Last Wednesday, I, along with 15 of my friends, huddled around a very shoddy, slightly illegal stream of CBS Sports Network to catch a glimpse of history.
As each final-possession three off the hands of Lehigh clanged off the backboard and the rim, the room got louder. How fitting. Bill Carmody's 1-3-1 was giving a team unlimited access to offensive rebounds. The last one should have been a backbreaker. Kahron Ross eyed down a darn open three. Flashbacks of Jared Sullinger and Ohio State, Minnesota at the Big Ten Tournament, and Penn State heartbreakers all flooded our minds. The shot was right on line. The ball hung in the air for an eternity.
If the ball found nylon, it would punctuate the latest gut-wrenching, heartbreaking tale in a long line of them. But if it caromed off the rim, Carmody and Holy Cross would do what Ken Pomeroy gave them just a 0.05 percent chance to do: Win the Patriot League and make the NCAA Tournament.
* * *
I promised myself before I sat down to write this in the passenger seat of a car bound for Indianapolis that this wouldn't be an article about whether or not Bill Carmody should have been let go by Northwestern four years ago (but here is what freshman Ben Goren thought of the move). That argument has been worn so damn thin and the debate is so damn tiresome. It is a waste of oxygen to continue to consider the merits or demerits of that decision. There are places you can go if you want to rehash it. A word of warning, those places are generally not fun places to have friendly conversations.
Right or not, wrong or not, mistimed or not, Bill Carmody being fired ripped out a part of my Northwestern fandom.
I did not care about professional sports as a kid. For a time, I cared about the Cubs, but ripping down my Sammy Sosa poster after the steroids scandal ended that affair. It quickly became all Northwestern all the time. The first Northwestern sporting event I remember was the Hail Mary in the Metrodome when Kunle Patrick tipped a Zak Kustok pass to Sam Simmons in the end zone. I'm pretty sure I even went as Damien Andersen for Halloween the next year.
Since then, only one Northwestern revenue sport coach has been fired.
There's something much different and much purer about being a fan of a team as a child, then as a teenager, then young adult, then (eventually) actual adult. When you're 8 years old, you don't understand the concept of contract buyouts, or conference television deals, or brands, or really even what makes someone a good or bad coach. All you really know is that there is a guy in charge of the team you root for, so you might as well root for him too. There isn't a whole lot of room for critical thought about it.
Maybe that's what all of the Carmody love is about. I'm living vicariously through the Crusaders' fans. The team rushing the court and punching their ticket to the dance was purple and white. There were "Make Shots" shirts worn proudly. And the head coach getting choked up talking about his team wasn't wearing a tie and was making self effacing jokes. If you squint your eyes hard enough, you can pretend it's 2011, and the story is ending the way it should have. All those hours spent rooting for first awful, then mediocre, then pretty good teams in the 2000s were worth it. All those rebuilding years waded through were going to be worth something.
My coach was going to the tournament. It wasn't so hard to pretend it was my team he was taking there.
* * *
Kahron Ross eyed down a darn open three from the top of the key. It was straight on line. It was just about two feet too short. The shot grazed the underside of the rim and the clock hit zeroes. I and the 15 other people in the room went nuts.
Twenty-one years of unrequited love for Northwestern basketball without an NCAA Tournament to show for it can do some wicked things to the human brain.
The Northwestern chapter of the Bill Carmody story didn't get the ending it deserved. It ended on a year so wrecked with injuries that a former walk-on had to shoulder the scoring load and a team so bad it scored 44 points on its home floor in a loss against UIC. But the epilogue of the story has the feel-good ending we all wanted.
There is no longer any reason to obsess over what Bill Carmody is up to. He's done what his fans have always said he'd do if given the time. He took a 1-3-1-playing, Princeton offense-running, three-jacking, athletically disadvantaged team to the NCAA Tournament.
There won't be another Carmody article on this blog (until Holy Cross knocks off Southern and then Oregon, book it). He might be mentioned in passing when a coach passes him in the all-time wins list. Maybe the next time Northwestern makes the NIT, there'll be a shoutout to the last team and the last coach to take Northwestern there. But Northwestern has moved on and Bill Carmody has moved on, and both are doing pretty darn well for themselves.
So pour some out — which, if you're honoring Billy C the right way, should be a nice Merlot — rev up a tweet, change a profile picture, make a snarky post on a message board, or write 1,000 words on your local blog. Because a Northwestern basketball alumnus just pulled off a one-in-a-million run to take his team to the promised land. And that's awesome.