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March to Madness conjures up memories of ‘we’ and ‘us’

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POSTED March 11, 2009 4:26 a.m.
North provided nothing but the usual poked purple canvas showing what looked like the immense brightness of something beyond. South was aglow with intervals of orange and yellow.

It was a cool night, probably cold if I had any feeling to assess the Fahrenheit.

It had been one of the moments only a sliver of humans are fortunate enough to stare down. We were on the wrong side of the blink, and for a few moments, it almost wasn’t worth the gravity.

“Hooray us!” was “Why us?” Everything had been perfect, stroked like a meadowy novella that critical readers would uproot with pithy criticism. It was too perfect, too Hollywood.

But not for us, even though “us” wasn’t really “us”. “We,” weren’t really “we,” but heavy moments bind, and “we”, whoever claimed “we” in the spring of 2001 will forever remember that night.

The night Tucson rioted, Arizona lost the National Championship. I was sick with madness.

My sophomore-year grades seemed to coincide with Wildcat Athletics. The football team went 5-6, I had a 2.3 GPA. My parents again reassured me that they loved me, and waited for the phone call from my brother, the George Washington University graduate that managed to pull a 3.6 while playing for two Atlantic-10 Champion basketball teams and majoring in exercise science, who was in medical school.

Arizona basketball was 5-1, my grades improved. The Cats dropped to 8-5, I just couldn’t focus.

Then head coach Lute Olson’s wife, Bobbi died, cancer. He took a leave of absence, came back and with it brought a fury that made Arizona once again look like the favorite to sever nylon.

The team won 18 of 21 games including a 76-75 win at Stanford in which the entire town of Tucson seemed to simultaneously shout “YES!” when Michael Wright took a down-the-boards pass from Loren Woods and scored between both 7-foot Collins twins.

It was the fifth straight win in a streak of 11 that landed my boys in the National Championship game with Duke.

Billboards in Indianapolis read “Four Bobbi”. It was her national championship. She was the team mom, and this Final Four was dedicated to her memory.

Duke won.

By 10.

It was supposed to be for Bobbi, for Tucson, for all the “we’s” that weren’t actually on the team but claimed “we-ness” anyway.

Carlos Boozer brought a National Championship back to my home state, but forbid me for not celebrating my fellow Alaskan’s triumph.

Some idiots downtown weren’t in the celebrating mood either and thought it would be a good idea to ignite a trailer and some cars on fire.

The glow from that night will stay with me. It’s the worth-while price of aggressive passion, seemingly incomprehensible let-down.

The odds of Arizona making a run like that this year are about the same as me catching a 90-pound King Salmon this summer.

But there’s always hope, and hope makes life fun, or at least tolerable.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail aklund21@gmail.com.

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