This post originally appeared over at AssemblyCall.com.
Don’t forget to join Ryan, Andy, and me as soon as tonight’s Indiana-Kentucky game is over for instant analysis and reaction. Listen live at http://assemblycall.com/live.
Before I give you my thoughts on the real (and perhaps unexpected) reason why I am so excited for tonight’s IU-Kentucky game, here is all of the pertinent viewing information you may need:
Indiana-Kentucky TV Info
- Date: Friday, March 23rd
- Tip Time: 9:45 ET
- TV Network: CBS
- Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg
- Point Spread: Kentucky -9
- Andy Bottoms: Indiana-Kentucky Preview and Prediction
And now some thoughts…
Why This Season With This Team Can’t End Yet
I’m not really sure I know how to even adequately express the emotion I want to express, but it’s been nagging at me the last few days, and I can’t concentrate on any real work duties anyway…so I’m going to give it a try.
I can’t remember the last sporting event I wanted my team to win as badly as I want Indiana to beat Kentucky tonight. This may seem like a relatively obvious thing to say, what with a trip to the Elite 8 and a second victory over a hated arch-rival on the line, but the tricky part of the emotion as I peel back the layers on it is that I’m not sure either of those reasons is anywhere close to the main one.
The more I think about why I am so worked up about tonight’s game I realize that, in the most simple way I can describe it, I just really, really do not want this season, with this team, to end.
Being a sports fan can often be a frustrating, disappointing existence.
In a culture that places so much emphasis on winning, especially championships, sports are set up to let down the overwhelming majority of supporters year in, year out. But we’re a resilient lot, we sports fans, so we come back year after year, season after season, team after team, cheering and providing unconditional love to our alma maters and the professional laundry we’ve chosen to root for or been indoctrinated into supporting.
The coaches and players change. The arenas and jerseys change. The fans though, most of us anyway, the faithful, remain omnipresent. And for the most part we ebb and flow from season to season, rather easily turning the page to the next season once the previous one has ended and some offseason time to mourn and recharge the fan batteries has passed.
But then every now and then a team comes along that is different and that provides a wholly unique fan experience.
A team comes along that we, as fans, connect to in way that far supersedes cliches like lucky boxer briefs or the logistics of loyalty like planning our schedule around the team’s schedule.
As the season progresses, this team separates itself from the unyielding wave of team after team, season after season to become something much more. You root a little harder. You care a little more. You take it a little more seriously. You feel like you are rooting for more than a score or victory; you are rooting for the triumph of something greater, maybe even an ideal, though one you perhaps can’t verbalize.
But mostly you are rooting not just for inhabitants of the jersey you cheer for and the colors you support, as in most seasons, you are rooting for people whose journey and story you can relate to and even understand in certain specific ways because somehow your journey as a fan has allowed you to do so. You’re rooting for your fellow fans too, disparate personalities and backgrounds and all, enjoying that unique sense of spirit and community borne out of the shared experiences that sports, when at their best and most meaningful, can provide.
And sometimes you can even experience all of this from thousands of miles away, never even having met any of the people actually out there doing the playing or coaching and all while connecting with fans through impersonal mediums that yet still somehow feel personal.
That is how I feel about the 2011-12 Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team.
And I just do not want the ride to end.
Two quotes that I saw yesterday summed up for me why I love this particular basketball team so much, and why I have unabashedly spent so much time and energy supporting them this season. Here are the quotes:
“We’re just together more than anything. We’re a great team. We play team basketball. We share the basketball with the best of them, and that’s basically how we play.”
~ Christian Watford
“We are going to play at a high tempo, fly around, play defense and play for each other.”
~ Victor Oladipo
To see this group of young men coalesce into the selfless, self-assured, and totally together group it has become has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a sports fan. For it to come on the heels of the last three years, and for so many of the principal players to be guys that I’ve watched go through so many ups and downs, it’s just been an absolute joy to watch, the best and most inspiring reality show possible.
And, truth be told, I’m afraid what we as IU fans are experiencing this year is a truly unique blending of circumstance and individuals that can never truly be recaptured. Considering the ignominious experiences along the rocky road it took to get here, I don’t know that we would ever want it to be recaptured.
As I look at tonight’s game, against an excellent opponent capable of beating us even if we play really well, no matter confident I feel that we can and will win (and I do think both), I can’t shake the preemptive twinge of fear and sadness that this could be the final 40 minutes I get to spend with this particular team and with IU fans in our current frame of mind where nothing is taken for granted and every positive step forward is appreciated and enjoyed to the fullest extent possible. As we know, it won’t always be like that, certainly not collectively as it is now.
That is why, to me, I just don’t care that much about beating Kentucky. I don’t care that much about getting to the Elite 8 for the second time since 1993. Those would be really nice byproducts of a win, sure; but what I really want is just want another 48 hours of celebrating what this group of guys has accomplished this year and over the previous three years, followed by 40 more minutes of enjoying this TEAM playing basketball.
A win tonight would give us that. So of all the reasons I’ll be watching and rooting and yelling and tweeting and doing everything within my power from the confines of my Dallas apartment to will Indiana to victory over Kentucky, that will be the main reason.
Most sports teams are just teams. And most sports seasons are just seasons. This team, this season is different; and I don’t want it to be over.
And somehow, some way, I don’t think it will be after tonight.
Which is good, because I’m not ready to say goodbye.