Friday, February 18, 2011

These are the days we’ll remember

My passion for Hofstra basketball has always earned me my fair share of quizzical sideways glances (then again, I got a lot of those way back when I couldn’t pick out Hofstra on a map, so maybe it’s not about Hofstra basketball at all). Way back in the mid-90s, people wondered why the kid from Connecticut who wore a North Carolina hat, T-shirt and shorts to his senior prom (admit it, you’re not sure if I’m kidding) was ranting and raving about this Long Island school nobody had ever heard of playing in a conference nobody had ever heard of, but which I swear I wasn’t making up.

The conference eventually became vaguely familiar to my fellow Nutmeggers (“oh yeah the NAC, that’s where Hartford plays”) but the bewilderment remained the same. Why would I choose to root for a team that barely contended in this vaguely familiar conference when UConn was just up the road?

By the time I moved to Long Island for good in 1997, Hofstra was on the verge of becoming a power in what was by then the America East, but the bewilderment sadly remained, even amongst many of the alums with whom I stayed in touch. Why would I choose to root for a team that barely got any attention locally when St. John’s was just up the road and I could watch any power conference game I wanted any night of the week on TV?

Now, thanks to the invention of Twitter, I can, 140 characters at a time, make people from around the world cast me quizzical sideways glances—i.e. type WTF? about Hofstra basketball and whatever it is that leads me to screech about weird biases and devise weird hashtags and break out into fits of Tourette’s over something or somebody named The Wolf.

I can only imagine what those followers (or ex-followers, I always imagine one day I’ll get home from a Dutchmen game and find I’m down to 26 followers) would have thought if they were next to me Wednesday morning (other than “What the hell am I doing on the arm of this guy’s couch?”) and saw my eyes watering as I watched, for the millionth time or so, Charles Jenkins’ buzzer-beaters against William & Mary from the night before.

Even I was wondering what was going on with me. I don’t cry at TV shows or movies, especially those I’ve seen a bunch of times (the hospital reunion between Ponyboy and his brother Sodapop and Darryl in The Outsiders used to get me all the time as a kid, but I digress) So what the hell was I doing getting a touch weepy over something that was decidedly NOT sad?

But as I watched it, again and again and again, I realized I was almost moved to tears precisely by how HAPPY everyone was. Watch those clips. Look at what one team, one player and two shots did for 2,000-plus people—the pure, unexpected, exploding joy.

Look at those kids in the Lions Den. If they live another 80 years, they will never forget the sight of Jenkins draining that game-winner, turning around and jumping into the stands to celebrate with them.

Look at the reactions of the people seated around A.J. Voelpel, whose 70-second montage of Jenkins’ shots became an immediate viral sensation. Look at the hands on the heads, the slapping of shoulders, the hugging and listen to the screams of joyous disbelief. Look, especially, at Jenkins, enjoying the chance to share in the moment and symbolizing the communal experience this season has become.

Hofstra basketball has long been a familial experience, bringing together alums and fans of all ages whose shared passion for the Flying Dutchmen transcends generations and any other number of barriers that impatient and impolite New Yorkers put up in every other facet of our lives.

But how often is it an exercise in shared euphoria instead of one of shared misery? Like everyone who roots for a mid-major, we hope—with more than a bit of a hint of desperation—every October that the upcoming season will be a special one. We CONVINCE ourselves it will be special, because we have the best player in the league or because we have great depth or because we have a well-defined rotation or, well, just because, damnit.

There was a lot of underlying desperation going on this year, when even the most optimistic of people had to work really hard to find reasons this season was going to be special. We did have the best player in the league, but he was a senior and we had absolutely no idea about anything or anyone else.

And out of that uncertain mix has actually COME the magical season, one in which Hofstra is getting national attention, this time for all the right reasons. And the greatest thing about Tuesday—whether we’re old or young, rich or not so rich, at the Arena or watching online at home far away from Long Island—was the reaction, seeing people relishing the moment in person and online.

“We were huddled around the PC watching it…then screamed and danced around the living room.”

“I was out of my gourd at that point.”

“Part of me wishes I took a pic of those 2 3s with my camera. The rest of me has a mental pic 4 the rest of my life.”

“Happy for all my tweeps still at Hofstra that were able to see tonight’s game firsthand. Making me sick that I can’t be there for this year.”

“This is normally where I post a CAA-reppin’ status about the Hofstra win last night and Charles Jenkins being the man…but looking through my newsfeed I realize everyone who would care has posted already.”

Some people will wonder why we get so revved up about one win against a second-division team and declare there’s no crying in mid-February college basketball. All the win over William & Mary guarantees is a first-round bye in the CAA Tournament for the Flying Dutchmen. Their season could, technically, end as soon as two weeks from Saturday (though even in that case, a bid to the NIT, CIT, CBI or another alphabet soup tournament to be determined seems to be all but assured), which would mean the win Tuesday didn’t amount to an easily recognizable hill of beans.

At this level, though, it’s not about the big moment at the end, it’s about all the big ones in the beginning and middle that might lead to the big one at the end, but will be savored and enjoyed regardless of the destination because they are—both in the micro and macro sense—so finite.

We know there will never be another Charles Jenkins, but we don’t know if there will ever be another player who makes our eyes water. We know this is a world in which the BCS schools dominate the airwaves and generate the Internet traffic, and that even now, a mere 60 or so hours after the fact, the Shots Seen Around The World are old news to everyone but us. Who knows when this—the Flying Dutchmen all over the highlight shows and national blogs and websites—will happen again?

So we need to savor every moment and every quizzical sideways glance now. And we need to realize these have, incredibly, turned the days we will remember as well as the only reminder we will ever need that the question should never have been why would we choose to root for Hofstra, but how could we not?

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