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UMBC Is Gone, But The Impact Will Be Everlasting

UMBC Is Gone, But The Impact Will Be Everlasting
  • Scott Engel

UMBC was eliminated on Sunday, but the story will stay relevant forever

By Brandon C. Williams.

UMBC did not need to make it to San Antonio to provide a happy ending. Only the foolhardy and Little Miss Sunshines of the world could think the Retrievers would go full blown Rocky Balboa and make it to the main event against a bigger, stronger challenger.

Nah, wasn’t going to happen.

Still, UMBC gave the sports world an indelible moment, and its aroma will linger beautifully long after Friday night when they stepped into the role of a 16th seeded David and hurled a host of long range stones that did more than sink into the skin of top seed Virginia. Sure, Kansas State rolled in as a Goliath Lite and smote UMBC on Sunday night but what coach Ryan Odom and his squad did was remind us why it’s called March Madness.

College basketball needed UMBC more than it would care to admit. With the storm clouds of illegal payments to players and questions of premier programs running dirty hovering over the start of the tournament, one had to wonder if the story coming out of the first weekend of play would be our worst fears coming to life upon the news of another player or coach busted with their hand in a cookie jar filled with crispy Ben Franklins.

The sports world needed the Retrievers just as much. At our core, we still want college sports to be about honor, cleanliness and student-athletes living the dream. All the while, we know that sports — from their youth until the fortunate retire as professionals — is a zero-sum game dictated more by corporate suits and television ratings. Yet for 80 minutes this weekend, UMBC pushed our worst fears aside and showed us why we love sports. Anything can happen and on Friday night, this school of 13,662 students became an American dream come true.

I needed UMBC. Having to deal with the emotions of a memorial service for my mother on Saturday morning, the Retrievers emerged as unexpected therapy. If only for a moment in time, watching UMBC go from “this can’t happen” to “this really, really can’t happen” to “this is (choose unprintable word of your choice) happening!” was a ray of light in what had been the longest and most painful week of my near 47 years of existence.

Michigan’s Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater that sent Houston from heaven to heartache and a Bloody Sunday that saw defending champion North Carolina bumrushed out of by a rabid and athletic Texas A&M squad (know this: Robert Williams of A&M is going to be a star on the next level), Cincinnati and Xavier both squandering leads and Syracuse’s time warp of a game plan that sent Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to premature announcements to turn pro were each portraits that make the photo album of March Madness a must-see. How can we forget the most beloved scout in the land, 98-year-old Sister Jean of Loyola-Chicago? These are the stories that make us believe that on any given shot, history is altered, unknowns arise, and our hearts beat stronger for one more shining moment.

(Man, that’s a long paragraph. I know my editor is cursing me out)

We have trimmed the fat as 68 became 64 that became 32 and is now 16. The next three-plus days will be consumed by breaking down the next eight games that will pared to four, leaving us three games remaining come next Sunday night. However, let’s not make a mistake: this weekend was about UMBC. This was about a team that had taken a 43-point beatdown from Albany in January and shook that off to win 24 games entering the Big Dance. This was about a group of 1-and-2-star players who were shunned by bigger programs spinning one hell of a yarn at the expense of the seemingly best college basketball team in the land, a Virginia squad brimming with elite players who had conquered the best conference in America.

In a divided nation that at times feels like it will careen into uncontrollable chaos, this past weekend offered a glimpse of what can be achieved when we are united. For one weekend, UMBC became America’s Team for all the right reasons. Once again, sports stepped front and center to eliminate the mendacity that many of our beliefs have become.

We are better for the UMBC Experience. No matter who cuts down the nets on April 2, the Retrievers emerged as top dogs at a point in time so many of us needed them to.