In a few short hours, UVA basketball will undergo a major status change: from reigning national champions to defending national champions. It's a good time to reflect one last time on how it happened, before turning our attention to whether it can happen again.
Before the tournament, a Sabre poster whose name I don't remember submitted the following question: Would you turn the UMBC game into a win and eventual Final Four trip - but not a championship - and then watch the stars of that team leave? Or would you leave UMBC alone and take your chances with this year's squad?
Bravo to the folks who answered the latter. I weaseled out and said that I'd gladly take the former and erase the UMBC loss....unless a championship was waiting for us at the end of this year's run. As you probably remember, I got my weaselly wish.
But that led to another question I asked myself. Namely: OK, now that we have this championship....would you rather have that title with or without UMBC? You can keep the title and erase the UMBC loss, and take us back to a more innocent time when no 1 seed ever lost to a 16. Would you?
Somewhat to my surprise, I answered my own question with an unequivocal NO.
This championship is fantastic, wonderful. It's the greatest thing to ever happen to UVA athletics, in fact. It would be that with or without the UMBC game attached to it. It doesn't need the infamy.
But without that infamy, this championship is.....just a championship. A lot of teams have them. Hell, they give one out every year. Several teams have more of them than they know what to do with, and it's not wrong to say that's helped corrupt them. At the very least, fans of those schools have gotten spoiled. UCLA fans are still spoiled. That darn championship run ruined their chances of hiring Tony Bennett - not so much because it made UVA even more the kind of place that Tony wouldn't leave, but that UCLA just had to get on with it and simply couldn't be bothered to wait for Tony Bennett. Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, and Tony Bennett still hasn't told UCLA "no."
At first blush it sounds arrogant for a fan of a team with one championship to brush off the feat as just a championship. But wouldn't you say that having only the one means you want for that one to stand out among the crowd? You want that one to be remembered. Oh, we'll remember it. We always would. Doing it this way, though, gave the rest of the basketball world something they simply couldn't take their eyes from, nor stop writing stories about. Without UMBC, they're watching the tournament because it's the tournament. They'll crown UVA the winner and then move on to next season. With UMBC, they're not just watching the tournament - they're watching Virginia in the tournament. They want to see if it can happen.
And when it does, it becomes everything they all love about the tournament. Everything. The highs and the lows, the upsets and Cinderellas and great players on greater teams, the Shining Moments, the personalities....all rolled into one tidy ball and cranked up to 11. UMBC beating UVA is instant history. It's not the kind you'd choose to be on the wrong end of. But if you give the world a lesson in how to respond to it - and that lesson begins with poise and presence 10 minutes after the horn and finishes under a shower of confetti a year later - the world stands up and lends you all the acclaim it can muster. And it never forgets.
Neither do we. The cool thing is that this is not a controversial sentiment among fellow Hoos. Not unanimous, but not controversial. By the time the Final Four rolled around, UMBC and all it represented had come to be embraced, not recoiled from, by UVA fans. We saw the worst of results but the best of Tony Bennett and his team, in a way that wouldn't have been revealed otherwise - and we got a championship with extra flavor. I'd be crazy to want it any other way.