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March 25, 2009

The elusive bird of paradise

Topping my list of reasons to be thankful that we don’t live in the Middle Age are:

1. No more Black Death! This has been great for morale, and for maintaining long-term friendships.

2. Not worrying constantly about invading hordes from neighboring hamlets (Lexington, for instance), coming at dawn and stealing our women and grain stores, poisoning our wells and just generally trashing everything.

As a result of these ambitious leaps in rat-killing technologies and neighborly demeanor, people are now liberated to pile on top of one another in college arenas and sweaty sports bars with almost no fear of deadly contagion. There they can freely engage in a mostly harmless form of tribalism that, I think, is a very useful way to displace our lingering cro-mag antagonism toward the generic other without actually visiting serious bodily injury on anyone. While this exercise in willful transference of aggression is lost on some of our European cousins who refuse to let their soccer teams do the fighting for them, we keep our fingers crossed that temperance may someday be learned by one and all.

My participation in sports entertainment is limited to men’s Cardinal basketball, and especially the NCAA tournament. That’s all the sports I need or care for. For a small investment of time and energy, I get much in return: entertainment, blind and abiding camaraderie, easy outlet for my sense of civic pride, escapism, socially sanctioned and even humane tribalism, conscious displacement of frustration and rank ambition, appreciation of athleticism of which I am demonstrably incapable, and (if the buzzer-beater falls in our favor) maybe a fleeting moment of catharsis. Not bad, considering the only cost is buying a pitcher now and again.

And buddy, it just plain rules to watch your team completely deconstruct an opponent with an illuminated full-court press, transcendent ball movement and a seemingly endless bench.

The Cards turned it up this year and made it happen for themselves. They came through some tight spots and grew into a team with a capital T that has earned every moment of glory thus far. It’s been a pleasure to watch, and I salute them. At the end of the Syracuse game, I celebrated their Big East tourney victory in the only way I could think of at the moment, which was to throw a friend over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, smack him on the ass a few times, set him down and high-five everything in sight. “Go Cards” we said to one another.

Thankfully those voices that squawked incessantly about U of L’s easy regular season schedule have largely been hushed, or have magically transformed into shameless adoration. The Cards are legitimately good, and everybody knows it. Most importantly, I think the team knows it, and they wear it well. They’re good and they may be Great. Winning both the Big East regular season and tournament titles, and going into the Dance with an overall No. 1 ranking, means that hard as it is to put away childish things, I can no longer hang onto the security-blanket notion of U of L as an underdog. The mild panic I’m feeling as I think of the team’s distinct championship potential is something of a growing pain, I guess.

“I’ve been to one World’s Fair, a picnic and a rodeo,” Slim Pickens once said, and I’ve never seen another city like ours. It is, sometimes in spite of itself, a singularly beautiful and amazing place to live. I am proud that it’s my home and I love it very much here. And while Cardinal basketball is just one tiny piece of the mosaic, it feels as though getting behind the Cards every year, in some sense, reaffirms what I love about my town.

As of this writing, the Cards wait to play Morehead State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. I would tell them that I am, for my part, glad to have them representing our city, and that we’ll all be screaming at the TV as long as it still helps.

Let’s bow our heads.

Dear God,

Please let this column still be relevant by the time it goes to press.

Go Cards.

Remembering: 1986 and my grandmother, Alicia Hoerter, a Cards fan in full.

 

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