Column: Why losing didn’t ruin my Monday night in Madison

I’ve never seen my best friend cry.

I should rephrase that. I had never seen my best friend cry. That changed Monday night.

Sitting in the stairwell of his University of Wisconsin-Madison fraternity house, I tried to help him find positives. The Badgers beat undefeated Kentucky. They won the Big Ten Championship. They made it to the national championship, for God’s sake.

He wanted to hear none of it. Hands over his face, head on his knees, girlfriend in the other room not seeming to care too much, it all hit him. Winslow touched it. How did they blow a nine-point lead? Who the hell is Grayson Allen? It was all too much to comprehend.

He finally took his hands off his face to reveal damp eyes. I asked if he wanted to set some stuff on fire to ease the pain, but he politely declined. Mikey was never the pyro type. Another friend — who wasn’t really in the state of mind to make such a decision — offered up his clunker of a car to burn. No, no, it’s okay.

Twenty minutes of near-silence ensued. Besides the screams of incoherent fraternity brothers in the room next door and the faded chants from riots on State Street, the only sounds in that stairwell came from his heavy breathing.

Three hours earlier, the mere thought of that scene was unimaginable. After all, Kaminsky had just won the Naismith, Dekker was playing out of his mind, Nigel Hayes was shooting lights-out and the Badgers were about as likeable a team as there can be in major sports.

Wisconsin was the team of destiny, sent by Lord Bo Ryan to defeat the undefeated Wildcats en route to their first national championship in 74 years. Madison would implode in celebration, classes would be cancelled, Ian’s Pizza would be eaten, and all would be right in the world.

But alas, all was not right in the world.

Writing this almost a day later, I can’t really remember specifics from the game. Maybe it’s because it was so hard to see the projector in a room full of over one hundred standing, cheering, rowdy Wisconsin students. Or maybe it’s because I don’t really want to remember the game.

Two images do stand out. The touched ball — yes, it was touched — by Winslow and Tyus Jones’ unbelievable 3-pointer in the final minutes. Both cases started with the whole room jumping up and down and ended with stunned silence.

Making our way back to his dorm, we encountered the drunken riots on State Street. Let me just say, there’s something oddly healing about watching inebriated adults climb light poles only to be dragged down and arrested. Maybe we didn’t have it so bad after all. Maybe Mikey realized how lucky he was to have experienced that magical run.

Sports brought Mikey and I together, and it’s kept us together. Freshman year of high school, we met playing hockey. Freshman year of college, I drove 14 total hours to spend 12 hours in Madison. Why? To watch sports with my best friend.

My other friend from Indiana asked to borrow a girl’s car to go to Indianapolis. Instead, he drove five more hours to come to Wisconsin. Why? To watch sports with his best friends.

Sitting in Qdoba at 1 a.m., behind a belligerent couple making out, all the three of us could do was laugh. The tears were long gone, along with the game. The pain will last for Mikey, though. Maybe a couple days, maybe a couple months, but it will last. In that moment, though, with my best friends, mouth full of burrito on a Monday night 476 miles from my residence hall room, I had to sit back and appreciate the moment.

When I got back to Mizzou, everyone kept asking, “Was it worth it?” Was it worth spending 14 hours driving to see Wisconsin lose? I’ll put it this way; I got to skip class to watch a historic game with my best friends.

Yeah, it was worth it.

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