I’m sad, by Matt Rudnitsky
How do you feel when your school, the University of Michigan, in your final month of four wonderful years on its Ann Arbor campus, completes its ascension from underachieving, mediocre basketball team toiling unnoticed in filthy warehouse arena, to legit national title contender selling out to a fervid crowd that actually-occasionally-sorta-almost approaches the noise level of a place like Indiana’s Assembly Hall? When you enter as a freshman enamored by the football team, but then it rips your heart out. And then your underachieving basketball team also kills you but then gets your hopes up for a miracle but then you have to slam your laptop stream shut and storm out of your Economics class, disgusted, when your hopes are crushed by an actual miracle from your biggest rival? Then, your hopes are raised again by your new supreme ruler, your Point God, but crushed midseason, then raised again come tournament time. And then you essentially lose a single-elimination game, but said Point God resuscitates the team singlehandedly, teaching a dirty, dirty man named Elijah what karma is, during their own final months of college?
And then you test your credit card limits and fly down to the Final Four in Atlanta? And almost everyone you know is there, somehow, a veritable US-Army-sized mass of lazy, drunk students cheering on their 15 assiduous, unpaid, sober (and seriously, damn classy) classmates? And you celebrate wildly after the first win, and then you play well, but lose a game you led often, and it’s all over, and you drink yourself to sleep and leave a few hours later?
The answer is that you are sad. I was sad. I am sad. Not SADD, Students Against Drunk Driving, (though I am now an Alumnus Against such deplorable life decisions), but sad, like I want to cry. I won’t, because you’ll make fun of me, but I’m really, really sad. Sports make you selfish and delusional, and sometimes, you forget that a trip like this was actually unbelievable and you are a lucky fucking motherfucker for having the opportunity to go at all.
I went with my friends. The town was supersaturated, every street lined with blocks and blocks of fans. Specks of yellow, specks of orange, specks of red, specks of black, specks of maize, specks of blue. Specks on specks on specks. Everywhere. Five yellow Wichita State Final Four shirts congregated there, two Syracuse leather jackets here, four Louisville jerseys down yonder, and seven Michigan frat stars I’ve never seen before, sporting Bro Tanks, guns out as a direct consequence of the sun being out. My ghostly skin burned down South, while my few unfortunate friends in Ann Arbor froze in April. There were free Macklemore and Ludacris and Dave Matthews concerts (that I couldn’t go to, but that’s my fault). There was an Atlanta Braves game, with hundreds or thousands of people, many in their Final Four gear, stuffed together, waiting on line for tickets, so many of them that we couldn’t get in until the fifth inning. There were “L’s up” chants for Louisville and “Go Blue” chants for Michigan all over Turner Field, even though I’m fairly sure it was a baseball game, because I saw tiny balls and wood and incessant, rampant displays of quasi-racism. (It’s cool, though, everyone in Atlanta has a Native American friend.) The city was filled with an impassioned, massive crowd of people, and that’s why sports are the best and politics can go choke on Obama’s bracket and Rick Pitino’s quick prick.
Wait, though. The trip was fucking awful. Losing is worse than freezing your testicles and then pulverizing them in a vice. And when you’re a poor 21-year-old, trips are often distressing. You go straight from the airport to the game with only a tiny drawstring bag and pray the security people uncharacteristically let you and your three pairs of boxers and toothbrush in (and you get lucky). You only have five minutes to calm your nerves, so you order a few cringe-worthy vodka shots and chug a beer at an airport bar, much to the amusement of your server. Your pregame feast is 20 McNuggets. People look at you funny because you are looking funny.
You arrive at your $400 seats, and you can literally touch the wall of the third level of the Georgia Dome, because you are literally in the last row of a 71,228 person football stadium, watching a basketball game in which the best player on the court is barely 6-feet-tall and looks 1.6 centimeters tall, from your view. You do enjoy the victory so intensely, though, that you ignore the two hours of sleep you’ve had in the past 20 hours, and you go to the official NCAA-designated Michigan bar and repeatedly sing “The Victors” with hundreds of your classmates with whom you are forced to rub shoulders. You leave the bar alone at 3am and stumble into a Georgia Tech frat house, where you only know three of the 20 passed out Michigan fans, and you forgot socks, and you get another two intermittent hours of sleep on an ottoman you barely fit on with frozen feet and wake up an unshowered zombie. Then, you find your socks and you call yourself names.
You get amped up for the championship, but you must wait an entire day. You heckle some people on the street by mimicking their chants, because you are a little shit. You ask the bros in their Michigan State shirts what time their game is. You occasionally tell people “good luck,” because they’re surprisingly gracious and you aren’t that horrible of a human being, you guess. You must continue drinking alcohol, or your heart will explode, because this is your life right now; this is everything. You are indescribably nervous and shaky. This shouldn’t be everything, because there are much more significant things in life that have actual consequences, yet you didn’t study logic, so that’s irrelevant.
You order the strongest beers on the menus, because you seriously just cannot wait and need to calm down and what the funking dunk city you guys are underdogs and like wow you could play really well and lose. Then, you play really well and lose.
Yes, you sneaked down to the first level and saw it up close. But your halftime dreams of the yelling and dancing and singing and shot-taking at the Michigan bar that even popped up again with 10 minutes left turned into nightmares of some schlubby-bench-riding-white-dude-transfer-scrub-devil-child raining down 3-pointers and all of a sudden it’s over and you’re walking home and punching signs and then kicking them and wondering how much whiskey is left in your hotel room.
You walk past the celebrating fans in red and hope they don’t say anything because you want to fight all of them, even that little kid who is smiling a little too mirthfully. Can you even name four players on your team, you cockeyed four-year-old? Then, you realize you are legitimately angry at this nice little boy, and you bottle up your anger and jet to your hotel room so you are not a menace to society. You mix your whiskey with Red Bull and don’t speak besides “Man… man,” some unspeakable curse words and lots of head shaking. You don’t enjoy your whiskey and Red Bull, because it’s not a thing and eventually you fall asleep after sending incomprehensible, mean Facebook messages to anyone you think won’t be that mad that you are taking your anger out on them. You realize that two hours ago, your elation was at a height you had never experienced. You realize that your current anger is much more intense that that really intense elation. Winning is the best thing, but only because Not Losing is such a better thing that it is in an ineligible ringer playing in a different league where steroids are legal and abused and encouraged. Nothing is worse than Coming Close But Not Winning. You awake; you go home. 24 hours after the buzzer, you’re home in your bed and you still haven’t smiled.
You aren’t recovered, and you still can’t form coherent thoughts. You can’t remember if you’re stupid and your brain is always mush or it’s just Sad Brain taking over. You glance at the bracket pool you would’ve won and your almost-cashed 20-to-1 betting futures ticket and you punch your bed mightily, many times. You deal with your sadness in the only way you (fine, this is just me) know how: by uploading a #nofilter Instagram picture from the game, complete with a nonsensical, unfunny quote that you contrived.
Okay, I’m just weird. But, shit, I’m sad. Let me have my moment; I’ll like your Instagram photo when you lose, friendly reader. I will give you all of the retweets, not just most of them. Sports suck, and now I have to write about them for the foreseeable future. Great career choice, bro. Congratulations, Louisville. You were better, and I don’t know how to handle that. Now let me go look at cute animals and try not to punch them through my screen.