THE SPEED with which it came back astounded me. The jitters that seized me with each possession; the small explosion of pure joy with each made basket; the blazing pride I took in the accomplishments of a team of young men I’ve never met.
For though they are strangers, the name they wear on their jerseys is the same that sits atop both of my diplomas.
As they slipped through the Atlantic 10 tournament — an eked-out win over Dayton in the quarterfinals, a stomping of St. Bonaventure in the semis, and the final, nervy TKO of Virginia Commonwealth in the title game — the Saint Joseph’s Hawks rekindled a love affair that had gone dormant, all in the space of a single weekend.
The relationship was easy to maintain when I worked at the university. Keeping up meant doing nothing more than chatting daily with my boss, one of the team’s radio broadcasters. Getting to a game was as simple as a walk across campus. I got to know the players and the coaches and the assorted parties and their personalities, in some cases directly, in others vicariously yet not from afar.
As career aspirations took me away from Hawk Hill, they took my hoops affinity with them. If I got to a single game a season I’d count myself lucky. My TV viewing was typically limited to the annual thumping by Villanova.
But with a perch firmly on the NCAA tournement bubble as they began play in the A-1o tourney, the Hawks demanded my attention. And they got it.
I watched all of last Saturday’s semifinal, worried as the Bonnies hung around through a flat first half for Saint Joseph’s. On Sunday I put myself on the couch with both girls for the final and was yelling — yelling! — as early as the Hawks’ first 3-pointer. A prior commitment had me in the car for the final 7 or 8 minutes, and my fellow travelers were kind enough remain silent as the game twisted and turned and finally ended with St. Joe’s the narrow victor.
Last night I repaired to a local watering hole for the Hawks’ NCAA tourney tilt with Connecticut. The result wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but that’s okay. I rediscovered something cool and wonderful over the last week, and that’s worth a heartbreaking loss, at least for me.
Besides, on Sunday night I get to do it again, when Saint Joseph’s women’s team takes on Georgia in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I’ll be as proud of and engaged with them as I have been with their counterparts on the men’s team. Because no matter who’s wearing the jersey, perhaps our only universal truth is that the Hawk Will Never Die. | DL