I went to a dinner party last night. This is noteworthy only in as much as there was also a pretty big basketball game going on at the time and Michigan was playing. When I realized Michigan was going to be playing AT THE EXACT SAME TIME I was supposed to be at a dinner party, I kind of lost my mind.
Then I regained my mind and attempted a mature outlook. No, I told my wife, we can’t cancel. If Michigan loses, I’ll feel terrible we missed a nice night with friends. If Michigan wins, there’s another game Monday, and after Kansas it’s all free basketball at this point anyway.
Basically I took a shot at locking down Husband of the Year in March.
As it happened, the location of the dinner moved — to a house that actually had a television. I was told “sportball” would be available. The night before the dinner party, just as I was about to fall asleep, my wife made one request: “Promise me you’ll engage with people and not just sit there with your legs bouncing nervously.”
“I’ll try,” I said.
Even now, right now, 5/6 of the way through one of the most grin-inspiring NCAA Tournaments of my lifetime, I believe being a sports fan to be the dumbest thing we can do.
As Michigan clunked free throw after free throw after free throw against Syracuse, my blood pressure spiked. I lost the ability to swallow or speak or listen. I was not engaging. My leg was going nuts.
And this is what it’s like when things are good. Almost always, your team loses eventually. During a commercial break, we started sharing Fan Stories. They were all sad. Because most are.
This is doubly true for anyone who’s a fan of a historically successful team. Michigan, by way of its size and budget, is one of those. Generally speaking, there are far more opportunities to be upset than upset. There are far more memorable shots that fall against than fall for. Someone else makes the shot, you’re left starring in despondent fan porn.
So when Trey Burke rose up from forever away and drilled that three against Kansas, it was the kind of singular moment that stays framed in memories. It’s Rumeal Robinson’s free throws, and Desmond Howard’s Heisman pose, the one he struck the same year he made that catch against Notre Dame. That shot is Charles Woodson’s junior season and Denard Robinson’s fourth quarter against Notre Dame under the lights 2011.
Trey Burke did that and a little more than a week later, I had to try to behave at a dinner party?
I had worn the same Michigan shirt for each of the first four games of the tournament, and I hadn’t washed it and I had to go be around smart, talented, sophisticated people?
Christ. Fine. I washed the shirt.
Michigan managed the win regardless, and tomorrow night they play for a national championship, and today I was flipping through Twitter and came across this photo from Michigan’s official basketball account.
Howard on the left. Burke on the right. Burke, having won every award a basketball player can win, looking like an enthralled fan, striking Howard’s pose.
They’re still really just kids. Kids under bright lights. Kids with so much potential and so much ahead of them and how much fun is this? Look at that photo up there.
My wife once asked me why I gave a such a damn, and I couldn’t really answer.
That photo is one reason, though. Michigan’s a special place to me, a place I’ve had a connection to longer than almost anything or anyone in my life.
For all the many ills of college sports, the good is still in there somewhere. That photo is proof.
All you can ever hope for from a team you root for is that they give you a reason to watch. Maybe Michigan finishes this run off with a win tomorrow night. Maybe not. The other guys are awfully good.
Either way it’s been a hell of a lot of miserable, gut-churning, hair-greying fun. It remains the only real reality television. There’s nothing like it.
Probably I looked like a total ass as Jordan Morgan raced for the breakaway dunk that finally closed out Syracuse. That’s fine. Friends forgive. Moments like this run don’t happen often. There’s always next year for Husband of the Year.