Emotions, man. Emotions. My friend Leesa writes a lot about sports emotions. And I have emotions about emotions this week. I haven't wanted to write this update, in part because I don't want this time of year to come to and end, but moreso because Tobin experienced the biggest downside of being a fan Monday night. This was his favorite UNC team of his young life. We let him stay up late to watch the championship game. For most of it, he huddled under a blanket, pumping his fist periodically, calling fouls the refs missed, and decrying non-existent fouls that were called.
Then Marcus Paige hit that shot. That shot. A shot celebrated in an alternate universe as THE SHOT. Tobin jumped up and screamed "YES!" then, remembering his siblings were asleep down the hall, sat down and whispered "--sorry--" while beaming. Then, only milliseconds later, the real shot happened. And Tobin cried. A loud, wet, long, sincere, heartbreaking cry that made me feel guilty for letting him stay up, for letting him watch TV at all, and for letting him care so much.
My favorite basketball team of all time lost to Christian Laettner's Duke team 24 years ago on a shot that I watch replayed--conservatively--200 times every year. I still feel hints of the twenty-four-year old disbelief and shock I felt whenever I watch it. Sometimes I still turn my head so I don't see stupid Thomas Hill's crying face. T will experience some variation of the same for a long time. (To a lesser degree, Bryon will shudder at the name Jesperson for the rest of his life).
One of my initial lies to myself Monday night was that "it's only a game," and that I was foolish in some way for not only investing myself emotionally in sports fandom, but that I was especially foolish for ushering my children into the same. But I'm not ultimately sorry. Here's part of the reason why: One of my favorite ideas on sports can be paraphrased like this: For the whole of a game, the ball is the most important object. Everyone's energies are focused on it. Protection and possession of it are crucial, and the game can't happen without it. But we mistake ourselves when we confuse the ball for the game. When the game is over, no one cares what happens to the ball; it is immaterial. The game was in the teamwork, strategy, skill, preparation, and effort expended in competition.
Sports at their best are analogies for life. I can't protect my kids from life's periodic reminders that it can't and won't always reward our efforts and hopes. Only the foolish expect a life free from heartache and disappointment. It would be unfair to expect it of sports. (Unless you're a Yankees fan, I guess). It hurts a lot, but that hurt is often counterbalanced with an analogous joy. (Unless you're a Browns fan, I guess).
A (very) few observations:
- Oklahoma is probably thankful that the Carolina game happened, so no one will remember their Final Four Facepalm.
- Buddy Hield is an awesome player and he loves his mom. I'll let those be my last memories of him in college.
- Villanova winning might bring out the Big East crazies that dominated March media for a long time. Here's hoping it doesn't.
- You all are really nice to participate in the nonsense I facilitate here every year. I look forward to it, and I spend more time on it than I probably should, but I appreciate you reading and taking part. Oh, and get ready, because Kentucky's got a [all-brand new] squad next year!