On my flight back to Arizona a few days ago, I’m fairly certain I was the only person happy to see the landscape turn to the harsh desert.
For me, it’s home – it always has been – and being able to both return to the place I feel most comfortable and go on vacation was a blessing. So many of my most memorable moments happened in Tucson – in quite a few instances, at the very bars I patronized Sunday and Monday night, and so very many of those moments were built on sports.
That strikes me as a common thread for so many of us that write and read these blogs – communal memories built around a (sometimes fleeting, sometimes dyed-in-the-wool) sense of accomplishment and pride in an entity we all can pull for. Too often, I’m asked by people who don’t consider themselves sports fans why sports matter so much. Few times have I found my words convincing the curious that sports matter because it’s something that we all share, that we all can appreciate, that we all can lose ourselves in – even if we don’t need to. More frequently, my case is made for me when those same people find themselves at the stadium for their college football team or at a bar stealing glimpses of their alma mater in a tight game. Those times when the clock hits all zeroes and the good guys win, it’s easy to enter the emotion that catches some of the most cynical up in its tide as your most striking piece of evidence, and simply let the defense rest.
Unfortunately, the University of Arizona men’s basketball team lost its two most recent games just before I got into town. For most Arizona alum around my age, basketball memories and the Wildcats are inextricably tied up by the harsh, depressing type of rope that your grandmother wrapes Christmas gifts with – the epic collapse in 2005 against Illinois and Deron Williams in the NCAA Tournament. This is a town that’s other most recent sports memory may very well be the Wildcats squelching a late lead against the University of Oregon with a trip to the Rose Bowl hanging in the balance. Suffice to say, Arizona sports history is rife with situations where we found ourselves on the winning end with little time left, only to see the victory slip away.
When my friends and I went out to grab a few adult beverages on Sunday night (always use a DD!), we found a rather dour crowd paying little attention to the Suns and their big lead against the Indiana Pacers.
As that lead disappeared faster than most pitchers of beer, though, more and more people paid attention to the collapse. This may or may not have been a result of my rather…enthusiastic reaction to watching the Suns attempt to give away another game in the last minute. When Channing Frye – already playing poorly on the night and, lest we forget, a member of that 2005 Arizona team – helped the Pacers to the free throw line and allowed them to tie the game toward the end of overtime, the rest of the crowd suddenly cared just as fervently as I did about the outcome of the game.*
*The thing is, when I was extolling the virtues of sports and the way they bring us together, I forgot to mention the downside; often, that bonding comes at the expense of a target against which we focus our anger.
Then, of course, this happened.
Everyone in that bar exploded in cheer at the moment that ball went through the net. After a few seconds, someone – Shammgod bless that person – started a “U of A!” chant, and it got so loud that people from the neighboring bar came over to see what all the commotion about. It didn’t make up for that Elite Eight game 6 years ago – how could it? – but it still seemed strangely cathartic. There was something elegant about the way that Sunday night’s game (and Frye’s role in it) encapsulated so much of the horror and anxiety of the implosion against Illinois and how the win against the Pacers brought a sense of closure to that loss.
Monday night’s game? Well, that’s a story for a different time. After all, it was originally narrated by Ian Eagle (really, the YES crew is one of the few things I miss about New York). How could I possibly tell it any better than he?