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Loyola-Chicago, baby! Look at these guys go! This is incredible! This is better than that stupid movie Rudy because it’s an underdog tale that doesn’t involve cheering for Notre Dame! Bring me all the Sister Jean content you can create between now and Saturday because I can’t get enough! This is what the NCAA tournament is all about! Sports!
That previous paragraph is how my brain used to work. Those were great times. What follows is how my fractured, stupid brain currently works and sometimes I wish I could go back to how things used to be.
Loyola’s run to the Final Four hasn’t delivered the same levels of joy for me as it has for a lot of other people. No, it’s not because I had them losing in the second round on my bracket or because Sister Jean has lived more in the past two weeks than I have in my entire life; it’s because I have lost the ability to turn off that part of my brain that was once blissfully unaware of the garbage that surrounds everything good at all times, specifically in sports.
I know millions of people have bigger burdens to bear and this is some grown-ass crybaby shit but I genuinely miss being an oblivious sports idiot. Sister Jean is sporting a backward cap on national television and a bunch of guys wearing uniforms that look eerily similar to the ones in Hoosiers are on this storybook run and all I can think about is how the NCAA is going to make $857 million off this tournament and the players will make nothing.
All I can see a week before the Final Four is Michigan, Kansas, or Villanova obliterating Loyola or players getting suspended because Sister Mary slipped them an extra wafer at church, and the latter ruins the moment more than the former because Loyola has already given us more great memories than we deserve. It’s not that the NCAA and corruption just found each other recently but I definitely didn’t think this way when George Mason or VCU went to the Final Four as 11 seeds. A light has been turned on that I can’t turn off.
I am as broken a sports fan as you will find and it’s all because of this “knowledge” stuff everyone seems to covet. Baseball starting this week? Oh, you mean MLB? The league that lobbied into existence a law that allows billionaires to deny minor leaguers minimum wage? Do I enjoy the NFL? Yep, love to watch wealthy dipshits punish black athletes for peaceful protests and turn a blind eye to brain injuries. Hockey? No point in getting all that invested in the NHL when a lockout is scheduled every seven years or so (also the brain injuries).
And college sports? The NCAA tournament? No, Loyola and Sister Jean haven’t entirely failed to melt my frozen, cynical heart, and if someone is going to win the tournament this year, I hope like hell it’s the Ramblers, but the charm has gone out of the Cinderella story because I know the system in which it’s all happening is totally fucked.
Is anyone else going through this? Am I online too much? Is this the early stages of eventually not caring about sports? That would be bad, because I really don’t have any other skills besides writing about sports, even if you can barely consider this a skill. I can still get lost in a game for a few hours and it’s not like I’m leaning over to strangers at bars and whispering, “amateurism is a scam” after every made basket, but this is the first time I’ve felt this nihilistic about college basketball and it sucks. I miss when the only negative thoughts I would have had about Loyola would be about them having no chance this weekend, not that all the wrong people would benefit financially from them pulling off the greatest upset in college basketball history.
We live in a time when Everything Is Bad so we are better prepared for Michigan or Kansas or Villanova turning a potential updated version of Hoosiers into a horror flick in which Jimmy Chitwood is eaten by a bear just before he attempts the winning shot at Butler Fieldhouse. The curtain being pulled back on so much of the sports landscape in recent years takes the dread deeper because the distraction we always knew was meaningless when compared to the importance of everyday life has begun to feel sinister and pointless, which can’t be good for the long-term health of any sports entity.
I hope Loyola opens the game Saturday on a 20-0 run and wins by 40. I hope photos surface of Sister Jean doing shots with Pope Francis and Tim Duncan in San Antonio on Friday night. I hope every Rambler on the roster gets invited on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert after Loyola beats Kansas in the championship game. I hope Sister Jean bets the money line in both games, splits the winnings with all the players and we don’t find out about it until 2035 when the statute of limitations has run out on the crime of giving poor college students money.
It’s that last part, however, that will continue to take some of the luster off stories like this until things improve.
Sorry to be so depressing when writing about such an uplifting story but let us take solace in one important aspect of this year’s Final Four that can bring us all guilt-free happiness—at least Duke can't eliminate the Ramblers.