Once upon a time I sat in front of my TV and watched my guts get slowly pulled out in front of me. Nine years ago, to be quasi-exact. As any hockey fan knows, there's no better postseason anywhere than the Stanley Cup playoffs. And as any Red Wings fan knows, the playoffs are an annual rite of spring that almost always end with your guts on the floor. They're there because you once had the legitimate, real hope that this was the year Stanley would come home. Occasionally it happened. Four times in my life so far, actually. (Stanley is hoisted by team after team, faithfully, every year, but somehow it only looks right when the winged wheel is underneath it.)
In 2009 they were so close. With a 3-2 lead against the now-hated Pittsburgh Penguins, the Wings needed only one of two to hoist Stanley for the second year in a row and cement a new era of dominance. It wasn't to be. The Pens won both and went on to be a force. The Wings..... well, somehow I knew, or just kind of felt, that they'd just blown their last chance for a long time. Worse, I was right. The Wings had some good years that followed up the collapse of 2009, but have not yet been back to so much as the conference finals. Now they're, uh, rebuilding. From the very bottom up.
I know how spoiled this will sound, because if you are a hockey fan you probably don't actually like the Wings, who for so long were probably about as close as you could get to the Yankees of hockey. But that Finals loss in 2009 put me in a deep hockey-fandom funk that took a while to snap out of. All the next year I neglected my keeper fantasy hockey team (which is now in its 18th year counting the lockout season!) and barely looked at a hockey game. I got over it, of course. But it surprised me how long it took before I was interested in hockey again. I think I realized that once you get that close to the prize and it slips away, the chance doesn't come back any time soon. (That's part of what makes UVA's baseball championship so special - it broke that rule with extreme prejudice.)
The first game I ever saw at U-Hall was not the 91-89 win over Duke, with Dickie V in the house and Adam Hall sticking it back to win. But that was pretty close to the first. Talk about spoiled. Ever since then I've been craving an elite basketball team at UVA, and Tony Bennett has been delivering.
Can you be elite when you make history.... that way? Well actually.... don't you pretty much have to be? The better the team, the less likelihood you lose but the worse it is when you do. To suffer what must literally be the worst loss in the history of any sport, well - they can all laugh at the team that lost, but their only role in it was losing to that team along the way, and in so doing being nothing but another meal for the strong.
This is called Perspective. Hoops is back, and I'm right here consuming every minute of another beatdown of some overmatched-ass opponent called Towson without a frog's chance in hell, because I've gained some of that fine medicinal Perspective since that spring night in 2009. It could be because I'm nine years older, but then also I'm not necessarily smart enough to pick up that much Perspective on my own. Tony Bennett's players will tell you he's a leader of men. I'm here to tell you he's a leader of men and women he doesn't even know. I'm not the only one back with full-throated enjoyment of this basketball team. We all are. I haven't seen one person yet say "that killed me last year and I'm not doing this any more." Who's willing to turn their back on a man with the character of Tony Bennett, who handles the worst thing ever with such enormous class and grace? Not me, not you, nor anyone. And as such, hope remains as high as ever that elite results will follow what we already know is an elite basketball team. The next shot at the prize has begun.