutted across the court prior to the 2007-08 season—and the smoky aroma of the softball-sized burgers sold by the GU Grilling Society.
Hours earlier, hundreds of Georgetown students lined barricades stretching down the road beyond the McDonough tennis courts to secure wristbands for entry into the evening’s program, a rush of interest generated by—what else—music (Wale’s long-rumored performance) and food (free GUGS burgers to the first 250 students in line).
Also lining the barricades were white banners flying Georgetown basketball’s new marketing slogan "DC Is Our Playground," which has generated considerable buzz among Hoya basketball fans since its rollout this summer. The banners certainly earned positive reviews on Friday night—the first person I spoke to on-site reported that several had already been stolen.
While students #251 and above formed a snaking line beneath a cloud of smoke to gain access to the GUGS grill, groups of friends and strangers stood before a giant video screen showing highlights from the 2009-2010 basketball season…
Due to a projection error, at least 10 minutes of the video played as if in mirror image. On the plus side, Greg Monroe finally developed that right-hand we were all clamoring for. I was aware that Henry Sims was switching his jersey number to 14 this season to honor his father’s birthday, but I had no idea Jason Clark was opting for 1 + backwards 2.
What do catch your eyes are the new electronic displays. The twin scoreboards at each end of McDonough Gym have been outfitted with a video board, allowing for a variety of graphics to spice things up at events. The video boards worked an overtime shift on Friday night, hyping everything from Wale’s custom logo to GU’s talented performance groups to live scoring of the annual upperclassmen vs. underclassmen shootout.
A quintessentially Georgetown moment in the shootout: one of the underclassmen students competed in a pair of high-heeled boots…and sank two of her shots!
Midnight Madness once again showcased a reliable, experienced trio who have grown comfortable performing on the McDonough hardwood. Nope, not the senior superstars Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Julian Vaughn. I refer to the dance triumvirate of GU Step Team, GU Jawani, and Groove Theory, who have been reliably thrilling the Madness masses for years (Jawani linked themselves even further to the Georgetown Midnight Madness tradition by incorporating “Crank Dat” into their 2009 routine). While Midnight Madness nominally exists to welcome the beginning of the basketball season, GU’s student dancers have legions of fans of their own.
As it turns out, the most reliable way to excite a Georgetown basketball crowd isn’t a Hype Man (though Wale brought his), it’s a Pep Band. Let it be known that at 9:25pm for the first, and hardly final, time this season, 2,000 Georgetown students belted out the chorus to the oldies radio staple “Hey Baby”.
But now for something a little more Top 40.
At a quarter of ten, the hottest rapper in the DMV met the premier basketball program in the District…and D.C. was their playground. A small corner of it anyway. Wale worked all four corners of McDonough, racing from section to section high-fiving students and belting out verses from his now-nationally known radio hits Chillin' and Pretty Girls.
D.C. clap-clapped like this, as instructed.
Wale wasn’t the only artist to make an impact at Midnight Madness. Normally this is the domain of Michael Jackson—Coach Thompson has mined the King of Pop’s back catalog for entrance music since his arrival on the Hilltop. There would be no Thriller ensemble this October however. In fact, JTIII symbolically retired the single sequined white glove and chose to pay tribute to the passing of local legend Little Benny.
“Who?” you might ask (2,000 GU students born in the era when Nirvana ruled the radio certainly did with their confused silence).
Little Benny, who passed away in May at the age of 46, was the trumpet player for Rare Essence, one of the seminal influences on D.C.’s go-go music scene. At Coach Thompson’s urging, the traditional men’s and women’s team dance line became a Soul Train affair backed by a go-go beat. A fitting tribute but an even more clever analogy—the Coach who puts a modern spin on his mentor’s trademark offensive system paying tribute to a founder of D.C.’s signature musical genre, in the presence of the local rapper whose go-go influenced sound spins on radios across the country today.
Seven years on, we never can seem to get the “We Are Georgetown” cheer right on the first try.
In another annual October tradition at Georgetown, Coach Thompson was compelled to step in and halt proceedings during a rendition of the cheer he brought back to the Hilltop when he assumed the Head Coach position in 2004.
Senior point guard Chris Wright apologized to the crowd for the disruption—you see his Coach had gotten in the way of a perfectly good cheer and all…
“I’m looking for a new starting guard,” retorted JTIII.
What Chris meant to say, he assured us, was that the Pep Band messed up.
Then, Coach Thompson proposed a solution in his typical manner:
“Fix it, Chris.”
It wasn’t long ago that JTIII was instructing another senior point guard to fix it. Such was the trust placed in Jonathan Wallace by his coach that “Fix It, Jon” was regularly seen on posters at the Verizon Center.
It’s not hard to see parallels between Jon Wallace and the 2007-08 Hoyas and Chris Wright and Co, from the star point guard counted on to be a calming influence to the senior-heavy leadership to the x-factor freshman class.
Maybe we’re re-living that whole 2008 experience in more ways still, Soulja Boy still blaring as we munch on GUGS watching Groove Theory. For all of the early-entries, transfers, and shifts of power, college basketball is more cyclical than we think. It’s just Wright-Freeman-Vaughn instead of Wallace-Crawford-Ewing-Hibbert. One has to think Georgetown will lean heavily on the backs of its star seniors yet again.
But do they have that “something”?
It sure seemed like the Hoyas did many times last season. A pre-MM trivia question asked Hoya fans to name the nine (!) NCAA Tournament teams Georgetown defeated during the 2009-10 regular season. And yet in the one that mattered—the game alluded to but not spoken of last night—there was nothing the Hoyas could do.
Maybe they’ll have the same magic as the 2008 Big East regular season champions, who never seemed phased by close games or final possessions. They’ll certainly have the senior leadership to “fix it” whenever there’s a problem.
There always seem to be problems, after all…and not just on the court. Part of the charm of Midnight Madness after all these years is that things never quite go as planned. The video highlights show the Hoyas leading Villanova SE –0S in the 5nd half. Somebody scuffs the floor with their high-heeled UGGs taking a free throw. The coach…ummm, I mean the band…messes up the beat for the We Are Georgetown cheer.
What was different this year though is something Georgetown got right. “DC Is Our Playground” is easily the most inspired promotional campaign undertaken by Georgetown since resurrecting “We Are Georgetown”. As a branding campaign, it’s both strategic—making a concerted effort at capturing the loyalty of the local sports fan—and sexy—those banners from the barricade line probably adorn half a dozen campus apartments by now.
Midnight Madness 2010, indeed, should rightfully be considered Georgetown’s statement of intent to be Washington, DC’s basketball team. The invited star was the hottest rapper in the DMV, and the stars of the team themselves represent the local basketball scene (the senior starters Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Julian Vaughn when to High School in the D, the M, and the V respectively). Even the Coach cloaked himself (somewhat confusingly to every single student, but still!) to the musical tradition of the District.
Will D.C. be their playground? Who knows. Too many things still to fix.
But you can’t help but think after last night: this program is on to something.
John Hawkes (SFS '04)
Proud Member of Generation Burton