For four days I roamed Houston with 'Nova Nation. I met new friends, connected with old ones. Met big donors and kids who were still in school. Saw feral humans covered head to toe in body paint, and casual bystanders who probably hadn't been to a game in 20 years. Everybody had a smile on. Everybody partied all day and all night. And with every conversation I had, I realized how much this meant.
From all those conversations I remembered a truth that I'm guilty of sometimes forgetting. Villanova is special. We do it a little bit differently. From the fans to the coaches to the players, it's just not the same as the big-time basketball factories that we mollywhopped on the way to the title. And I'm not hear to tell you our way of doing it is better, because they have plenty of success too. And I just don't know the other side of it. But it made me care more.
And funny enough, I didn't even realize how much I cared until well after the fact. I'm guilty of that too. When asked how I felt about each game this weekend I kept using the term 'silently confident.' I tried to play it cool. Not sure why. In my mind I was a rage-filled lunatic who was going to set fire to NRG Stadium if we didn't cut down the nets.
But I said what I said, and that probably contributed to the experience. It bottled up my emotions for four days for one big final exhale of feelings that left me in a catatonic state.
I'm still not exactly sure what happened. I saw the ball go through the hoop. That's about all I can take away from it. And then pandemonium ensured. It was a blackout type of crazy. If you were there you know what I mean. Absolute delirium.
I jumped up and down, yelled at the top of my lungs, and promptly was thrown forward a row of seats by other fans losing their collective shit. When I pulled myself up I began running towards the court to get as close as I could for the celebration. Instinct, I guess. About halfway down I sat down on the stairs and put my face in my hands. I was in a complete state of shock.
And then a lady I'd never met pulled me up, tears in her eyes, and hugged me. Didn't say a word. Just gave me a big old bearhug. She knew I needed it. She probably needed it too. Not going to lie, it got dusty in there. And not for the first time in the ensuing hours that followed.
I'm still trying to process it all. But really, this wasn't supposed to happen. This was Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. The team that owned us, the team that got all the breaks.
I watched a 10-point lead evaporate thanks to Marcus Paige pulling not one but two rabbits out of his ass to tie it up. It felt like destiny. The punch to the groin was coming. We'd felt it before. We knew. The mood audibly and visually shifted inside the stadium.
And then Kris Jenkins took that mood and dumped some of that ice water from his veins over it. Hello good times, how I'd missed you.
The hours that followed were mayhem. I rode the that state of shock and put in a performance that would have the 22-year old version of myself giving me a standing ovation. I'm paying for it days later, but hell, it was more than worth it.
On my taxi ride to the airport on Tuesday morning circa 6am I started to actually relive it. I soaked in the videos, the tweets, the texts that I didn't see the night before.
I heard Jim Nantz yell "Jenkins for the Championship!" and squeal like a little kid on Christmas morning. I heard Ryan Fannon yell "Cats Win It All!" and I saw the Pavilion move into anarchy and that's when I lost it.
I mentally and emotionally broke down. I cried and started laughing like a maniac, so bad that the taxi driver actually pulled over and made sure I was okay. He was probably frightened. I would have been too.
But what I realized that I freaking love this school, this program, and everybody else who feels the same way I do. Which based on this weekend is pretty much everybody. And there's nothing more rewarding that seeing the people you love see their dreams come true.
I absolutely cannot wait for the next time we get to do this again.