[Warning: As those of you who have read MizzouCard posts before know, they tend to be long and sappy. This one is both, though I can assure you it is sincere. It would be entirely logical for you to stop reading right now. No hard feelings from me toward anyone who exercises that good judgment.
A bit of context for this note: On Monday night, I read the notserp/jacketree/dunkster/treetop11 message board thread noting that some of us were about to blow a gasket about the tournament brackets and suggesting that we should calm down, because all is well. As a person who has done as much gasket blowing (or more) than anyone else since the brackets were announced, that thread got me thinking. Why was I so emotional about them sticking our guys with a tougher road than they deserved as the number one team in the country? That led me to the following thoughts:]
I KNOW HOW THIS IS ALL GOING TO END
There is nobody I know who is more skeptical than I am about being able to predict the future. Dont tell me about your visions, psychic lady. I am not buying what you are selling.
So, it is with more than a bit of sheepishness that I tell you that, after calming down a little Monday evening (a bit more than 24 hours after our friends on the NCAA basketball committees started up my vitriol engine in a big way), I had a vision. I am not kidding. Clear as a bell, I saw how Stanfords basketball season is going to end.
Here is what is going to happen. First, a clock is going to wind down. Slowly but surely, and perhaps intermittently, the numbers on that clock are going to get smaller and smaller. Eventually, they will hit 00:00. Then, a buzzer is going to sound.
And then... Well... then... And I say this with all honesty and more than a bit of embarrassment.
Then, I am going to cry.
There, I said it. I am not saying that I am proud of it. In fact, I will almost certainly try like hell to choke back the tears. But, while I am doing that, I am going to have to eventually give a hug to the only person in this state who is possibly (but only possibly) a bigger Stanford sports fan than me my ten-year-old son. And I can assure you, he is going to cry. And once I see that, there is just no way I am going to succeed at choking back all of my own tears.
This, of course, is downright silly. We are talking about a game here, folks. How can a (supposedly) grown adult have such a strong emotional attachment to a sports team? After all, I know none of these people (at least in the flesh). Sadly, I have not even set foot in Maples Pavilion for half a decade. I have not even seen our team live since the Western Kentucky game in St. Louis two years ago.
And, no, though I am a big sports fan, I do not usually have this reaction to the ending of a season. I have weathered many a last game of my assorted teams. In fact, I just now watched the team I pay good money to see finish its season by hitting a beautiful two-point shot with :00.1 left. They were three points down, unfortunately. But, there were no tears shed. It just did not mean that much.
What makes me so sure it is going to end that way for me this time around? What makes me so damn mad when the NCAA bracket is released that I do almost nothing for 24 hours but angrily bang out nasty posts (to the only folks who could possibly understand my rage, my fellow Booties), though I clearly do not have time to waste in this fashion? Why am I so irrationally emotional about this one team?
Lets start at the beginning. Actually, before the beginning. I have an admission to make. I never expected to be where I am right now as a Stanford basketball fan. Here is where that is: Try as I might to convince myself that I should not hope for a national championship, I cannot do it. I actually believe, as you do, that there is a decent shot that Stanford will win it all.
In other words, both my head and my heart are thinking maybe, just maybe, this is the year. My heart, of course, is always there. Every year, I desperately WANT Stanford to (somehow) win a national championship. What I thought would never happen again was actually believing (try as I might to convince myself otherwise, to lessen the pain if it does not happen) that our guys have a chance to actually do it.
Seriously, folks. I was pretty sure that I would never have to try to talk myself out of that thought again. I remember well the drive after that Western Kentucky game in St. Louis. It was a fine game, of course, and our guys had won. But there was not much of chance that they would go all the way. I turned to my fellow Stanford alum, a man much smarter than me about basketball, and told him that I realized that Stanford would never win it all.
The Collins twins and Casey, I said. There will never again be talent like that at Stanford. If lightning did not strike the bottle then, it never will. Please do not misunderstand. Admittedly, there was some resignation in my statement, but no complaint. We had our shot. A school with academic standards like ours could not expect to gather the talent needed to actually contend for the national title more than once (and certainly not more than once in my lifetime).
After all, when I was on The Farm, there was no trouble getting into Maples for a basketball game. At the zenith of the Keith Jones and John Revelli era, we actually started up a chant of NIT. NIT. NIT. It was not an insult directed at the visiting team. It was a plea for our guys to be put into the NIT. [By the way, it did not work.]
So, I had thought just two years ago, this is all gravy. Mike Montgomery had taken Stanford basketball to places we had never even dreamed about. We had actually been ranked number one. We had gotten close.
It was not like the basketball future was bleak. I was pretty sure that there were many NCAA tournaments in our future, I told my friend. Maybe some year things will break our way the way they did in 98, and we might even sneak into the Final Four again. But, I seriously believed that a national championship was completely out of the question.
Try as I might, I do not believe that today. Maybe, just maybe, it could happen. That thought alone, even if it leads to pain in the next three weeks, is enough to generate some very strong affection for this team. They have taken us (or, at least, me) to a place I never thought I would see again.
But that alone is not enough to make me this irrational. There is also the trip we took to get here. What a ride! How many times had I started to tell myself it is okay that we lost this year, only to see our guys charge back? Count em with me (and help me out, because I am going to miss a few, certainly). Rice. ASU. Oregon. Arizona. Wazzu. Only once (only once!) did it not happen, and even then our guys went down swinging. At least three times (ASU, Arizona, and Wazzu), it happened in magical fashion.
It has just been so much darn fun this year. Other than Stanford basketball, this has not been much of a winter for me. So I am selfish. In part, the tears will come because I simply do not want this ride to end. Whenever it ends, however it ends, I am really going to miss this.
But that is not all of it, either. The bottom line is that I just really like this team, and the guys on it. Of course, I always like the guys on my teams. But this is different.
Dont forget that this all started when our friends at UConn outplayed us a year ago. How did our guys react? Did they hang their heads, like lots of us (and I am not excluding yours truly) would do, saying these other guys just have too much for us? No. They scraped themselves off the canvas, dusted themselves off (for about a week, tops), and went back to work. They have been busting their butts for a long time.
How can you not like these guys?
How many great stories can you jam into one team? Which one is your favorite? The big guy named Little who worked himself toward his name? [Anyone who has tried to lose weight, like me, greatly admires this feat.] The tough as nails kid who, in fact, was raised by his carpenter father? The gritty point guard who plays on despite a back so bad he cannot even sit like a normal person during a game? The fifth-year senior who is blossoming into a real player, just before he hangs them up for good? The one who has willed himself past his weaknesses through sheer force of hard work, only to see an injury rob him of his going away tour? The star who refuses to be one, but cannot help himself when he puts his team on his back and blows away that hated ones from L.A.? The consummate team player who is willing to do anything that needs to be done, up to and including changing diapers? The guy hobbling around on one good ankle? The bunch of uncomplaining backups who spell the big guns and toughen them up in practice? Put them all together, and you would have a nice cast of characters for a movie. [A movie. There is a thought.]
And these guys play the way we like to think we would play, if we had their talent. They grind on defense. They move without the ball on offense. They throw crisp passes. They play smart. They hustle. They work together, not caring who gets the stats. Though we hate it when the wicked witches of the east use their hard work as some sort of sign of athletic weakness, we are proud as hell of how they play.
In the end, though we dont actually know these guys, we know them. We are Stanford fans. These are our kinds of guys. When my ten-year-old says, as young boys are wont to do, I am Nick Robinson, I know he has made a wise choice (even if it is based in substantial part on the fact that he wears his socks all the way to his knees, so I look just like Nick Robinson). Our guys really are the good guys.
We really like these guys. Ah, hell, lets admit it. We love these guys. We desperately want them to win it all. We want good to triumph over evil, at least in this one little human endeavor. Maybe, as the anti-sports people will tell you, sports do not mean anything. Then again, they mean a whole lot, at least to us.
So when this ends, there will be a tear or two, no matter how I try to stop them. That much I know for sure.
There is, of course, one thing I do not know. Where will those tears fall? In some sports bar that my son and I will be forced into for the first three games, because the evil empire, CBS, will almost certainly refuse to televise a Stanford game in our area? In our home, where we would watch a regional final, if there is one for us? Dare I think it could be in a giant football stadium in Texas, if I could somehow scrape together the cash to get there?
Oh, yeah. There is one more thing I do not know. Will they be tears of pain? Almost certainly, of course, because that is how it ends for almost everyone. If so, they will come with no regrets and no complaints about what our guys have done. As I have said here before, after all our team has given Stanford fans this year, we have no right to complain about anything they do from here on out.
But sadness is not the only emotion that produces tears in irrational, emotional sport fans. Unbridled joy works pretty well, too.
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