When Adam Morrison fell to the floor in tears after a 2006 Elite Eight loss to UCLA, I knew what he knew – there was no return in order.
The Bruins erased a nine-point deficit in less than four minutes to win. Gonzaga had incredibly missed out on a trip to the Final Four. The senior Morrison knew that his chance at a Final Four appearance slipped away.
I knew that the Zags’ chances at a Final Four appearance slipped away. But, I figured it was the chance that the school wouldn’t have again. If Gonzaga couldn’t make the last weekend of the college season with Morrison and a 17-point lead, it never would.
Morrison wept, and I found it hard not to feel for him. I’m sure the Zags faithful wept too. In the back of their minds, they probably came to the very same conclusion as I did.
I don’t share a strong connection with Gonzaga. It’s in Washington, and I’m in Virginia. Theoretically, there is nothing to separate it from the Indiana States and New Mexico States of the world. It’s a mid-major school with a good basketball program.
That’s what I know. However, the weird and wild way that March can wiggle its way into your mind manifested with me and the Zags. There was a time when things were simpler and teams were pluckier.
Gonzaga started out as the plucky mid-major. Some sustained success and noteworthy players created a buzz. After a while, Gonzaga wasn’t just a team with an upset on its résumé. The school ran to the Elite Eight as a 10th seed in 1999.
The Bulldogs won in exciting fashion ,and they stole the hearts of the underdog enthusiasts. However, Sweet 16 berths in 2000 and 2001 gave enough substance to the school’s program to make it more than just endearing. The Zags offered an outlet for the empathetic and naïve fan to root.
When the third month rolled around, fans could pull for their team that seemed to symbolize the madness. With a goofy nickname and a cuddly reputation, Gonzaga was worth grabbing and holding on to.
My middle school science teacher’s name was Mrs. LaMonica. She watched sports occasionally and did all she could do to hammer biology into my thick skull. By no means an avid enthusiast, Mrs. LaMonica followed the games from afar. She latched on to the Cinderella story of the Zags. Eventually, she followed the team closely and became a die-hard Gonzaga fan.
I don’t know if she still watches college basketball. For all I know, she doesn’t care anymore. But there was a time when she did, and it showed the staying power the mid-major program possessed.
The dynamic still intrigues me.