Because of the Memphis Tigers, I owe my wife a hug, a kiss, and an apology tonight.
Don’t get the wrong idea, now. I didn’t beat her, curse her, or so much as say an unkind word to her. I love her too much for that.
I just didn’t say anything at all.
After the Missouri Tigers beat my beloved Memphis Tigers, 102-91, I just sat there, staring blankly at the images flickering on a 60” screen, ubiquitous laptop waiting for my attention, with my detailed game notes still opened to the page with the last entry:
“Mack misses right wing trey, Mizzou DR (defensive rebound)
I can’t even begin to tell you how long I sat there like that. Maybe 45 minutes?
She accepts my passion for sports. She respects that for some 22 Sundays each fall and winter, I am pretty much going to be physically and emotionally unavailable from roughly noon till 11 p.m. while I’m watching NFL football.
She supports the fact that as a Memphis basketball season ticket holder, I’m going to be at the home basketball games—rain, sleet, or snow. We got married on a Friday evening; I was at the next home game about 18 hours later.
However, I don’t allow her to see all of the emotions swirling beneath such devotion to the Memphis program. It is just such an intense thing, so raw and visceral; it would be very difficult for her to understand, so I put a mute button on myself.
I’m pretty sure that she couldn’t imagine how sad I was last night. Being a man, I guess that’s how I want it (whether or not I should be that way is a debate for another occasion).
Anyway, my loving wife was on the phone with a girlfriend from out-of-town, and when she got done, she came into the living room and asked me how the game went.
She always asks me that, and I almost always say the same thing: “Oh, it went fine.”
This time, I had to compose myself and struggle with the wording that I wanted to choose. I ran through some options in my head, none of which seemed right.
With her standing there behind me, I finally blurted out, “It went alright, but I guess it could’ve been better. We lost.”
The awkward silence was her heart breaking for me.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that, honey. So what happens next?” she asked.
I was irritated, but I knew that she meant well. It did not take long at all to reply this time.
“There is no next. The season’s over.”
What happened next is what I have to apologize for. Because my wife stood there, in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, and I didn’t even have the heart to turn and look her in the eye. I just had her locked in my peripheral vision. Neither of us knew what to say.
I wanted to use my favorite expression: “It’s okay. No biggie.”
There have been times that I was so mad at that woman that I could be prosecuted criminally if violent thoughts were against the law, only to look at her and say, “It’s okay. No biggie.”
And there have been plenty of times that I have truly meant it: “It’s okay. No biggie.”
It’s at once my way of calming myself down, putting things into perspective, while also letting her know that all things pass. It is code for, “Don’t worry about it, you [fill in the blank].”
Sometimes, that blank might be filled in with these words: “didn’t mean to mess that up.”
Sometimes, it might be appropriate to use this expression: “didn’t mean any harm.”
Or maybe this is the way to complete the sentence: “didn’t know any better.”
But most of the time—maybe 60 or 70 percent of the time—I fill in the blank in my mind with this phrase: “did your best.”
With all that said, as I sat there staring into space, not believing that the Memphis Tigers season had come to a crashing conclusion, I was having a very difficult time processing my feelings.
I just let my wife stand there, until she finally dismissed herself by saying: “Well, just let me know if you need anything.”
What I needed, though, she could not give.
I needed to make peace with what had happened. I needed to realize that none of the emotions that I was feeling were supposed to be about me.
It was supposed to be about the Memphis Tigers players and coaching staff.
If someone had told me before the season started, "The Memphis Tigers will go 33-4, be undefeated in conference play and the conference tourney again, win 27 games in a row (the longest win streak in the nation), and lose to a very experienced, very strong Missouri team in the Sweet 16," I would have been ecstatic to take it.
Any sane Memphis fan would have been happy to take it.
It would mean that the seniors would graduate as the winningest class in NCAA history, at 137-14.
It would mean that Tyreke Evans most likely had played up to his ridiculous expectations and be NBA-bound.
It would mean that Memphis had completed an unprecedented fourth consecutive 30-win season.
It would mean that Memphis had overcome all the doubts, insults, and slights that seem to continue to dog the program.
It would mean that Memphis fans had nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide from, and no more reason to explain their devotion than any other fanbase in the country.
When this tournament started, there were 344 teams hoping to participate. That means 279 teams were on the outside, looking in.
Forty-nine more teams were eliminated in the first two rounds.
That means 328 teams would have loved to even be in the Sweet 16.
So, for anyone who wants to denigrate the Memphis program—calling the kids thugs, saying the coach is a loser, or harping on the lack of competition in C-USA—you are entitled to your opinion.
Feel free to continue saying, "I told you so" or any of a dozen or so variations on that.
We Memphis fans are okay with that.
But to my wife, I want to say I am sorry that I was being so self-absorbed.
And to the Memphis Tigers players and coaches, thanks for your amazing accomplishments. You have given the entire Memphis community so much to be happy about, to be proud of.
And about Thursday night, losing while leaving it all out on the floor?
It’s okay. No biggie. Don’t worry about it. You did your best.