After the Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the Xavier Musketeers to punch their ticket to the first Final Four in school history, I sat in a rental in Vancouver with my girlfriend just sort of staring at the wall.
I started to get texts from friends saying congratulations. I got calls from friends, one of whom couldn’t do anything but just yell into my ear in utter joy. Then she asked me why I wasn’t screaming.
My response: “After all these years of thinking about it I guess I still wasn’t even ready to think it could actually happen.”
This is the same mentality that carried into the Final Four game against South Carolina, and now I am feeling it this morning as well. I’ve spent the better part of two decades dreaming about this moment—fleeting, pipe dreams, that always seem to dance so dangerously close to reality, only to be cruelly taken away, because that is what sports do.
As I made my way down to Phoenix, the sort of Gonzaga sentiment would kick in. We’d all talk about how happy we are just to make it to the Final Four, and anything after that was just extra gravy on the side. But then tipoff happened at the University of Phoenix stadium, and with the roar of 70,000 other people, my friends and I reverted back to our good ‘ol neanderthal game watching selves. Nothing but a win would be acceptable. This is a team of destiny, and this team is going to the NCAA Championship game.
And then it happened, again. Gonzaga won, and instead of staring at a wall this time, I stared at a sea of humanity watching a basketball game in a football stadium. After all these years of thinking about it, and days of actually having it be a reality to think about it, I still had no idea how to process what was going on. The Gonzaga Bulldogs were actually going to play in the national championship.
Allow me to get a bit more personal here, because part of why I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to properly comprehend what or will happen today is because on April 3, 2013, my father passed away. For the past four years, the most important person in my life, who coincidentally was the person I talked about Gonzaga basketball with the most (literally after every game, the halftime calls would go to my uncle), has not been on the other end of the line, and it is something I struggle with daily.
As January turned to February, and February to March, and March to March Madness, I realized more that these two events were going to collide. No matter how much I could tell myself I’d figure it all out, I woke up this morning just not knowing how or what to think. I’m not sure there is an effective way at all to process both my grief and my elation at the same time.
Maybe that is the point. Maybe we don’t actually have to have it all figured out. Maybe we don’t have to process anything right now. Maybe, for once in our lives, we can surrender ourselves completely and fully to experiencing this game itself. Not the outcome of the game mind you, I’m talking about the 40 minutes of basketball that is happening. I’m talking about somehow, someway, sitting back and enjoying the fact that the Gonzaga Bulldogs, our Gonzaga Bulldogs, are playing in a NCAA championship game.
That is at least the challenge I put on myself. Either way, this dream-turned-reality of a season ends today. Tomorrow, we will say goodbye to Przemek Karnowski, Rem Bakamus, and Jordan Mathews. We will potentially say goodbye to others. Next season, we will say hello to new faces. That is how college basketball works.
There is just 40 minutes of play left folks. Soak it up. It has been a wild ride together, and somehow, someway, it seems like the fun is still just getting started.