Thursday, March 26, 2009
A Fond Farewell
What is the right way to lose? If you could script a loss, what would you choose? Do you prefer to lose to a superior team, to be outclassed? Would you rather have a close loss that ends in heartbreak? Do you prefer a subpar season end in oblivion? Would you prefer to see your team quit, so you can quit too?
The harsh reality of sports is that championship seasons are few and far between, if at all. Most every season inevitably ends in a loss. How do you script a loss?
The losses you remember, that you carry with you, are a combination of expectation and investment. Going into the season, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the University of Memphis. A Sweet 16 appearance was the hope, the expectation. Because of this team’s resolve, the expectation rose to an Elite 8 appearance. It ended a round too early, which isn’t that hard to get over.
The investment is the part that stings tonight. You could say that I’ve invested more in this team than any before them. I’ve watched Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson for four years, from young bench players to integral cogs, from freshmen to seniors, from (cliché alert) boys to men. And with the Tigers down 24 early in the 2nd half, I texted my friend, “Will this team show some pride and lose by 10 or pack it in and lose by 30.”
What happened next (exaggeration alert) is one of the finest moments in Tigers basketball, at least that this 28-year-old has seen. I saw a team scrap and claw and play for pride. They put hope in Tigers fans one last time, when some had given up, like my brother who stopped watching. They showed us one last time why we watch sports in the first place. We watch because we can learn from it, because it can inspire, because it can instill hope. It sounds like hyperbole, but sometimes all sports fans are looking for is something greater than ourselves, seeing someone do it better than we ever could. (I know that I’m a poor sport who would’ve probably been kicked out of a game like this from frustration because well, I’m a sore loser).
It’s easy to glorify college sports because we value youth. We know these guys aren’t going to shrug the loss off their shoulders while driving away in their $75,000 cars. You don’t see NBA players cry after losses, because there is always next year. For Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, there isn’t a next year. This was it, and their last 15 minutes or so of play on the court was goodbye. I saw Dozier will his team with the heart we’ve always wanted him to show, with the effort we’ve only seen glimpses of. I saw the limited Anderson making the extra pass and keeping the younger players from unraveling, like he’s done all season. I saw a team who had every reason to give up and walk away stick around and fight, because, there is no next season for them here.
How do you script a loss?