Some people have called our fans spoiled. I disagree.
I would call them blessed.
I would call my family incredibly blessed, as well. Blessed beyond all reasonable understanding. Blessed to the point that to look at it in its full scope is completely overwhelming. I’ve met the President of the United States twice, the First Lady once, and stood in the same airspace as the Vice President and Second Lady. I’ve been to Paris, Rome, Honolulu, and everywhere in between. I can call some of the greatest athletes and coaches in the world my friends. Blessed is the only word I can use to describe what we are. I mean, for God’s sake, this is the FIRST TIME I’ve had to talk about a loss in the Postseason in 2+ years of blogging. That is insane.
We are blessed to the point that when things like Sunday night happen, we don’t know how to deal with it. Okay, maybe it’s just me who doens’t know how to deal. Life isn’t fair. But you go on, right? There’s so much stuff in the world that is far, far worse than losing a basketball game. But when you are in the frame of mind that these girls were in on Sunday, it does really feel like the end of the world. I can’t even begin to parse what they went through emotionally, and I’m sure my little pity party had absolutely nothing to compare itself to with their feelings. But this is what it feels like to lose in the Postseason, from someone who doesn’t experience it too often. I will quote my Nonna. “This sucks.”
It does. I’m sorry if that makes me a spoiled brat. But it sucks. It really sucks.
Sunday seemed straighforward enough. I walked to the mall with my family and looked over some of the offerings at the Gap, deciding not to buy anything after hemming and hawing over a nice game outfit when I realized I had already packed something pretty nice to wear. I went back to the hotel, ate lunch, and waited. And waited. And waited. And got nervous. Really, really nervous.
Something that perked me up was the arrival of Diana! I hadn’t seen her since last summer, so I was thrilled to reunite with her and catch up. She had come in the night before and went straight up to my parents’ room to surprise Nonna and see the baby. Nonna was thrilled, and the baby clearly adored her. That kid will flirt with anything. I also got to see her agent, Lindsay, a really good friend of mine. We had a blast just hanging out in my parents’ room and it helped to have that kind of camaraderie in the air before we headed out to the game.
After picking up some pregame food and watching the first half of the first semifinal, the family and I walked over to the arena. Something that made me realize this game might be different was that we had forgotten the semifinal tickets and had accidentally taken the championship tickets. A bad omen?
Another bad omen was the lack of my pre-game ritual. After the sad events in Tampa in 2008, I’ve taken to ‘pre-packing’: as in, before we leave for the semifinal game, I repack all of my clothes just so I don’t have to deal with it after the game in the event of a loss. I don’t know why, but I didn’t prepack this time.
At the game, I got to the seats a little late due to the ticket snafu and a quick bathroom trip, and I found myself sitting next to Diana, who was sitting next to Penny Taylor. Then I found out Jamelle Elliot was going to sit in back of me. I told myself “Alysa Auriemma, you are probably going to be on TV a lot since D is right next to you. So make sure you don’t do anything stupid.” Boy, that came back to bite me in the ass. About midway through the first half, my phone lit up. The first few said stuff along the lines of “You were just on TV” and then several came through shouting “Spit out your gum!”
Crap. The one time the ESPN cameras were on me, I went from popping my gum like a 50s greaser to staring at Diana while she talked, wide-eyed as a Japanese cartoon. I think the entire nation thinks I’m a gum-chewing texting anime character. Not very kawaii. I promise I have other facial expressions.
Right before the game I got a fantastic surprise. I was tapped on the shoulder and turned around to see Mel Thomas! Now, if I were to come out and say which girl on the team I’ve gotten the closest to, it would be Mel. We are only a month apart in age (she’s older) and we have a lot in common, and I haven’t seen her since she took the DOBO job at Florida Gulf Coast. I was completely thrilled to see her. I believe during our starting lineups you can see me hugging the life out of her.
Then the game started.
The first half went okay enough. We made some great plays but got into a bit of foul trouble. Not to worry. We’d be okay. But I started to get a nagging feeling in my stomach. I kept thinking about 2001. We were up by 15 at halftime, and lost. I tried to shake the bad feeling, but it just kept coming back.
The second half started, and then it all slid. I thought going to the bathroom would save me, but just like in Tampa, they were pumping ESPNRadio through the speakers so I couldn’t escape the gameplay. I tried to plug my ears, but Beth Mowins dug through my fingers into my cochlea. I couldn’t hide. Maya kept making shots, but then we couldn’t defend the three. Fouls were called left right and center. Then, we fouled to stop the clock.
And that’s when I knew it was over.
I could feel my heart breaking, piece by piece. I really only lost my composure when Beth Mowins began speaking about Maya and her “brilliant career ending”. I realized it would be the last time Maya would play in a UCONN uniform. And Lorin. The Little One and the Great One, ending their careers, some would say too early. All the credit in the world to Notre Dame for executing their game plan and throwing us off ours to such a lofty extent. They deserved to win that game.
I began to cry in the bathroom stall as the clock wound down. I couldn’t help it. It was a pain in my gut that I’ve felt only a few times before. 1996. 1997. 1998. 1999. 2001. 2008. Dreams cut short. Careers ending before they should.
(the regional final games in 05, 06, and 07 didn’t make me sad, they pissed me off more than anything. They were games we simply could not win, with the exception of the Duke game in 2006.)
I can’t explain the feeling of losing when you don’t do it very often. If I may be permitted to be unbelievably geeky, it’s like the moment in The Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf is thrown by the Balrog off the Bridge of Khazad-Dum and Legolas has a look on his face of utter confusion and disbelief. He doesn’t know how to process death because it’s never happened to him before or to any of his comrades. So when he’s face with a loss, he can’t understand it. That’s kind of how it felt. Like, “What now?”
After the game, Jenna came up to the bathroom to make sure I was okay. I said I was fine, but knew that if i didn’t do some damage control on my face, I would be confused with Bert the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. I scrubbed down my eyes, put my game face on, and walked back outside. Lindsay put her arm around me and tried to console me with horror stories of her own sporting career. We joked that Indianapolis needed to be put on the “Cities We Hate” list, along with Charlotte and Tampa; St. Louis, we decided, got a reprieve because we lost there in 2001 but won in 2009. Diana said that anything discussed post-losing would not be talked about on Twitter or my blog. So I will stay silent about the other things we talked about. But just know, a LOT of laughter echoed through the streets of Indianapolis that night, and for that I will always be thankful.
I got back the hotel and asked Mom for a bottle of wine and a funnel. Unfortunately, the bar wouldn’t allow me to do that so I settled for a glass of Merlot. We settled in and watched the people in the bar talk about the game, and I talked to my sister and Mom about the game plan for the next day. We knew we’d be flying out early, we just didn’t know when. We were still discussing the details when we heard a round of respectful applause and whistles go up in the bar. I looked over to the door and saw Caroline come in and hug her mom.
They were back.
I stood up and made my way over to the hotel doorway, tears starting to come back as I saw our girls make their way to their parents. I managed to get to Caroline first, and whispered in her ear, “Denver. Let’s do this.” She nodded and hugged me tight before going with her Mom. I managed to retain my composure, but it was hard seeing all of these girls look so broken.
The fans in the bar and in the hotel were absolutely lovely, with one or two horrifying exceptions. There are boundaries in these instances that you do not cross, and some boundaries were indeed crossed that night in the post-game milieu. While 90 percent of fans were respectful and kept their distance, there are 10 percent that makes things incredibly difficult for fans, families, and personnel to do their jobs and keep level heads. Chris and CD and Marisa are excellent in getting them to disperse, but really, they aren’t bodyguards and shouldn’t have to act like them. There are things you do, and things you don’t do. Please remember that. I won’t go into details but those who acted out know it, and hopefully they will take what I’m saying to heart and not do it again. These aren’t automatons that you plug in and play for your amusement. These are living, breathing, bleeding, hurting girls. Let them have some peace.
[NOTE: my sister wanted to do a guest posting on family privacy and fan violations, but decided against it. I want her to do it because she is an extremely talented and witty writer in her own right and would have a lot of great things to say on the subject; not only is she my sister and therefore shares a lot of my experiences, she’s a new mother herself. Here’s hoping I can convince her!]
I looked around for my dad and in the meantime tried to hug as many of the girls as I could. I even had to hug Mel, who looked gutted that they lost. She, of course, knows all too well what it’s like to lose in a Final Four, and seeing Caroline watch the loss on the bench reminded her of that night. You can read about it in her book Heart of a Husky, available at all fine bookstores. (Happy, Mel? I plugged your book. 😉
I got to say hi to Kelly’s mom, who was bummed her daughter wouldn’t be around for a few more days. I really liked her little ‘About Me’ tag on ESPN before the game, about how she’s a hometown girl. She did a great job.
After a while of hugs and tears, another small round of applause went up. I looked over and saw Dad wave to the bar and sling his jacket over his shoulder. He looked tired. Mom hugged him and he said “It’s all right. I’m okay. This is fine.” And he was.
He didn’t look sad, or angry. Just a man in need of a long nap.
Like last year after we won in San Antonio, I gave him a hug. And, like last year, I cried. What a difference a year makes. No cameras. No confetti. No jubilations. No nets to be cut. Just us.
I ended up staying up until around 3 in the morning, not being able to sleep. Last year on championship night, I stayed up until 4, jacked up with joy. This time, I was more stunned and sorrowful. And, of course, I had to pack. That was a pain.
Then, it was over. We flew home, and after a quick grocery store stop, I found myself back on my couch, planning my next day of classwork and paper writing. Like nothing had happened.
Of course, now the men have won their championship. That is a saving grace. The rioting that occured on campus last night leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth, to be sure. But that’s to be expected. The complete lack of press on our arrival home was to be expected as well.
I can’t even begin to explain the ride Maya Moore has given us over the past few years. She has truly been our everything. The amount of love I have for her and her family is inexpressible. Her humility, her grace, her unbelievable track record and the hardware she collected…I don’t think it will ever be surpassed. Of course, never say never. But it’ll be hard to top what Maya Moore has done. Nor should anyone go into college with that mindset. There’s just so much she has done for UCONN and for the game. Her and Lorin Dixon, or “Little One”, will always be deep in my heart. From the first time we got friendly in that trip to the Virgin Islands in 2007 (where I first heard Maya sing and Lorin fell asleep on me on the plane) to this past weekend, everything has just been a wonderful, incredible journey.
Two things to put all of this into perspective:
1. We did this with SIX used players. SIX. That is almost unheard of. (And the first person to jump on the ‘Blame Heather/Michaela/Lauren’ train will be cyber-annihilated.)
2. When I woke up on Monday it was grey, cold, and pouring down rain. I felt pretty bummed, I won’t lie. Then, I went into the other room and greeted Todd and the baby. Lovebug was rolling around on the bed without a care in the world, looking up when I entered. He gave me a great big smile and giggled, like nothing was wrong. And indeed, nothing is.
Despite the loss, I hope you all stick with me. 2011 is just getting started. And 2012? You ain’t seen nothing yet…