I will keep this post short because otherwise I will write myself in circles until I look down and I’m at 5,000 words or something like that.
Last night the Baylor University men’s basketball team beat Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship game. It is the first national championship for Baylor’s men’s team. If you didn’t catch the game and you’re not a Baylor fan, you didn’t miss much. Baylor came out aggressive and hot, and Gonzaga never recovered. In fact, Gonzaga didn’t look like a great team. They didn’t even look like a good team. They barely looked like a March Madness team at all, as a matter of fact.
Of Two Minds
Here’s the problem I’m having. Normally my hierarchy of who to root for goes like this:
- My alma mater (Texas A&M University);
- Notre Dame (from years of Catholicism);
- Other SEC teams;
- Other teams from Texas;
- Teams where I know someone who has a connection to that school; and finally
- Whichever team has the funnier mascot.
So yesterday should have been a no-brainer that I would root for Baylor. But the problem is that Gonzaga has always held a special place in my heart. For one thing, I like the sound of the name. Gonzaga. Pronounced gun-ZAHG-uh or gun-ZAGG-uh. Either way, it sounds good. For another thing, I was in high school when Adam Morrison played at Gonzaga and he was (and is) undoubtedly my favorite college basketball player of all time.
For a third thing, a guy from my hometown named Nathan Doudney also played at Gonzaga (then in what would make a pretty cool movie became a professional poker player for a time). Here is a picture of Nathan at a poker table, appropriately wearing a Gonzaga t-shirt. And I grew up watching Nathan Doudney play, I know his brother fairly well, and being the hometown fan that I am, I developed a deep love for Gonzaga.
Which is why last night stung. I am legitimately happy to see Baylor win. I have a lot of friends who went to Baylor, and my first boss out of law school was a double Baylor (B.A. and J.D.) grad. Plus, Waco’s not too far from where I grew up, really, and I always was partial to the color green. If it wasn’t for the extremely high tuition and extremely frowny-faced look on alcohol consumption, I could have seen myself going to Baylor.
A History of Heartbreak
And Gonzaga has a history of heartbreak. This is now the second championship game in four years that Gonzaga has lost. Before they they also suffered heartbreaking if not downright embarrassing exits from the tournament over the years. In fact, since head coach Mark Few took over the Gonzaga program in 1999, the Zags have made the March Madness tournament every year. Every. Single. Year. Think about that. If you had to guess which team had made the tournament for 22 straight years, you’d probably think Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA, Syracuse, maybe even UConn or Wake Forest. But Gonzaga? Some preppy Catholic school who plays in the Whatever Who Cares Conference?
And then there’s Baylor. Baylor has a lot going against them. The athletic department is still picking up the pieces from the sexual assault scandal, the basketball program was until recently still recovering from the harsh punishments arising out of the NCAA’s investigation following the murder of Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson, and then there’s the fact that head coach Scott Drew has a blue-blooded, silver-spooned, very punchable face. There’s a lot to not like about Baylor, but there’s also an underdog story in there, too. And as much as I hate seeing Gonzaga lose, I like when underdogs win.
Congratulations in Order
Ultimately this is where I stand: I’m upset as a Gonzaga fan. But I’m proud as a Texan and as a fan of underdog stories. So congratulations, Baylor! I hope all the students grab a po’ boy from Buzzard Billy’s then meet up at George’s for a drink, if the school doesn’t frown on that too much. But seriously, enjoy this moment, because it’s a big deal. Congratulations to coach Scott Drew, and congratulations to all of the players, students, faculty, and alumni!