When it finally happened, I didn't cry> I didn't take off my pants and run out onto the court, and my heart didn't automatically stop beating. I didn't do any of the things I always speculated I would if Louisville ever won a national championship in basketball.
It's not that the moment wasn't overwhelming, it was, it's just that there was too much going on to really think about all the implications. You want to get a good glimpse of the celebration on the court, you want to hug your friends or your family, you want to hear what Rick Pitino has to say when he's given the mic; the enormity of "holy sh-t, that thing you've always dreamt about happening just happened" never really gets a chance to seep in.
The only time I got that "hold it in, you're in public" feeling in my upper chest on Monday night was during the starting lineup festivities. It was the one chance my brain had to escape and explore before the game started, and it took full advantage.
I thought about the hundreds of games I'd watched on the couch with my father, the trips to Freedom Hall and the Yum Center with friends and family, and the game-watch parties at CC Headquarters on special occasions.
Since I was probably 9-years-old, there hasn't been a Louisville basketball game that has passed without me either watching it live, following along online or finding out the final score as quickly as I could. All that was done with the hope that one day I'd be lucky enough to see Monday night with my own eyes.
I thought about all the random knowledge, the obscure facts and the crazy memories pertaining to Louisville basketball that I'd collected over the years.
I thought about refusing to come inside when U of L was making a dramatic comeback against Tulsa in the 1996 NCAA Tournament because I thought it'd jinx them, I thought about listening to Brian Kiser's game-winning three against UCLA in the car with my brother Oliver while we were at the Shelby County Horse Park for one of my sister's shows, I thought about the dueling C-A-R-D-S and C-A-T-S cheers we had at Sacred Heart's Junior/Senior Prom on the night before Louisville was stunned by Butler.
I thought about how comforting it was to know that I wasn't alone in this madness.
The older you get as a Louisville fan, the more aware you become that there are plenty of others who share your obsession. I'm still amazed whenever I meet a new U of L fan by just how similar our feelings and memories are. We remember things other fan bases would have forgotten months after they happened: The Damian Dantzler/Alvin Sims over the head save/dunk against Texas in '97, Joseph 'N Sima's fee-throw style (as well as the right way to spell his name), what school Diego Guevara went to and what his trademark move was after making a shot. The list goes on and on. As much as I'd love to take the credit, the popularity of Card Chronicle is way more about the shared and eerily similar love that so many people have for Louisville sports than it is anything else. Everybody loves company, and Cardinal fans are blessed with some of the best company possible.
I thought about all the times during the spring and summer months in my early 20s when I'd had too much to drink and tried (unsuccessfully) to convince my friends to walk home from the bar because it was a chance to "experience the city."
Everyone wants to get away when they're younger, but I think I realized sooner than most just how special this place is. Living elsewhere only reinforces it. Louisville takes all the things I've enjoyed about other areas of the country - the charm of the South, the kindness of the Midwest, the outside-the-box thinking of the North - and makes them its own. The result is, in my mind at least, the perfect place to grow up, work, make friends, fall in love, start a family, or do anything else you think makes life worth living. I've met dozens of people who have come to Louisville from other parts of the world and fallen head-over-heels for it. More than a handful of them have used the same phrase: "It gets in your blood." That's not a coincidence.
I thought about how perfectly this particular team served as an extension of the city it represented.
I thought about how fantastic it would be for them to be the ones to give the city its first championship of the 21st century. Kevin Ware's injury allowed the nation to get a taste of the character and the togetherness that we'd been privy to for months. From Gorgui Dieng's unrivaled likability, to Russ Smith's personality, to Peyton Siva's leadership, to Luke Hancock's ability to overcome adversity, and on and on. There hasn't been a U of L team in my lifetime more worthy of representing a generation.
I thought about how unfair it would be if they wound up not being remembered in the golden light they deserved.
Before the start of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, we all talked about how special the team was and how they would never be forgotten. Let's be honest though, one bad game has already resulted in that team falling from the lofty perch they deserve in our collective Cardinal brains. The best thing about college basketball is also the worst thing about college basketball: one made shot in March can swing the memory of an entire season to one of two polar opposites. No one would have forgotten Gorgui or Peyton or Russ or Kevin had the Cards fallen short against Michigan, but they wouldn't be remembered the way they will now, the way they deserve to be remembered. There wouldn't be framed posters of them hanging around restaurants and shops throughout the city for decades to come. More than anything else, that was the thought that got to me.
When it was all said and done, the best part about Monday night was that I was able to share it with almost all of the people I love the most. I called home and talked to my dad, I texted with my siblings and friends who couldn't make the trip down, I gave long, serious hugs to "Web" and the other ones who could, I got beer-showered by "Dan" in the open field in front of the Georgia Dome, and then after making the last-second decision to head to the team hotel, I got to spend some bro time with the championship trophy.
It was perfect.
When talking to friends, family, strangers and anyone else willing to listen on Monday, the word that kept coming up was "forever." And I think that's the best part of this: We get this forever. The memories aren't going to fade or be tainted now. This team, these players, our stories...all of it is forever.
Since starting this site back in '07, I've written a post every year on the day after Louisville is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament titled "The Worst Day of the Year." It's hyperbole only in the sense that there's no way for me to know what awful things are going to happen on other days. The truth is that, as far as guaranteed depressing occurrences are concerned, being faced directly with the knowledge that it'll be another 12 months before the dream has a chance to be realized has always ranked right at the top (or the bottom) of every Mike Rutherford calendar year. It's something I don't really get over, or allow myself to get over, until Derby.
There will be no worst day of 2013 because the dream did not die this year.
Realized dreams come along so rarely in life that they demand to be absorbed, celebrated and soaked in as much as possible. You've got plenty of time to make that happen, realized dreams are forever.