Peterson: Anticipation of championship a rare treat
I will have moved along a week from now, regardless of whether Iowa wins or loses the National Invitation Tournament basketball championship.
But for the moment – in this deadline-driven, championship-night, column-writing gig in which there is no time to wait for the final score – I am relishing the anticipation of a national championship for my beloved Hawkeyes. I am an alum; I bleed black and gold.
After winning Tuesday, two nights were hardly long enough to anticipate what might come at iconic Madison Square Garden when Iowa plays Baylor for the NIT championship. As I write this, only six men’s basketball teams are still playing past the madness of March.
The other four are in the other tournament, the official NCAA tournament of the 68 supposedly best teams in the country. The other tournament produces the – note the definite article – championship team, and the Hawkeyes are not among the Final Four in Atlanta. The Hawkeyes were in New York, playing for the alternative championship of the 32 supposedly not-quite-best teams in the country.
In a perfect world, I would rather the Hawkeyes play in the NCAA tournament. But I don’t live in a perfect world. I live in a parallel basketball universe that crowns its own champion. Many years ago, the NIT was a reputable tournament for also-ran teams not good enough to make the field of just 32 NCAA tournament teams.
But the NCAA got greedy and expanded to 64 teams, and somehow fattened to 68 teams, leaving the dregs for the NIT.
But in that perfect world, the Hawkeyes likely would have lost their first game.
The Hawkeyes aren’t that good, and the NCAA tournament can be unforgiving for even momentary lapses in play, losing to Southwestern Gulf Pacific Union A&M or some such nonsense, in a forgettable upset.
In the beautifully imperfect world that I have enjoyed throughout March, Iowa won four games to advance to the championship, which is no mean feat despite the tournament. I’ll take a championship, any championship, over losing in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament, dubbed the Big Dance. The NIT is the Little Dance.
And they are playing it on a Thursday night, not even waiting for a weekendish Friday night. Madison Square Garden needs time to set up for “wrestling” matches booked for Saturday, which will draw bigger crowds than the NIT. Priorities.
Winning national championships is great fun. Losing them is miserable.
And I know about misery. I am a Minnesota Vikings fan, bred a Minnesotan. And the Vikings set the record for the number of Super Bowl losses at four. Still stings. Denver has lost four, but it also more recently has won two. Buffalo lost four in a row to match the Vikings’ record. Pitiable.
But the Vikings haven’t been to a Super Bowl for 36 years. And I’m not sure I’d like them to go to another. Losing a record fifth would be too much to bear.
I am a Minnesota Twins fan, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Twins came so close to advancing to the World Series. But high hopes were dashed season after season until 1987 when the unlikely Twins won the World Series, and they won another one in 1991.
Then I knew why anticipation was only half the fun. Anticipating winning is one thing, but actually winning is so much better.
The Bulls owned the NBA in the 1990s, winning six championships. I’ve lived in the suburbs for more than 30 years, so I can claim allegiance to Chicago teams where Minnesota had none. More recently, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, and I’m a Hawks fan – I’ve been one since the North Stars bolted Minnesota for Dallas in 1993 – and I thoroughly enjoyed that. The taste of success only heightens the anticipation of championship games.
I had all day Wednesday and most of Thursday to anticipate victory and the notion that the Hawkeyes actually could win a national championship, even if it was the Cinderella After the Clock Strikes Twelve Championship. The glass slipper still belongs to the Big Dance, which is sized for Wichita State.
I had less than 48 hours, and I have enjoyed every minute of anticipation.
Win or lose, it’s just a game, and in a week, I will have moved along. But I know for a fact that winning a championship can put a skip in your step, which is quite a feat for someone who can’t skip. It’s mental gymnastics that’s a perfect fit for anticipation.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.