On redemption, and on the insanity of sports
My life has mostly revolved around sports, and around North Carolina basketball in particular.
I’m a 21-year-old guy with a paying job and two degrees (well, liberal arts degrees) from TCU, and yet every fall and spring I turn into a screaming child living and dying with every Tar Heel shot and referee call and inexplicably terrible turnover.
Last year I spent the night of Monday, April 4th driving back to Fort Worth from Houston on the verge of tears and the verge of falling asleep at the wheel after watching Kris Jenkins rip my heart out of my chest in Reliant Stadium. I realize how petulant it is to complain about being able to score a ticket (thanks to my dad, who is just as ridiculously diehard of a fan as me) to possibly the greatest NCAA championship game of all time, but it damn near ruined me for a week. I had a Law and Ethics test the next morning so I had to go back, and I was a shell of myself.
Keep in mind — I’m a fan with no tangible ties to the university. I didn’t get into Carolina, neither my dad nor my granddad went, and I’ve spent all my life living in Texas. I should not care this much, but I do, and I can’t imagine feeling any other way.
So imagine how Marcus Paige felt, hitting one of the greatest shots in tournament history that nobody will remember. Imagine how Brice Johnson felt after dunking his way through the 2015–16 season and coming up with nothing, and how both of them felt having to leave Carolina for the draft without a title.
And imagine how Joel Berry and Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks felt, having to lose to that shot and come back the next year to try and pick up the pieces to compete again.
Redemption, and the quest for it, are ideals that lead people to do stupid and outlandish things, and act outside of themselves in search of glory that barely escaped them. The glimmer of hope of redemption makes people desperate, makes them take risks and push too hard and, almost inevitably, fall short again.
But Berry and Jackson and Meeks and Hicks didn’t let it elude them — they achieved it, in spectacular fashion, winning ugly and winning with excellence.
And as stupid and outlandish as the quest for redemption is, think about how stupid and outlandish sports fandom is! We don’t play in these games, or coach them, or have our lives affected by them in any meaningful way.
I’ve spent a good 10% of my nights in Granbury sitting on the edge of my couch engaging in rituals that don’t really impact the games. I know they don’t matter — I do them anyway.
I drink (scotch or Coors Light, depending on how low my bank account is) in the first half, but only the first half.
I keep the TV on mute and play my lucky country music playlist, putting a song on repeat when I think it’s fueling a Carolina run.
I wear my lucky UNC basketball shorts that are seven years old and probably a size too small, if we’re being honest.
I wrap myself in my lucky blanket, which is ironically a TCU Rec Center sweatshirt blanket.
On big game days, I’ll watch highlight packages and old game tapes, starting with the comeback in ’05 against Duke and ending with the ’09 One Shining Moment.
All of this, I’m well aware, is the mark of a deranged man. But somehow, Cross Canadian Ragweed’s “Brooklyn Kid” coincided with huge Carolina runs in the last few tournament games, and so it stayed on repeat in my apartment until the music and the words faded into the background and became almost meaningless, just some white noise keeping my mind from bursting and keeping me from yelling loud enough to alarm my neighbors.
And it worked, damn it, it worked, because this team came back from the biggest heartbreak of all to win a national title, the third in my lifetime and the fifth in my dad’s, and so as long as I get to keep enjoying this exhilarating, stupid, unnatural, inexplicable feeling of victory, I’m going to keep doing it.
Like I said, my whole life has been dedicated to sports, and because I’m an idiot and chose to chase my dream and be a sports reporter, I don’t see that changing.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Embrace the insanity.
Hark the sound of Tar Heel voices.