06 April 2008

No Joy in Blue Heaven

In case you don't follow the college basketball games as closely as I do, let me break the news: The University of North Carolina Tar Heels lost last night to The University of Kansas Jayhawks. And, while I would like to sugarcoat it for those that I live and work with here locally, I unfortunately cannot. It was ugly.

It wasn't so much a game as a bloodletting. The Tar Heels never played their game, and were just completely steamrolled (almost into a shock-like state) in the opening minutes...an opening attack so severe that the UNC team never really fully recovered. God help them, at one point they were trailing the Jayhawks by 28 in the first half. While the Heels did get back within 5 points at one point in the second half (largely due to Jayhawk errors more than the Tar Heels 'finding their game'), the second Kansas wave then hit the local heroes for a vicious, and final, round. The final score was 84 to 66.

I watched the game last night with some UNC fans and local neighbours, who at least understood my divided loyalties plight between the two schools, and to say they were dumbfounded might be the understatement of this new year. I was cheering for the Heels to show up, too, but it just never really happened. As God as my (and their) witness, we still don't know what team played in San Antonio last night, but it sure wasn't the same one who left earlier this week from Chapel Hill. My heart aches for the boys, it does...some of whom looked close to tears honestly in the post-game media interviews...because what they showed last night is not what or who they really are about. We desperately needed a mulligan, but none will come.

So now, tomorrow (Monday) night, is the Championship game between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Memphis Tigers. Tipoff time is scheduled for 9:21pm (EST). (And, again, kudos to CBS for broadcasting the final online as well for free tomorrow...go to that link and click on "NCAA® March Madness® on Demand".) And, although it still may not be safe to do so, I will venture out to see if I can find a Jayhawk-friendly viewpoint in which to watch the game. (I'm hoping some Tar Heel locals will show a little love and cheer on the Kansas team...a team and school whose basketball history is forever intertwined with that of North Carolina involving coaches, players, staff, etc...against the Tigers. But who knows...I may be watching at home instead again...but this time without the neighbours.) Rock chalk, Jayhawks, people...but I am deeply saddened for the Tar Heels still the same.

If there is any possible bright spot from last night's victory, maybe this has finally ended the disdain bitterness of some of the diehard Jayhawk faithful against Coach Roy Williams, current coach of the Tar Heels and former coach of the Jayhawks. In a love/hate feud that has been building to a crescendo since Williams left Kansas to come here (his alma mater) in a highly reviled manner, there still exists a deep resentment of many Kansas fans against him. I know many who felt that Coach Roy left KU at the height of its potential, or that perhaps his heart wasn't in it at Kansas, or that his loyalties always remained here in Chapel Hill and he was just milking KU of all the money he could until the UNC position came available. (Insert your own conspiracy theory here.) No matter what happened, though, Williams left Kansas after earlier promising to stay. The facts of the 'how' Williams' departure was done...and it was done very poorly from a fan's perspective...may still be murky, but the onslaught of hatred that Williams brings with him every time his name is mentioned to a Jayhawk fan cannot be underestimated. And it's been that way for 5 years now.

I know Kansas wanted, and certainly could, win without this added 'retribution' incentive last night. However, any wandering into a Jayhawk fan message board gives the impression that a victory over UNC was deeply personal, with far more gravitas than just a berth to a national championship game. Instead, the Jayhawks were perhaps settling a bill that has been long overdue and (in some eyes, anyway) unpaid. Like a proud lover cast aside for a newer (read: richer) bride, hell hath no fury like a woman (or basketball community) scourned. Maybe with such a decisive victory last night...maybe...the wound in Lawrence can start to finally heal. Perhaps last night's game could be a newer version of the spoils of war, extracted from a distinguished, but clearly overwhelmed, opponent. And maybe the two schools, who have created such great relationships with the one other since this sport was invented, can start a new chapter. Maybe, maybe...but probably still not anytime soon.

But we'll see what happens tomorrow.

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