We talk of ‘what ifs’ like they could still actually happen:
What if Steph would have hit that three while we were singing “Sweet Caroline?”
What if Jason would have hit that final three pointer that would have sent us to the Final Four?
What if we would have won and our group could be on our way to San Antonio in an RV?
“Stop,” says a broken-hearted Matt Hanson, who lives despite our earlier bets. “This isn’t doing us any good.”
Everyone goes quiet.
Five minutes later Matt says, “What if…”
We were so close. As close as one comes. Little ol’ Davidson College playing with the big boys.
Stephen Curry brought the ball up court with 16 seconds left and all of us on our feet, hands in the air—momentarily removed from our absorbed faces. Seconds ago the entire Davidson section chanted, “We-Be-Lieve”—I’m pretty sure the rest of Ford Field heard us chanting “We-Be-We,” but we knew what we said and what we meant, and I like to think the boys on the floor knew too.
10 seconds left. Score 59-57, Kansas leads. Steph goes left. We hold our breath. His defender falls. A glimmer of hope burst forth from all of us. Another defender steps up to guard him. Thomas tries to set a screen. Five seconds left. Jason Richards gets partially open—he’s been struggling for most of the game; and we think this could be his moment (our moment) to leave all of that in the past, grab hold of a regional final for the first time in school history and blaze a trail to San Antonio, shaking of the cold of Detroit as we smile on into the sun of the south.
Three seconds left. Steph finds Jason.
He shoots. We watch.
The ball bounces helplessly off the backboard. The arena goes soft for us. We don’t hear the Kansas fans. In fact, it seems most of us don’t believe it’s over. You can see it in everyone’s unwillingness to move. Like statues we go unemotional for a brief second with a collective exhale. We just gaze silently out on the scape of the court. Kansas fans and players gleefully celebrate. Don’t they know it’s not over. This can’t be over. There must be something: a call the refs are about to make, more time on the clock, something—but not this.
Realization ends up overtaking disbelief. The Davidson band plays “Sweet Caroline” one last time for this season, and we all make a half-hearted attempt to sing it with our warn out voices sounding as depressed as the moment.
Steph Curry is the last player from Davidson off the court. Hundreds of amazing shots from this season go through my mind.
We try to find our way out of Detroit to make the 10-hour trip back home. With the detours, we get lost twice. To us, it seems like a glimpse of what hell is like.
At 2:30 in the morning we stop at a gas station in Richmond, Ky., to fill up. Rain soaks into our Davidson hoodies as we make our way inside. They sag off of us like rags from three days of tortuous, fervent wear. They match our exhausted faces, empty of enthusiasm.
We make our way to the Red Bulls. The clerk looks up.
“Davidson!” he yells.
We freeze, caught off guard.
“Man! Ya’ll sure do have a great team.” he keeps on enthusiastically. “I was rooting for you to the end. That Curry player sure is something.”
We all stand up a little straighter. We thank him and move to the door.
We climb back in Ol’ Glory and back-seat Rob makes a joke. We all laugh, and things feel almost all right.
I-75 gets back under our tires, and we watch the temperature climb slightly as the time toward daylight draws nearer. I begin to nod off in the middle of the van when I hear Matt Dellinger say with his first smile since the loss, “Man, Davidson played great this weekend.”
It rattles around in my brain as my body relaxes and I dream of more ‘what ifs.’
“Man, Davidson played great this weekend.”
“Davidson played great this weekend.”
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