Some posts are a form of therapy for me. This is one of those.
Below, I’ll explain why I didn’t watch the Kansas-Missouri game Saturday, which will also explain the why I’ve hardly watched any KU games this year.
Basically, I’ve become an old man and can’t handle the highs and lows of basketball the way I used to.
I want to point out this has nothing to do with this year’s team, and with the perception that this is a down year. Far from it, as with lower expectations comes a freedom to watch and not worry about what’s going to happen in March. But even that lessening of postseason expectations hasn’t made the games any more enjoyable.
Anyway, after much thought I’ve come down to these three reasons for why I’ve been avoiding KU games this year.
1 – The Enjoyment/Agony continuum.
2 – How the last three years of my life have changed how I watch games.
3 – The VCU hangover.
Now for the extended explanations:
1) The Enjoyment/Agony continuum. As I mentioned already, I simply don’t handle the stress of games the way I used to. Basketball season used to be a holy time for me. I reveled in the peaks and valleys of both individual games and the season as a whole. Whatever mechanism I had to deal with those ebbs and flows has worn away. Instead of enjoying each time the Jayhawks take the court, I think of how stressful and miserable those two hours are going to be. When the game starts, I’m constantly looking at the clock, wishing it would move faster so I could relax. After a couple years of this, I’ve started finding excuses not to watch rather than go through that each time they play.
I don’t know where this came from. It’s one thing to be nervous for a big game, like Saturday’s Missouri game or an NCAA tournament game. But it’s another to dread the games. And that’s how I generally feel on game days this year, whether KU is playing Texas or North Dakota.
2) Recent past. Because of the sleeping habits of our third-born1, there have been a lot of important sporting events in the past few years that I’ve monitored on my phone while lying in her bed. Other times, I’ve lied down with her, thinking I’d spend 30 minutes or so with her and then catch up on the DVR. Three hours later I wake up, still in her bed, with texts/emails from people who watched live stacked up. I’ve missed a lot of big games, exciting games, maddening games. But through that process, I’ve also learned how to survive only following via updates on Yahoo or Twitter or some other lower-stress method.
3) Finally, the VCU hangover.
KU has had some tough tournament losses over the years, but the VCU one has stayed with me like no other. My rule for how bitter a post-season loss is has always come down to whether that loss cost KU a shot at the national championship. Bucknell and Bradley did not. Northern Iowa may have, but they were still two games from getting to Indy if they won that game.
But VCU? Absolutely. KU would have played an undermanned Butler in the National Semifinal. Unlike Billy Donovan, who stopped going inside when Florida had a ten-point lead on Butler in the Elite 8, I’m reasonably confident The Morrii would have touched the ball on every play and KU would have cruised past the Bulldogs. Sure, Kemba Walker might have torched the KU guards, and the bitter loss would have come in the national title game. But losing to VCU not only kept KU from adding another Final Four, but also took away a golden shot at a second title in four years.
Each time I shot hoops in the driveway this summer, I would think of that game. Each time I thought ahead to the fall and practice beginning and games starting in November, I recalled that game. The numbness and disappointment haven’t gone away. In fact, I’m mad just writing about it.
So, for all those reasons, and probably a few more, I don’t look forward to games the way I used to. I don’t enjoy the games themselves as I used to. No more happy, nervous excitement as I count down the hours until tip. That has been replaced with a desire to skip ahead and just see the final score. As I’ve learned to follow games more casually, it’s easier to just not watch and relieve that pressure.
So Saturday, with KU going to Columbia for the final time for the foreseeable future, against a very good Missouri team, with so much on the line, I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. I put the three-year-old to bed. We watched Mad Men. I played a video game. I checked the score here-and-there. And while I was disappointed with how the game ended, I know had I watched I would have been awake all night reliving plays, cursing the officials, and letting the loss stew inside of me. Instead I went to bed, did my usual 10-minute wind down, and slept normally.
Listen, I know a lot of this is dumb. I’ve had a pretty charmed life as a KU fan. A lot of fans have “suffered” far worse than I ever have. But the fact is, the fun stuff isn’t as fun anymore, and the bad stuff feels way worse than it used to. It’s not the team or the sport; it’s me.
So I don’t know what this season is. An experiment, a year of stepping back and decompressing a little? Or is it the start of a whole new era for my fandom. Will I be a more casual fan, going forward, than I’ve been since 1981 or so? One who still follows the team but doesn’t obsess over each moment. In other words, kind of a normal person instead of one that is constantly consumed by what a group of 18–22 year olds do three dozen times a year.
I guess we’ll find out.
- Or lack of sleeping habits, I should probably say ↩