Sitting in my apartment, staring into the blank television screen I had just turned off, my better half asked me if I was alright. It was our first place together, she had seen that blank stare of disbelief on my face before. It was the exact same look that I had on my face the night Rutgers beat Louisville in Piscataway, NJ right after we first started seeing one another. As she got up and walked out of the room I turned the television back on to watch the Spartans celebrate.
She walked back into the room and asked why I was watching something so obviously painful.
When I first met the love of my life, it can be said with a fair amount of confidence that she didn't really care about College Basketball. She knew through osmosis, via her father, that she always wanted the Cards to win and the Cats to lose. In fact one of the three "fundamental" questions she asked of me when things started getting serious was whether I bled red or blue. To hear her explain the process of her fan-hood she would tell you that as a child she remembered her father watching all the games by himself while screaming at the TV; and that she had no real interest in participating if that's what College Basketball was all about. Now, after five wonderful years with me, she takes a loss harder than I do.
Back then she didn't get it like she does today. I looked up at her and then thoughtfully explained that I needed to feel the pain. I told her as much as it hurt to see them celebrating, I firmly believed that one day I would be on the other end of that feeling. Now she looked really confused. I told her that I would only be able to truly appreciate what it meant to be on the jubilant end of this spectrum if I could remember exactly the way it felt to be where I was, right there, in that moment. She didn't get it. It didn't make sense to her but it made perfect sense to me. I had told her the exact same thing earlier that year when she wondered why I kept watching Rutgers deliver an end of season/ 49 point death blow to the football team.
Some might say it's sick. Others might say I'm a glutton for punishment, but to me the true measure of a fan is steeped in how much you care when things are bad. How much misery do you subject yourself to when things aren't going well? Anyone can fly their flags and wear their gear when times are good. The true fanatics appreciate the agony of a brutal defeat because they realize those are the memories that sting and stay with you. They realize, and have faith, that those memories will be turned into a beautiful collage of what you had to endure, once your team finally redeems themselves with an equally momentous victory.
As we sit roughly thirty two hours from when the final buzzer will sound,... in the most important game for this program since that Sunday afternoon in 2009, my mind won't let me forget the looks on the faces of those Spartan players. I can see them with remarkable clarity. I can remember thinking about how overjoyed the Michigan State fans must be to see the players they love that happy. It's funny isn't it, that we go there in those moments. That we often turn our thoughts to what others must be feeling in moments that should mean so much to us. I suppose it's one of those qualities that makes us uniquely human. It's what makes people automatically turn their attention to their neighbors needs in the midst of a tragedy, if their neighbors tragedy is greater than their own. As human beings we care, often deeply, about the feelings of others. Sure we want our team to win because of how it will make us feel, but we want it almost just as much for how it will make the players feel because we care about them.
I don't know,.... maybe that's just me but I don't think so. What I do know is that this program has been short on special moments from that day until now. I know this team has been through as much as any group I can ever remember in my 21 years of watching Cardinal basketball, and they haven't given up. They didn't fold their tents in a year when it would have been easy to place the blame of a sub-par season at the feet of injuries. No, they didn't quit and neither did their coach. They are playing their best basketball; and, they have you, me, and everyone else who still feels the sting of March 29th 2009 on the brink of redemption against the very team which caused that pain to begin with.
I'll be in a different home, on a different couch, with a bigger television; and even though I'll be watching with the same person, I definitely won't be watching with the same fan. No, the love of my life has been transformed by countless games watched, both live and televised, into a true fanatic. She loves the players as much as anyone I know, and she is just as proud of what they've accomplished this year. I take some measure of pride in knowing that I helped cultivate that fanhood. In knowing that she can now watch a game and point out things like whether or not we're active on defense, whether or not we're sharing the ball, and even when a call by an official is good or bad. But I'm more proud that she cares about the players, how the represent themselves, our University, and our City. She cares just as much about them feeling good about how they played as she does about whether or not we win.
I don't know what will happen tomorrow night. I can't predict the future and save us all the agony of the nervous energy that I'm sure is sweeping through all of us; but, I have supreme confidence that this group of players will make us proud. I know that they will play with the same effort and passion that they have all year. I have supreme confidence that they will leave it all on the floor in Phoenix for their teammates, their Coach, their School, and their fans. As long as they do that tomorrow night, there's now way I can be completely disappointed with the result.
Go Cards #Redemption