These last two weeks have cemented a special place for this team in the hearts of State fans. Some teams in the past have ended with better overall records, or with NCAA appearances, but this team will be remembered not for where it finished, but rather how got there.
This 2007 team has fight, and lots of it. Fight is intangible and doesn't show up on stat sheets, but it's impossible to say that it's not there for this team. No one would've thought poorly of the Pack had they succumbed to Duke in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, but they fought to a win. And another. And another. And even in losing, it was clear that State had plenty of fight left in the tank in the championship game when they took the Tar Heels down to the wire in the closing minutes.
People love a fighter. It's why there's a bronze statue at the Philadelphia Art Museum not of a dignitary or a founding father, but of a fictional boxer, fists in the air. The refusal to quit and to keep fighting against the toughest of odds wins the favor of friends and foes alike. It's more powerful, in some ways, than winning itself. The outcome matters little compared to the effort exerted.
Five games in six days? Six games in nine? It will be tough for any team down the road to match the effort the Pack has poured out in such a short time, from such a limited roster. Each game comes with the same refrain: Ok, THIS is the game where State's tired legs catch up with them. And after each game the refrain is the same. Where does this team keep finding the energy to keep winning? It's that fighting spirit that keeps this team going, game after game after game.
There are other aspects of this season, however, that State fans will share a smile over years down the road. At the top of that list? It might just be The Blazer.
Ah, the red blazer. Call it what you will—lucky, intimidating, maybe even spellbinding—Sidney's custom tailored digs became just as much a storyline during the Tournament run as the team itself. Reporters unfamiliar with it wanted to know, "Where did you get it? Are you going to keep wearing it? Hell, can you find a dry cleaner for it down here in Tampa?" It was as much a part of the 2007 State squad as any player or coach.
And in a way, The Blazer may have played its own small role in the Pack's success. It helped divert some attention away from the players onto Sidney, in much the same way that Jim Valvano's playful banter with the media acted as a pressure release for his teams come tournament time.
Then there's Sidney himself. It takes just a few moments to see the player is still very much alive in Sidney. He's back on the court, directing traffic, calling plays through his young intermediaries.
Perhaps some of us are just now learning, through hindsight, that State's national title team didn't have one head coach—it had two. This is a role that Sidney seems born to fill, and the sound of his whistles from the sidelines will echo for years to come.
So here we are at the most recent and curious aspect of this script.
They say things have a funny way of working out sometimes. Call it fate, or destiny, or maybe something less mystical and just dumb luck. But when State was bumped from the RBC Center by Christian musician Josh Groban and into Reynolds to host its second-round NIT game, you almost get the sense that something beyond our scope is at play.
Could it be Valvano, calling in a favor? After all, what better venue for his former player to coach his first postseason home game in than the place they called home? The excitement of a return to Reynolds certainly wasn't lost on State fans, snatching up every available ticket in a matter of three hours. Students lined up all the way to the student bookstore in the hopes of securing one of the oh-so-scarce endzone tickets. Every seat in Reynolds will be filled, and the old barn will no doubt be rocking once again.
A story like this feels like one big clichés, so here are a few for good measure. You couldn't have scripted these last two weeks any better. Wins are great, but winning isn't everything. Sometimes it's the journey, and the many aspects of it, that make for a more memorable story.
Whether or not that story ends Friday night, this truly will be a team that folks remember for years to come.