At the end of the day, all you can do is whatever it takes to win. The Jayhawks did that Monday night in New Orleans. And I did that Monday night in Virginia. I resolutely stuck with my game plan of doing . . . absolutely nothing.
No free throw puppet. No KU clothing of any kind, not even my lucky Scot Pollard shooting jersey, which on me is really a lucky Scot Pollard shooting dress. No calling on the power of the tattoo, now 15 years old and faded from persistent rubbing. No throwing of the wall. (That’s a hard one to explain; it involves a lot of autographed photos and a lot of shoulder action, which I no longer have.) No marching. No singing. (Marching and singing won the 2008 national championship. Never pooh-pooh marching and singing.)
I didn’t do a darned thing for the Jayhawks during this NCAA tournament run. I didn’t watch a single minute of it. Not with malicious aforethought, but with great love and affection. Because like Crash Davis, I respect the streak. (I also believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter, but I draw the line at opening presents on Christmas morning.)
My action plan of inaction began in the first round of the tournament, when Kansas played the late game, and by late game I mean the last game: a 10:17 p.m. tip-off on a Friday night. I had somewhere to be the next morning and I thought they would win, so I skipped it. I just skipped it. And I forgot to set the DVR.
And just like that, a streak was born. How could I watch the next game, and the one after that, and so on, when I skipped the first one, and they won? How could I record the next game, and the one after that, and so on, when I didn’t record the first one, and they won? I didn’t fly my flag, I didn’t wear any of my T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, shoes, sunglasses, gloves, watches, rings, bracelets, necklaces or pins (light-up and non-light-up) during the rest of the tournament. And it worked — for five games.
If you think I was weeping Tuesday morning when I saw the result — Kentucky 67, Kansas 59 — you would be wrong. Absolutely no one picked Kansas to win the thing. Except me, of course, and I always do. This year, however, I wasn’t really joking about it so much. I’d been getting cautiously optimistic about Kansas since late January, when Coach Bill Self started really getting something out of his bench. After all, they returned one starter, they have no McDonald’s all-Americans – this isn’t a talent-laden roster. There is a reason Self has been named coach of the year by everyone.
But Kentucky was too much for them, and so be it. I don’t see any shame in being national runner-up. A lot of people I know thought their teams would get to the championship game and they didn’t. Maybe they made the mistake of watching their games.
If Kansas had won, of course, the question would be, how can you enjoy it without having seen it? The answer would be: easily, and for at least a year. That’s how long the glow usually lasts. At least that’s how I remember it from 2008. I was also a wreck after that long weekend. I never sat down during the North Carolina semifinal and I called our college editor so much that I finally told him, “Just let my calls go to voice mail.” If I’d have been on Twitter, I’d have broken Twitter. Then came the Memphis game. A lot of KU fans told me later they turned it off when Kansas fell behind and they missed seeing The Shot. Not me. My poor neighbors.
So of course I can watch. And maybe next year I will. This year it just so happened that once they won that first game, the die was cast. I am superstitious in no other area but this one. I step on cracks, walk under ladders. I’ve owned a black cat.
Why didn’t it work Monday night? Well, I suppose because Kentucky was the better team, and KU, which had won some unbelievably close games, ran out of luck. It happens. And in the end, perhaps, my participation — or lack thereof — doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this old world. I can say that now, on Tuesday.
But I still refuse to mope. Maybe after 30 years in this business I’ve seen too many fans who expect their team to win it every year, or maybe I’m just getting numb to it all, but we won the darn thing four years ago. After several years of what I will charitably call underachieving, with me hammering my brains out in front of the television, trying to find the right combination of puppets and tattoos and shirts, I did nothing. And they overachieved without me. They’re all grown up.
And I know the DVD of the 2011-12 season will be released in time for this former Baby Jay to have wing surgery in June. I’ll be able to watch it all with no pressure, and with painkillers. Even with the final loss, that will be a win-win.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.