It's been almost a week, and this is the moment where I'm supposed to talk about how another run from the baseball team could be fun, or how the official move to the ACC is just three months away, or how the next time we face Kentucky in a major sporting event Bobby Petrino will be out for blood, or how it's all just a game and we should be giddy about the most beautiful time of the year to live in Louisville is just a stone's throw away.
All of these things are true, of course, but propping any one of them up as my overwhelming stance on things at the moment would be disingenuous, and so I'll save that for another time.
The worst losses in any sports fan's life are supposed to be reserved for ages 9-16 or so, when hearts are the most tender and the athletes are still superheroes. For myself, the two most brutal have come in the last four years, and the most recent is a new No. 1 that I'm not sure will ever be topped.
Like anything especially painful or pleasurable, the core of Friday's loss is multi-layered.
First, there was the game itself, which was a carbon copy of Louisville's two losses to Memphis and loss to Cincinnati. The Cards controlled the first 35 minutes in a way that made you feel, even when things were obviously crumbling near the end, like they couldn't possibly let it slip away completely. That unfounded conviction made the gut-punch that much more difficult to absorb when the final horn sounded and reality set in. The missed free-throws, the late turnovers, the offensive rebounds, the inexplicably leaving Aaron Harrison all alone in the corner; there's no longer a chance to wash any of that away, and that's the worst part.
You also can't ignore the simple (nor not so simple, I guess) fact that this was Kentucky. This was U of L's shot to put their recent struggles against the Cats in the past, and get this latest chapter of the rivalry back on level ground. Instead, all the U of L/UK talk for at least the next eight months will be centered around the notion of Big Blue's dominance. The tweets and emails over the past week have been more consistent and more vulgar than they've been at any other time since I started doing this, and regardless of what happens in Dallas this weekend, that's unlikely to change anytime soon.
The third, and I think most painful of the layers, is the "end of an era" talk that has been so prevalent over the past six days. What we know is unpleasant enough. Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese and Tim Henderson will never suit up for the Cards again. This wonderful string of continuity that we've enjoyed since the opening of the Yum Center at the beginning of the 2010-11 season is about to be broken for the first time, and that's a little scary. Maybe Trez comes back, maybe Terry Rozier and Anton Gill make enormous leaps in their sophomore seasons, maybe the freshmen are even better than advertised...or maybe none of that happens. Maybe five or six years from now we're looking back at this moment as the end of the good times. There are plenty of reasons to be very excited about the uncertainty surrounding the future, but there are also plenty of reasons to be a tad unsettled as well.
There are also personal ramifications, which I suppose should be addressed here. Sports blogging (or Internet sports writing or whatever you want to call it) is more or less a young person's game. It requires a huge time commitment, and the reward is typically very little pay. When I started doing this for fun, I was 21 and had as much free time as you might expect a non-GPA-obsessed college junior to have. When I started doing this for a living, I was 26 and simply excited to be paid to do something other than practice law. In four and-a-half months, I'll be married. Two weeks after that, I'll turn 30. Times are changing, and I can't ignore that now that the glow of another deep run in March has gone. To be perfectly honest, I don't know what, if anything, that means for the site. Maybe things will be able to continue on the way they have with no noticeable differences, or maybe they won't, but it will be even better. It just feels like a period of change and uncertainty that mirrors the program CC follows is on the horizon, and like that other change, it's somewhat unsettling.
The period between the end of the Louisville basketball season and Derby has always been the strangest of the calendar year for me, and I'm sure plenty of you feel the same way. For the first time in seven months there's not a Cardinal football or basketball game to look forward to, and the readjustment to that life which you can hardly remember is...awkward. The best way I can describe it is as a mixture of sadness, relief and confusion.
The strangest aspect of this time of the year is how quickly things move. I mean, just think about how long ago the AAC Tournament seems. The championship game was less than 20 days ago. Suddenly, the guys who were suiting up for your favorite team less than a week ago are now being paid to host autograph events where they're introduced for the first time as bona fide professionals. It all just seems, for lack of a better word, wrong...this year more than most.
I think the biggest bit of solace we can take from this time and this feeling is the fact that the only way a loss like last Friday's (and the one to Morehead State in 2011) could possibly hurt so much is for the team doing the losing to have been so overwhelmingly lovable. A Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky would be tough to stomach in any of the 100 years Louisville has played basketball, but the fact that it was as brutal as any defeat I can remember is a testament to the character and the work ethic of our guys. For four years, we've never had to question the side we support or fake our enthusiasm. It's the same reason why I'm not sure it's possible for a fan base to experience more joy than we did 12 months ago.
It hurts now, only because it was so great then. As green takes over the city, Derby Day arrives and the countdown to ACC football begins, that fact will only become more apparent and things will only become easier to digest.
Thanks to everyone who read, commented or just stopped by casually since the beginning of November. It was yet another fantastic journey and I'm glad we all got to experience it together.