Last Friday morning, I boarded a SUV with five others and embarked on the 15 hour drive from Madison to Dallas to follow my Badgers to the Final Four. We spent the day driving just for the opportunity to see our beloved Badgers play for a chance at the national title. As I'm sure anyone who is reading this heard, the Badgers lost 74-73 to Kentucky in one of the best, but most heartbreaking games that I have ever experienced.
Our experience in Dallas was fantastic. We spent Saturday tailgating and hanging around rainy Arlington, as UW alumni (shout out to "Dirty Dave") were looking to buy us drinks wherever we went. Badgers stick together, as I am always reminded of when I travel to watch Wisconsin teams play. The amount of love that we were shown by various alums was kind of overwhelming, as they constantly purchased us rounds of beers with their only restriction being that we had to do the same for future students once we were in their position.
As much fun as we had, it all temporarily melted away in the seconds, minutes and hours following the game. I will remember the end of that game for the rest of my life. Kentucky's Aaron Harrison hit a three pointer with 5.7 seconds left in the game to take the one-point lead. Everyone in the stadium knew exactly what was going to happen next: Traevon Jackson was going to get the ball on offense, drive left to the lane and take a step-back jumper. It either was going to fall and the Badgers would walk away victorious, or it wouldn't and Kentucky would survive.
Well, that's exactly what happened, and unfortunately for us Badger fans, the latter scenario was the one that became reality. The student section was actually situated below the court itself (part of the effort to pack as many fans into Jerry World as possible), so it was nearly impossible to actually see the players on the court, but I didn't need to. I knew exactly what was about to happen on the floor, and I situated my eyes on Wisconsin's basket, about forty feet from where I was standing, knowing that the Grateful Red was about to shed plenty of tears. I just hoped that they would be tears of joy.
Watching that ball hit the back of the rim and slowly roll out and incomplete honestly felt like I was watching a family member on his death bed. The fact that I will never see Ben Brust don a Wisconsin uniform again is a truly depressing thought. We form real emotional connections with the players and the team, especially in a year like this where the UW community collectively experienced this incredible run to the Final Four. Traevon Jackson is like an annoying little brother, whose five turnover games feel like getting told on to your parents for hogging the Xbox, but you know that he will always come through for you when you need him.
I really do love the players, the team, my friends and fellow Badger fans that have been a part of this run. There's no way to feel the sadness that we felt without first going through a series of highs and elation filled moments. When I look back at this season, I will remember mobbing State Street following Wisconsin's Elite Eight victory over Arizona, and I will remember taking a trip of a lifetime across the country with my buddies to be a part of a Final Four.
But in those silent moments following that loss, the only thing that I could think was "damn. I hate sports."