At especially tumultuous points during a season, numerous people, myself included, are prone to uttering those four all-too-easy to catch and release words: "it's just a game."
On the surface it's an accurate statement, but I think the implication inherent in the phrase is about as drastic an oversimplification as there is. Especially when the saying is directed at Louisville basketball fans.
If you're reading this, you probably spend as much time reading about U of L basketball, thinking about U of L basketball, going to U of L basketball games or watching them from your home as I do. When you're willing to devote that much of yourself to something, to anything, phrases like "it's just a game" fall pretty flat.
Later today, the 2012-13 college basketball season will begin. In two days, the Louisville Cardinals will play their first official game of the year. They will begin the season attached with a No. 2 ranking and a widespread belief that this is the best chance they've had to win a national championship since 1986.
We all have the same hope for this new season's eventual conclusion, and if that happens all of us have a basic understanding of the glorious consequences.
People like me will finally know what it feels like to see the Cardinals win a national title, another group of folks will receive the revival of a joy they haven't felt since the '80s, and a group of players we've already grown to know and love will cement their status as a team that will be remembered forever. But that synopsis wouldn't come close to telling the whole story in this hypothetical, and it doesn't come close to explaining why the prospects of the months ahead have us all feeling like Rudy's dad walking into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.
Between now and (hopefully) April 8, we're all going to lose ourselves a little bit. I think that's wonderful.
Human beings, I believe, are considerably more dangerous and unhappy when they're bored. Otherwise normal people become individuals capable of awful things the moment life becomes dis-interesting. This being our nature, I've always argued that things like Louisville basketball are inherently pro-peace and pro-happiness.
It's impossible to argue that war, for all its deplorable faults, is not interesting. Intricate strategy is involved, million dollar weapons are utilized, a man who would have otherwise lived a life of obscurity can become a national hero. It's all the stuff of great fiction. While I can't claim to have even the slightest understanding of the reality of war, I've heard enough to gain a passionate appreciation for the state of peace that allows me to sit here and type this with fear for my life stored somewhere behind a box in the seasonal decorations closet of my brain.
Peace is good, and life has to remain interesting for peace to thrive.
Enter something like U of L basketball.
For multiple hours some odd days a week you're allowed to get completely lost in something irrefutably engrossing: amazingly gifted individuals working amazingly hard to do amazing things. All of a sudden you're transported to this wonderful, temporary place where it doesn't matter who person next to you voted for in the last election, or if they even voted at all, only that their clothing and shouts of approval or disapproval mimic yours.
But even the best things in life aren't perfect, and the start of a new college basketball season won't magically dissolve all our real world worries. They're still going to be there, but for the two hours we're at a game, the 10 minutes we're listening to Gorgui Dieng wax poetic about life or the 48 hours we spend discussing the latest team meme on Card Chronicle, those troubles, concerns and fears all get shoved to the side.
For us, it's the world's most perfect drug. Equal parts effective, reliable and harmless.
Without choice, I associate years of my life with various Louisville teams, and have vivid, intertwining memories that define both.
My sophomore year of high school is Denny Crum's final season and the hiring of Rick Pitino. It's fifth period chemistry class where my best friend and I drew crude illustrations on our dry erase board that encapsulated the previous night's game (usually a loss). It's ultimately being forced to clean the entire lab after my "Louisville + Pitino = 1980s revived" written equation was discovered by the teacher.
I could go on for a dozen more paragraphs with far more than a dozen examples, none of them consciously contrived. At some point, my brain obviously determined that Louisville basketball warranted this type of attention. I think that makes it more than just a game.
People who don't understand will try to make us feel bad about behaving like this, because that's what people who don't understand things do in order to make themselves feel better about not understanding things. Smile at these people. It's all you can do.
Life, I think, is mostly about what you love. Something like Louisville basketball isn't on par with something like a life-and-death struggle, that isn't lost on me. Still, I don't think any of you all will argue with the stance that there is a degree of love present in all of this. That, at the very least, makes this madness significant.
Kurt Vonnegut once said: "No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful."
Replace "music" with "Louisville basketball" and you have about as close to a personal life mantra as I'm willing to claim at this point.
Mind you, the mantra isn't meant to be observed in any literal sense. The product on the court isn't always going to be pristine, the guy sitting behind you at the game may be obnoxious, you might not agree with a coaching decision, etc., but the season itself will undoubtedly be unique and, in its own way, wonderful.
Here's to the 2012-13 Louisville basketball season, and the wealth of memories that will be made over the next five months.