How UMBC Ruined Sports for Me

UMBC vs UMass Lowell, March 3, 2018

Just two weeks before the greatest upset in men’s college basketball history, I took Mabel to UMBC to watch a first round game in the America East tournament against UMass Lowell. The new UMBC Event Center had just opened and it did not disappoint. There was enough seating in the roped-off upper deck for an entire other basketball game to take place. This felt a lot more like a big school than it did when I was pulling out the rickety old wooden bleachers in the Fieldhouse back in my working days.

I am not only a proud alum of UMBC, but a proud alum of the UMBC Athletic Department. I worked there for seven years after graduation, putting together intramural sports leagues and running the summer day camp. I also had many other side jobs – like running shot clock for men’s and women’s basketball games, running the scoreboard for men’s and women’s soccer games, doing public address for women’s volleyball games, coaching the men’s volleyball club team, and coordinating entertainment (I played music during time outs and signaled the band and dance team when appropriate) for all those events. So I have more of a stake in UMBC’s athletic success than most alumni. I could pick up the phone and call any of half a dozen people to get tickets for the UMass Lowell game. I also loved sports to the core, having literally made it my career.

Mabel picks UMBC to win it all!

Mabel picks UMBC to win it all!

Every year, I print out little sheets of paper with all 68 team logos and have the kids pick their own brackets. There were some years when it was pretty taxing and I had to keep them up past their bedtime because they had gotten tired of Daddy’s stupid little game after the first 50 picks or so, but they mostly enjoy it and actually look forward to it. Morris went with a heavy paw print theme this year, having Cincinnati, Montana, and Clemson in the Final Four. Mabel was actually excited to see UMBC in the field, having just been to a game, and picked them to win the entire tournament. I was beaming with pride and excitement as Morris and I sat with some college friends at a bar on Thursday afternoon for an hour or so, watching games with highlighter and Sharpie, playing along with my four brackets (Jenn also filled out a bracket). I picked up Mabel from school and she wanted to see how her bracket was doing. I took the kids right home and bounced back and forth between TNT, TBS, CBS, and a channel called truTV. I got legitimately excited to see Loyola Chicago’s last-second upset of Miami. All this is to say that I enjoy sports. This same level of enthusiasm continued into the next day, until the kids went to bed and I made my way to a friend’s house to watch the UMBC/UVA game. I never saw those brackets again.

Me, Drew, and Dan, on our way to Charlotte!

Me, Drew, and Dan, on our way to Charlotte!

As I stood there in Meatwad’s living room with two Grotto pizzas, watching history being made, I had really wished that I made more of an effort to get down to Charlotte, but that would have used up my entire relationship clout for the year – maybe more. Still, I wanted to be a part of it on some level, so I dipped down into my reserve clout and made it work. A few friends and I left Sunday morning at 7am, got to Charlotte in time to see some friends at the alumni reception, watched the UMBC/Kansas State game, and drove the 7 hours home in time to take Mabel to school on Monday morning. Perhaps I’ll get into the details of the trip later, but that’s not really what I want to talk about here. That second round game may be the last game I ever really cared to watch.

I was affected emotionally in a way I didn’t expect in the least. People said things to me like “Wow! First the Eagles win the Superbowl, and now this! That’s a great year for you! Which do you think is better?” Oh yeah. That’s right. The Eagles did win the Superbowl. I completely forgot. See, The Eagles’ Superbowl victory was big for Philly. This was big for EVERYBODY. We were minor celebrities down in Charlotte and have been for the month since. When I wore my UMBC visor, nobody shouted out “UMBC SUCKS!” Everybody (outside of Charlottesville) was a UMBC fan, or at least UMBC-tolerant. A few people on Facebook talked about their brackets. Nobody cared about your bracket before this, I certainly don’t want to hear anything about brackets right now. This is bigger than brackets. This is history, a mountain heretofore unsummitted has been crested, and the flag atop that mountain is quite literally the team I have the most stake in as a fan of sports.

Which is why I may be done.

I tried to watch the second weekend of the tournament, but I had only a passive interest. I didn’t care about my brackets anymore, I kind of rooted for teams I liked, but I really wasn’t interested. I just had my sports climax and I couldn’t get it up anymore. Even the day after the victory, I was on the phone for hours making plans, looking at StubHub, figuring out child care for two hours in the morning, and the kids asked to watch TV. I turned it on and saw that basketball was on. I had completely forgotten that other games were still taking place. Nothing interested me anymore. Nothing except being as much a part of this victory as I could. I tried as hard as I could to stay high for as long as possible. But eventually, I came down. So I started searching for that high in other places. I went back to campus to visit my friends that still work there. They were busy. I went on a tour of the new Event Center. I talked to fellow fans about getting together for lunch. I talked to the Alumni Office about organizing a showing of the game so that people who weren’t there could experience it better. I kept talking to the Alumni Office about stuff. I took Mabel out of gymnastics and went to the big on campus celebration of the victory. All I wanted was another hit. That nod. And I fear I may never get it again – not like that.

Dan, Stryker, me, Mike, Big Mike, and Drew in the Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC.

Dan, Stryker, me, Mike, Big Mike, and Drew in the Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC.

But just because you’ll never again have the greatest piece of cake you’ve ever tasted doesn’t mean you should stop eating cake, right? I mean it’s still going to be good. But just before you bite into each piece, you know it’s just never going to be as good as that one piece. And as a big fan of cake for my entire life, that just sucks.

Listen, I’ll be honest. I don’t know what I’m saying here. I don’t really know that I have a point or an audience, but I have a lot to say and need to at least say something. Sorry if I made a mess of things. It’s been a month since the big game now, and I’m watching sports again. But just not with as much fervor. And part of that is on me. I kind of don’t want anything to be as important as that night was for me, and so I watched Villanova, but I rooted for them with my #RetreiverNation shirt on. I imagine I’ll be able to enjoy sports again when football rolls around in five months, because I’ll eventually have to put this down to allow myself to enjoy it. And seeing my 5-year-old hit a pitched ball will be a completely different drug entirely. But until then, or at least until July 29th, I will hold on to this feeling, even as it fades, as I have vowed to wear UMBC gear for 135 days straight. Why 135? Because they did what hadn’t been done in the previous 135 attempts. Why at all? I don’t know. To stay connected? To try to savor that feeling? Because I want to prove to people who don’t really care that I’m a bigger UMBC fan? Or maybe to remember what it was like to be in college? Like I said, I don’t really know. But I’ll keep you posted.

 

Upon me arriving home from Charlotte in time to take Mabel to school on Monday…

 

Quote of the Day 4/16/2018

“I’m sorry your team lost, Daddy”

  • Mabel

 

Me too, honey. Me too.

 

Chasing that basketball dragon,
Pointless Guard.

 

Still Standing Right Here…

The Strykers and The Fishers at the UMBC Event Center, after the celebration.

The Strykers and The Fishers at the UMBC Event Center, after the celebration.