Filing this column at my Thursday afternoon deadline, I don’t know whether you’ll be reading it today on a “thrill-of-victory” high or an “agony-of-defeat” low. It doesn’t matter. This one isn’t about wins and losses. It’s not about end results. It’s about the process.
When I was younger, the most important thing was bragging rights — being No. 1 nationally, in the conference, or, at least, beating Missouri. Nothing mattered but the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game, the win-loss record and your tournament seed in March.
Now that I’ve matured (and I concede the point is debatable), I’ve started to appreciate the age-old adage: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you watch the game.
Consider the people who attended our Elite Eight party last Sunday.
One of our friends, who shall remain anonymous — let’s just call him “Joe” — spent the entire second half of the North Carolina battle genuflecting on our hard, limestone hearth, so close to the TV he could touch it. And he did touch it, too. Repeatedly. Joe — I mean, “Joe” — would point to a player and attempt to drag him across the big screen like in some crazy basketball video game. (Note to game developers: “Angry Jayhawks,” maybe?)
Kneeling on one 60-year-old knee — for 40 minutes, at least — Joe screamed, pointed and dragged. The fabulous thing was, no one in the room told him to back away and sit down. You don’t mess with another man’s juju. It’s the unspoken rule.
Another friend — let’s call her “Sue” — sat with perfect posture on our least comfortable stiff-back chair, her hands furiously knitting from tip-off to final buzzer. The more intense the action, the faster her hands would fly. I’m guessing she’s completed three baby sweaters, four hats and two pairs of socks in the month of March alone.
While one sat in stone silence, another would pace wildly, cussing a blue streak. (OK, that might have been me.) Where one would snack continuously, another couldn’t eat a bite.
Then, there was the cacophony of comments, muttered and shrieked:
Guard the perimeter!
Set up the play!
Get in the basket!
How is that not a foul?
Make your frickin’ free throws! (That was NOT me, for the record.)
What was that, ref?
He’s wide open!
You’re killing me, Conner!
TYSHAWN! What are you doin’!??!
SHOOT THE BALL!!!
Winning is wonderful, but that, my friends, is the good stuff.
And let’s not forget the attention paid to what we look like when we watch the game.
Sometime in the ’90s, (I’ve blocked the exact year from memory) my husband — let’s call him “Honey” — refused to shave his beard for the duration of basketball season, starting in November. By spring break I couldn’t decide whether I was married to an Amish farmer or someone from ZZ Top.
Honey was coaching our son’s basketball team at the time, and would let the boys stroke his beard for good luck in the huddle. (“If it’s working for the Jayhawks…” he’d say.) It’s a wonder Child Protection Services didn’t haul him away.
These days, Honey’s superstitions are less extreme, unless you consider not washing his lucky shirt — no matter how disgusting it gets — over the top. This year, he attributes the team’s success in close games to his lucky crimson and blue pajama pants, which he puts on after a dismal first half or in “emergencies,” like an 11-point run by an opponent.
I hate those pajama pants, but you don’t mess with a man’s juju.
The bottom line is, if you’re a citizen of Jayhawk Nation over the age of 4, you’ve been here before. You’ve partied en masse on Mass. Street after a national championship and cussed a blue streak after heart-breaking losses. Most of us have seen at least two championship games, and some of us three. The cast of characters changes — coaches, players, opponents — but the process remains the same. And when you appreciate the beauty in the process, the end result matters a little bit less.