Sunday, March 22, 2009

Learning to Enjoy the Madness

After Wake Forest lost their first round game to Cleveland State, I was thinking about the way those guys must feel and how they could easily be tempted to see their season as a disappointment. I hoped that they would remember that at one time they were ranked number one in the nation, and that they would remember the feeling that they had when they beat UNC and Duke at home – I'm guessing that there'd been nothing like that in their young lives. I hoped that they had enjoyed the journey and enjoyed all that they'd experienced this season.

Well, that got me thinking about my own enjoyment of the season as a Carolina fan. Many of us in Tar Heel nation measure most seasons' success by whether or not we cut down the nets in early April, and more often than not, our team (like most) comes up short. Many times our teams have as much talent as any in the country, and we sort of demand that the talent produce winning game in and game out, and there are years like 2005 where our talent leads to a title. But interestingly, I think that my favorite Carolina team will forever be the 2005-06 team, which was Tyler Hansbrough's freshman season. That team certainly didn't cut down the nets – I'm not sure they made the Sweet Sixteen. But they played hard every game, they won games they shouldn't have (such as beating Duke on JJ Reddick's Senior Night), and they played together as a team. I loved that team for who they were, not what they ultimately did on the court.

Last season while watching Carolina play a nail biter at Clemson, which we ultimately won at the buzzer, I was taken aback by my anger during the game, and something in me broke. It was, after all, just a game, and much of my joy at watching had been consumed by frustration at the possibility of losing. That lesson stuck, and I have not let the Heels dictate my moods as much this season. But here at tournament time, I find the joy again being eaten away by fear of losing. This team, if any team, can win it all. Yet talent alone doesn't win games, and there may be a game soon where the bounce doesn't go our way.

And the question becomes, am I going to let that rob me of enjoying Tar Heels basketball, easily one of my favorite things in the world? I've had the chance to see the Heels play live seven times this season, several of those from lower level seats. That means 5 times of going to the Dean Dome and hearing the same familiar songs by the pep band and screaming my lungs out, and one time going to the ACC Tournament. I've seen one of the greatest players in ACC history (Hansbrough), the ACC Player of the Year (Tywon Lawson), and one of the most improved players in the country (Wayne Ellington). I've celebrated wins with friends, I've took one of the Glenwood kids to the Kentucky game, and I got to go to the Clemson game with my wife. I've had a Tar Heel game to look forward to almost every week since November, and out of 34 games, I've celebrated a win 30 times. Carolina basketball and March Madness are too much fun to get lost in whether or not we win the big prize. I want to enjoy the madness, and who knows, maybe there will be a title to celebrate as well.

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