EVANSTON, Ill. -- Words are a funny thing. We don't often actually consider their value, but they drive the world, and define everything and anything it has to offer. They propel human interactions, and preserve history.
But sometimes, they're absolutely useless. And more often than not, it's sports that render them so. That was the case Tuesday. As the night wound down, as the Welsh-Ryan Arena clean-up crew returned the gym to its primitive state, after all the players had gone off to reflect on a crazy night, only one phrase — one question — came to my mind:
"What? What just happened?"
Basketball is a silly game. It really is. It's silly in a fantastic, sensational, entertaining, dramatic, fun type of way. But it's silly nonetheless. It's stupid. It's insane. It's absurd.
Sometimes, it's more silly, more stupid, more insane, more absurd than others. Tuesday was one of those nights.
Since I started watching and attending basketball games, I've been fortunate enough to see some pretty amazing encounters. I was there when Steph Curry and Davidson stunned Georgetown. I watched as Florida Gulf Coast captivated the nation. Earlier this season, I witnessed Villanova score 5 points in the final 10 seconds of regulation to take Syracuse to overtime and eventually win.
But I've never seen anything like what I saw Tuesday night.
As sportswriters, sometimes recency bias toys with our minds. We're quick to anoint present day players as the greatest of all time. We're quick to declare the game we've just witnessed the greatest we've ever seen. But I think I can honestly say that Tuesday's is the craziest.
The game was lost. Northwestern had lost that game. It didn't just look like Northwestern was going to lose. The Wildcats had lost. The game was over. When Spike Albrecht made a free throw with 16 seconds left to put Michigan up by 6, the game was over.
And then it wasn't.
Fans streamed for the exits. There were two separate mass exoduses, one at the end of regulation, one at the end of the first overtime. One apparently included university president Morton Schapiro. Fans of both teams turned their backs. They filled the concourses.
But then something funny happened. They were sucked back in--by the roar of the crowd, by inexplicable, improbable occurrences, by Tre Demps' heroics. They stood there throughout the final seconds of regulation, throughout the final seconds of the first overtime. They were torn. Their cars and their homes tempted them. But so did basketball. That stupid, silly game. It simply wouldn't let them leave.
After all, the game had been enthralling. It had been surreally poetic. I mean, JerShon Cobb, who hadn't played for nearly a month, leading Northwestern's comeback? And all of this happening on senior night? That's unfathomable. And for a guy who has had so much bad luck over the past few years, it was really cool to see.
And the atmosphere at Welsh-Ryan was awesome all night. It was palpable during the senior night ceremonies--a stark contrast to last year's senior night. The student section was full, and full of energy. Most of the bleachers were too. And while there was a sizable Michigan contingent, the maize and blue didn't dilute what Northwestern fans manufactured.
It was also a nostalgic night for many students. Many who have been standing behind the basket at Welsh-Ryan for four years did so for the last time Tuesday. But what began as a chance to look back on four years of dedication and fun suddenly turned into a memory that they'll undoubtedly never forget.
There were so many vivid scenes. There was Cobb and Dave Sobolewski embracing classmates and friends, overcome with joy, and perhaps even relief. There was Phillips arm in arm with Sobolewski. There was the entire student section sticking around, and swaying as the band played the alma mater.
There were students hurtling through the hallways, attempting--and missing--high fives out of sheer glee. There were the others that came by the press section. A few offered celebratory fist bumps.
Another... well, he was just completely confused by what he had just seen. Just like I still was an hour later.
Tuesday was a special night. It was perhaps an unforgettable one. In sports, there are the games that you enjoy. Then there are the games that you celebrate wildly and lose all sanity. And then there's what happened Tuesday. There are the games that just leave you dumbfounded. The ones that stun you into silence. The ones that make basketball so breathtakingly silly. So breathtakingly stupid. So breathtakingly insane. So breathtakingly absurd.