(Note: I’m in Vineland to coach Loyola’s club ice hockey team in the National Championships. I am compensated for this role by the school, though not nearly enough to change the tone of this essay.)
I’m making that trip — and returning the next morning in time for a Friday evening hockey game — because when I arrive on the banks of the Three Rivers, a ticket will be waiting to see my alma mater, the Loyola Greyhounds, play in the NCAA basketball tournament.
For generations of alumni, it’s harder to believe that last sentence than the lengths to which many, myself included, will go in order to be a part of it.
At the very worst, what I’m doing Thursday is financially irresponsible and a waste of time. At best, it will be a memorable waste of time. I’m 23. If it doesn’t seem like an ounce of reason went into my plans — I still have nowhere to stay in Pittsburgh — that’s because it didn’t.
The tournament, and all that goes with it, defies logic. Unseen powers collaborate and anoint a darling or two that, after the fact, seem obvious for their skill, talent, and experience. But as it's happening, those teams — recently Butler, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason, and to reach back a bit, Richmond and Princeton — seem to subsist solely on the belief that when they need it most, a little more magic is left in the coach’s jacket pocket.
I’m not naïve enough to think that will be Loyola’s fate this month, though I’d be thrilled if it were. For starters, the way Jimmy Patsos sweats, any magic dust in his pocket would likely turn to goop by the first media time-out.
Even if the magic eludes Loyola on the court Thursday, the game of musical chairs that is the regular season has ended. As the music played, powerhouses like Duke, Kentucky, and Syracuse never got up. When the music stopped, their spot was guaranteed.
But of all the little guys, no-hopers, and after-thoughts that scrambled for one of the few chairs they were entitled to, Loyola — my school — got one, and the week since has been unthinkably fun.