I cried Saturday.
I wasn’t bawling or anything. It’s just that a few tears fell in the last minute or so.
I felt like I should be embarrassed.
“It’s just sports,” I said lamely.
It is and it isn’t.
Sports seasons are stories. Games are chapters. We develop relationships with the characters, we care about them. That’s why we need them to succeed and relish their joy when they do. That’s why the failures feel personal. We’ve invested time, hope, and emotion in a blind journey that could end in either heaven or hell.
Sound dramatic? It is.
The depth of the connections made is why people name their kids after quarterbacks, empty savings accounts to buy billboards, make billions of dollars off 24-hour sports networks. Commit violence.
So I cried after UConn beat Providence last weekend.
I was bummed because the season was over and March was barely one week old. But more so because the team’s membership in the Big East officially expired, as the play-by-play announcer was kind enough to remind me every five seconds.
The game I’d just watched, between a pair of charter schools, embodied Big East play. It was a physical back-and-forth battle. Ugly at times. Loaded with excruciating tension that spilled into overtime.
UConn won in the final 19 seconds on Ryan Boatright’s gorgeous, impossible fade-away jumper. Nine times out of ten he misses that shot. But he only had to make one.
Was I happy with the win? Hell yeah. My team won 20 games in a season played for nothing but pride. I feel that.
The conference tournament ban just kills any chance at closure.
Confiscate their Dance card — fine. But let them throw a flower on the Big East’s casket. Let them play.
If this was a movie, commissioner Mike Aresco, after a sleepless night, would pad down the hall (in slippers) to his home office. He’d pick up the red phone and make the call.
[I have no idea who this call would go to. Someone important who makes decisions. It’s a movie; don’t harass me over details.]
“Let them play,” Aresco would say.
UConn would show up at Madison Square Garden in full warm-up gear. Brackets would explode. Faces would melt. I’d probably need oxygen. They’d lose in the second round but it’d be fucking sexy.
Reality is so anticlimactic.
I’m bracing myself for when it all really sinks in — for that moment when I turn the page and see only white space. Will that happen tomorrow, when the tourney starts? Doubtful. I’m Connecticut-biased, but this thing is much, much bigger than that.
Maybe it won’t settle fully into my heart until I get to New York on Friday. Maybe not until the 2013 champion is crowned.