2013 ncaa basketball finals, alessandra ferri, charles barkley, gail o'neill, genius, go blue!, john beilein, js bach, louisville, muhammad ali, rick pitino, the victors, university of michigan basketball, wolverines
It takes a genius to transcend any given arena. Only a supernova can make us stop in our tracks, look up and take note of something happening outside of our usual orbits and captivate our imaginations with the kind of talent and facility that even those who understand the genius’s métier might never be able to parse and explain.
My knowledge of classical music was largely informed by the soundtracks of Looney Tunes cartoons when I was growing up, for example, but hearing Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, Aria, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2j-frfK-yg) makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I know nothing about boxing, but watching any footage of a fleet-footed Muhammad Ali in his prime still renders me weak in the knees. And I was the undisputed class clown when taking ballet lessons as a kid, but the first time I saw Alessandra Ferri die in the final scene of Romeo and Juliet, I understood what it meant to witness the divine.
I felt the same way when watching the NCAA’s Basketball Finals on Monday night. Which is saying a lot given my history of only watching sports when forced to: as in those times I’ve turned on my TV at 7:00 on a Sunday night, only to find that 60 Minutes has been preempted by some NFL broadcast. Again. But after seeing Michigan and Louisville in action, I now consider myself a sport (singular designation intended) fan!
First a little disclosure: the only reason I tuned in to watch the championship game was because I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of my husband, Paul, in the stands. He is a Michigan Man from a long line of Wolverines, and fiercely loyal to his pack. When he left our home for the Georgia Dome, the pep in his step was so pronounced that he may as well have been marching to “The Victors”– which John Philip Sousa called “the greatest college fight song ever written.”
Chances are the University of Michigan’s signature song had been looping in Paul’s brain since the start of March Madness. And heaven knows I– who could not tell you if my own alma mater, Wesleyan, even had a fight song– haven’t been able to get the snappy tune out of my head for the past week:
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan
The leaders and the best!
The crisp tempo of the music and lyrics are as bold, bright and optimistic as the maize and blue pullover Paul wore to the game in support of his peeps, but even these appurtenances paled in comparison to his happy anticipation of what was surely to come: a repeat of what we saw at the Dome on Saturday night when Michigan beat Syracuse in the Final Four and advanced to the Finals.
Add to this brew the youngest Michigander in the family– my niece Alba, who’s in the final stretch of her freshman year in Ann Arbor– and my extended family had all the incentive we needed to get into the school spirit as we texted “GO BLUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” to one another from the opening tip-off right through the nail-biter of a finish.
And yet for all that pre-game joy and camaraderie, if you watched the game it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that my shiny happy people transformed into gloomy grumpy Guses by the time the clock struck 12. The first shot rang out just shy of midnight when one of my cousin’s (who shall remain nameless due to her unsportsmanlike conduct, and who is also wedded to a Michigan Man) sent out an email blast asking “Does anyone think the Kentucky team is actually going to class? Or got over a 500 on their SATs?” Next, Paul came home looking nothing like the valiant victor I’d kissed goodbye as he went into battle just a few hours prior. The following morning, I received a commiserative :(… emoticon from my cousin Lori. And I’ve lost track of the condolence tweets and Facebook posts I’ve gotten from well-meaning friends and family since then.
To which I say: Don’t cry for me Argentina!… Didn’t y’all see what I saw?
The whole time I watched the Wolverines play the Cards, I had to remind myself that their poise under pressure belied their youth. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen anyone manage opposing emotions like enthusiasm and control with such grace– never mind boys who were barely out of their teens. The fast pace of the game made it difficult for me to keep my eye on the ball, and yet each and every player managed to keep his head in spite of the ridiculously high stakes. These ballers were as smart, focused, aggressive, relentless and selfless as any profession athlete I’ve ever seen at the top of his or her game. Their intensity never flagged. Their passion was not predicated on a paycheck. (Which is not to say that I think the practice of everyone but the student athlete getting to reap huge financial benefits from college basketball is anything short of egregious.) And they actually appeared to be having fun.
I know soccer has a reputation for being the beautiful game, but very few things are as pretty as what I saw on Monday night.
Getting to watch both teams demonstrate such singular commitment to a common goal was a privilege. So much so, that by the time Louisville defeated Michigan, 82-76, all I could think was All hail the (cardinal) red, black, white and Blue: because every player showed tremendous mettle and left nothing on the floor.
Of course, highly competitive athletes being who they are, I know that words praising any job well done are a cold comfort absent the coveted prize. I’m also aware that spouting platitudes like It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game to any Michigan fans who are still licking their wounds would be a sure-fire way wind up on the injured list– so I’ll zip it for now. But I hope the Wolverines won’t overlook all they’ve accomplished in their young lives. And I pray somebody will remind them that there is no shame in trying and failing– only in not trying because we fear the challenge (as my Michigan Man taught me many moons ago).
But for every clear-eyed spectator who saw what I saw on Monday night– can I get a witness?!
How cool was it to transcend the ordinary as we watched genius soar?
How amazing was it to visit a galaxy where we got to see scores of shooting stars for three hours straight?
And how awesome was it to look on as old-school pros like Charles Barkley, John Beilein and Rick Pitino (who have been-there/done-everything-there-is-to-do-and-see in the game of basketball) lost their minds and got tongue-tied when trying to explain the inexplicable?
To which I say: Congratulations, Louisville! That was one hell of a game.
And, Michigan, you’ve done the damn near-impossible and made a fan out of me. I am proud of you, and look forward to seeing you next season.