Long before we ever got to the doorstep of #8Wins4CAA, there was the seemingly Quixotic hashtag that turned into reality and made all of this—VCU’s incredible, historic, orgasm-is-an-anagram-for-GORAMS run from the First Four to the Final Four—possible. And so, as we congratulate VCU and Rams fans on unprecedented achievement and direct you to those who can do this story justice—Mike Litos and Kyle Whelliston—we also pay homage to those who stood their ground and will enjoy this as much as anyone outside of RamNation, beginning with the ones who treaded what had to be the loneliest patch of grass in the yard.
Our good friends and William & Mary alums @Gheorghetheblog and @batogato were the ones who started the #3Bids4CAA movement on Twitter back before Valentine’s Day and they, along with Litos, kept the faith even as the odds and hope seemed to dwindle. It was Litos who on Selection Sunday—15 days that feel as if they happened 15 years ago—channeled Tug McGraw (Google him, kids!) and implored us to believe in the two percent.
We thought they were crazy. Turned out they were prescient geniuses. Enjoy this, gents, you believed before, and with more fervor than, anyone else.
This VCU run is also for those of us who displayed a different fervor five years ago, for the Hofstra fans who pushed away the spoon and refused to swallow the feel-good Cinderella story being spewed by a nation that didn’t know the truth, didn’t know what we knew about THEIR run and HIS way. Most people—especially THEIR fans—wondered how we could derive nothing but sickness and heartache out of THAT run, how we could let our contempt and, yes, hatred consume us during the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to root for a school in the same conference as Hofstra—Hofstra, for crying out loud, a school just 12 years removed from winning the championship in a conference that didn’t have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament—to reach the Final Four.
Once-in-a-lifetime or not, how we felt and reacted in 2006 was the right thing—the only thing—to do. This—a seemingly twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity, emphasis on seemingly—is a reward for us, a second chance nobody ever expected to get. If they didn’t understand why we felt how we felt five years ago, then they’ll never understand the sense of peace that came over all of us yesterday afternoon, of seeing a team whose Final Four run wasn’t hatched via felonious acts of assault and underhanded backroom politics and whose coach delivers inspirational speeches that sound authentic, heartfelt and spontaneous and not hackneyed and scripted for television.
2006 is a footnote now—one that will always gnaw at us, to be sure, but one we no longer have to hear parroted every goddamn March by people who don’t know any better. We are free. Now and forever, the Cinderella standard is five wins over five BCS league opponents to get to the Final Four. Now and forever, we are searching for—and hoping to become—the next VCU.
This VCU run is for those who cover entire leagues and an entire genre (for lack of a better word) of basketball in the type of comprehensive and outstanding fashion they deserve, and not as the niche the gatekeepers wish it was. Once again, this is for you, Mike Litos, a man I am proud to call my friend and someone who inspires me everyday to be a better writer and person, and for you, Kyle Whelliston, so accurately dubbed the bard of the mid-majors.
Of all the Tweets generated by VCU’s stunning upset yesterday, my very favorite was from Northwestern State broadcaster Patrick Netherton: “Funny that this season, with all ESPN’s experts, the guy most knowledgeable about half the Final Four teams is @midmajority, who they fired.”
Whelliston was fired for daring to suggest “The Sports Bubble” that was created by ESPN is unsustainable. The mainstream kicked him out, and not coincidentally, has deemed the CAA a conference unworthy of big-time coverage or a seat at the big boy table. So Litos and Whelliston ran an end-around and made their own breaks, and this weekend, they will be covering VCU in the Final Four.
Most of all, this VCU run is for all those who stood our ground and refused to believe the notion that the mid-major basketball we love is somehow lesser than power conference ball. It’s for those whose world views are shaped not by what ESPN tells us is REALLY IMPORTANT but by heading out to smaller arenas and gymnasiums and seeking out those of our ilk on what must be the best community on the Internet. It is a place where a Hofstra fan and a Mason fan can tell each other to go fudge a kite, and then come to appreciate and respect the other’s passion for his alma mater, all in a single day.
It is a place in which everyone went to bed last night (or this morning) dreaming of the day their team is the one tugging at uniform tops after knocking out Drago. The odds are long—very long. But three mid-majors have made the Final Four in the last five years. As Final Four-bound VCU coach Shaka Smart might say: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
Yes there is. The last song I heard before I got out of the car last night was the Rocky IV anthem—and Hofstra Arena staple—“No Easy Way Out.” That’s a good enough sign for me. We can be the next VCU. The hashtag is #HUF4. Pass it on.