It wasn't that I was not proud of my team. I just wondered if I would ever again have the opportunity to watch my team play in the Final Four and cover an event that is usually reserved for Sports Illustrated and USA Today journalists. If my heart had just been ripped out and trampled on by Ringling Brothers' elephants, it wouldn't have hurt nearly as badly.
As usual I tried to avoid any conversation, I kept the television away from ESPN and I stayed as far away from Internet stories and message boards as possible. Like most Mountaineer fans, I sat alone and wondered why cheering for West Virginia's flagship institution was so difficult.
I felt sorry for myself for having to endure the pain of the blocked punt that cost the Mountaineers a win against Miami in 1997. I remembered the pain I felt when Utah ended WVU's Sweet 16 run in 1998. I thought back to how close we came to a National Championship only to see an injured Major Harris come up short in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl, and of course I let the memory of how Miami ended the thrill of Quincy Wilson's go-ahead touchdown by driving down the field to kick a winning field goal two years ago in the Orange Bowl swirl around my head for hours. "Being a Mountaineer fan is just a difficult process," I thought to myself. "Why do I even put myself through this torture?"
But as a moped around the hotel, something occurred to me. For every one of those down times, there has been a spectacular moment that I will never forget. Sure the Notre Dame loss in the Fiesta Bowl was tough, but what about the victory lap that the team took after completing an 11-0 season with a win over Syracuse. The Sweet 16 loss in 1998 hurt, but that negative feeling was nothing compared to the jubilation I felt when Jarrod West hit the shot against Cincinnati to send the Mountaineers to Anaheim. The Miami loss still sends pains through my chest, but beating both Virginia Tech and Pitt at Mountaineer Field that same year was something that I would not trade for 10 blue-chip recruits.
As far as this basketball season goes, how can I – or any other Mountaineer fan – mope about this loss after the run we have had. Think of how Boston College and Villanova must have felt, losing to a group of "nobodies" when they had a chance at the Big East crown. Think of the arrow that went through St. John's hearts when J.D. Collins scored his first two points of the game to down the Red Storm on a last-second bucket. How did Wake Forest feel when it blew a lead and then failed to pull off a win in overtime? We could be Pitt fans facing a collapse that can only be outdone by the fall of the Berlin Wall preparing for an off-season full of harassment from the passionate Mountaineer faithful.
This run has been nothing short of a dream come true, and we should not be bitter with the fact that we finally had to wake up.
Being a Mountaineer fan is not a curse, it is a gift. If you have not had to hear the daily hillbilly and inbred jokes, if you have not been blessed with the chance to see all the beautiful scenery that the Mountain State has to offer, if you have never had to explain that West Virginia is a state and not a part of Virginia and if you have lived a life without some tough losses, then you don't truly understand the pride that comes with putting on the old gold and blue and chanting, "Let's Go Mountaineers" at the top of your lungs.
Living your life as a Mountaineer fan is wonderful; it is simply living your life as a fan in general that can sometimes bring you to the verge of a breakdown. Only one team ends the season each year without disappointment, and that is the national champion. Everyone else is in the same boat that we are in now. No matter when your season ends, it ends in disappointment. It is just as heartbreaking to lose in the Final Four as it is to lose 25 games and not even make it to the tournament. Even the NIT champion ends the season asking themselves, ‘Why couldn't we have done a little more of this in the regular season to get into the Big Dance?'
Putting your heart behind a team can often lead to pain, but for every Louisville loss, there is a Texas Tech win. For every blocked punt, there is a Brian King interception in the end zone. For every Jonathan Hargett and Chris Henry there is a Quincy Wilson and a Mike Gansey. And for every Dan Dakich there is a John Beilein.
Maybe it is true that we never will see a run like this again, but it sure was fun while it lasted, and I am just glad that I got to witness it all first hand. And when the leaves start to turn and football season is here again, I will be ready to slip that pullover on and place the "flying WV" over my heart for yet another year. Games like the Boston College contest last season may come again, but when that 28-7 shellacking of Virginia Tech happens again, I will be ready, and as always, proud to call myself a Mountaineer.