Sunday, March 30, 2008

Good Times

By Lauren Biggers
Men's Basketball vs. Kansas


Sitting on the bus waiting to board the plane home, assistant director of marketing Jason Sabow leans up between the seats.

“Well, Lauren, I just gotta ask you,” he says. “Was it worth it?”

That he even had to ask makes me wonder about him a bit, but I cut him some slack because, well, we are all running on fumes here.

He is referring, of course, to my own personal Elite Eight journey, which included four flights, two hotel rooms, an 11-hour car ride with an extremely nice couple I met on Saturday morning at the airport, a baseball game and little to no sleep over a four-day (was it really only four days?) period, but he could have been talking to anyone in Davidson red.

There is no hesitation in my answer, though, “Can you imagine not being here?”

If
Jason’s last-hope shot had in fact gone in (and I watched again on Tivo, and it still wouldn’t... Why won’t it?), I had to be there. And if it didn’t, well, I had to be there for that too.

I knew I’d have to write this story eventually; I just didn’t know when. I thought it might be my first road-trip with the men’s team to
Elon, way back when, when Stephen (What more can I say? Does he still need the qualifiers?) Curry’s late-game heroics saved the day.

Then I thought it’d be
Greensboro, but the night again belonged to Steph, the Midwest Regional MVP (Rock chalk Jay Hawks).

Or the
Gonzaga game. Ordinarily, I title my stories by opponent on my computer, but I nearly saved that one as NCAA. Then I thought, what to do when they win? And they did. And they just kept on winning.

Since I started writing this column, the Wildcats hadn’t lost. I had nothing to do with that, of course, but writing about winning is easy. Writing about losing is hard.

Losing is hard.

It hurt bad last night. You could see it on Jason’s face as he crumpled to the court. Or SteF-in’s as he untucked and bit his jersey in defeat. Or on any one of the Davidson coaches’ and players’ as they went down the line to congratulate the other guys, the winners.

But this one was different in other ways.

Walking off the floor to the post-game press conference, I couldn’t make it a few feet without someone stopping me, “You guys have nothing to be ashamed of.” “What a great team.” “We have loved watching you and having you here.” “You’ll be back.”

The list goes on and on. For these very special days, TINY and SCRAPPY little Davidson was America’s sweetheart.

I couldn’t go anywhere this week without people asking, “Are the players really as nice as they seem?” “Is the coaching staff really as accessible?” “Is Davidson really that special?” The answer is yes, and then some, to all three.

Sports writers, they of the impartial and hardened media, across the country adopted these Wildcats, and after the game ...the loss, some big-time names give me sad and knowing disappointed looks of condolences.

In the locker room, the sadness is palpable. If the shot had fallen, you can imagine what the scene would have been. Oh, what could have been. But in this moment, every sleepless night is evident on the coaching staff’s face, every ounce of energy drained from the players.

There is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey has struck out.

In place of words, there are hugs, looks, pats on the back. Words are unnecessary because everyone is feeling the same emotion. So close.

It is hardest for the seniors, this being so close. Jason Richards,
Thomas Sander and Boris Meno have given so unselfishly of themselves over their careers, and the abrupt ending seems the cruelest for them.

As always, Jason handles himself beautifully in the post-game interviews, answering all the questions about the shot. It’s been his dream since he was a child, he admits, a game-winning shot to send your team to the Final Four, and in an instant, it is gone. If you’ve been there, you know what Jason is feeling, but how many have?

Before the game as I took my seat on press row, I greeted the Kansas SID at my side. We talked about our teams and wished each other luck. “One of us will be in San Antonio next weekend,” I said.

It is not me. It is not the Wildcats.

Afterwards at the hotel, I try to get to as many of the coaches and players as possible, and without knowing what else to say, I say, “Congratulations.” It doesn’t seem an appropriate greeting after a loss, and yet, it’s what I want to say to them.

As we sit on the bus and wait for a plane to take us home, assistant director of ticketing and roommate on this crazy ride, April Albritton has a song stuck in her head. You know the one.

Good times never seemed so good.

It is the song that has come to define a season. A season so good that we will always remember this crazy ride.

And yet, without the good times, there is no reference point for this moment. These feelings.

They make the good times feel so good.

This loss will hurt for a while, to be sure. But when it’s all said and done, it’s the good times that we will remember. The winning, the records, the championships, the banners.

Beyond that every story is personalized. Remember where you were when the Wildcats knocked off Gonzaga?
Georgetown? Wisconsin? Remember how you felt? Remember that.

And as we sat around eating pizza last night at Detroit’s Cheli’s Chili Bar for the umpteenth time, the talk turned to next season. There are more good times to come, we realize.

Next year is going to be fun.

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