Monday, March 26, 2007

Scarlet Women (Temporarily) Rule

(Photo Credit: Mary Ann Chastain, Associated Press)

The moms and I are still watching the NCAA basketball tournament, despite the early exits of our beloved Lady and non-Lady Terps. We've decided to root for Rutgers in the women's tournament and Georgetown in the non-women's tournament because Rutgers is where my moms went to grad school and because Georgetown is in our neighborhood and there's no other team in the men's final four we could even pretend to care about. Ohio State? Moose roots against Big Ten teams to prove that she is really not a Midwesterner anymore. UCLA? Hmmm. Think they'll top the 57 points they scored in last year's final? Florida? Repeat, schmeepeat.

Anyway, of course another deeply compelling reason to root for the Scarlet Knights (or the Scarlet Women, as they are known in our house) is that they played the role of the Taliban in upsetting the Evil Imperial Forces of Duke in the Sweet Sixteen on Saturday. (For those of you who are new to Roxie's World, here is House Rule #1: We hate Duke so much that if Duke were playing the Taliban, we'd root for the Taliban. Therefore, any team playing Duke is called "the Taliban," and we all sit on the couch shouting, "Go, Taliban, go!") We hate the women's team of Duke slightly less than we hate the non-women's team, because we think Coach Gail Goestenkors is a smart and supportive coach who has a lot less of that annoying Dukie arrogance certain other of their coaches have. Still, we stick to the house rule and root against them, particularly after the way they beat up on Coach B. and our poor Terp women this season.

Why do we heart college basketball so much in our household? The moms are English profs, after all. You might expect us to love opera or to curl up on the couch every night and read Proust aloud. (Pardon me while I pause to wipe up the beer Moose spat across the room after she typed that last line. "Proust!" she snorted. "Oh, Rox, you are killing me!") We heart basketball because it requires intelligence and finesse, brilliant individual heroics and selfless teamwork, the discipline of daily practice and the spontaneity of split-second decision-making. Plus, game after game, season after season, it offers stories of what ABC's Wide World of Sports used to call "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Every time we see that film clip of Kristi Toliver calmly squaring her shoulders before launching the shot that put last year's women's final into overtime we get tears in our eyes, and not just because we are Terp fans. Her grace and serenity in that moment are thrilling. We are moved to witness it because the athlete, like the artist, reveals the glorious possibilities that inhere in every human. Moose says it's at least as good as Proust and way better than opera, which she's never really gotten. (Apologies to Jason, the Official Gay Stalker of Roxie's World and a major opera fan. It's the Indiana in her veins.)

And also: Duke-haters though we are, we are equally moved by the stunning failure of a great athlete under pressure, as in Duke's Lindsey Harding, a 76 percent free-throw shooter, missing two free throws with one-tenth of a second left on the clock when she had a chance to win the Rutgers game or at least tie it. She missed both shots, and her college career was over. Her team's chance for the national championship everyone expected them to win was blown. (She's the one curled up on the court in a fetal position in the photo on this post. The photo was taken moments after she missed the second shot.) If you're a coach or a Duke fan, you want the ball and the game in Lindsey Harding's hands at a moment like that. You trust her judgment, her skill, her training, her hands. You trust her poise, her eye, her appreciation for what's at stake. She calmly launches the shot, twice, and it looks good every inch of the way--until it clanks off the back of the rim, twice. And suddenly, even if you hate Duke more than you hate anything on earth, all the hatred melts away, and your heart goes out to Lindsey Harding. You see in her aggrieved young face the shadow of every dream you ever fought desperately for yet failed to realize, every great goal that just barely, achingly exceeded your grasp. She falls to the floor, and part of you falls with her--even as another part of you cheers the victorious opponent who towers exultingly over her.

That's why we heart college basketball. It's like life, only sweatier.

For some good coverage of the Duke-Rutgers game, see Mechelle Voepel's piece on ESPN.com. The video re-cap is also worth a look. It shows Harding missing the free throws. Wa Po also had a timely piece on how poor foul shooting is messing up many teams' tournament hopes.

3 comments:

  1. Hey Roxie -- Do you think Dog-Eared Book got to see the game last night? If so, surely there are cartwheels being turned all across western Massachusetts (you know, in Emily D country; or is that book hanging out down Jersey way?). Anyway, this post of yours on sport & life is AMAZING, dear Rox. Very wise, very eloquent, very moving. I'm going to save it and read it. . .again and again.

    GO SCARLET WOMEN. May Hester Prynne REIGN SUPREME in the 2007 NCAA!!!
    love,
    your Goose

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  2. Dog-eared book4:30 PM EDT

    My, my. Dog-eared book's pages were certainly flipping yesterday -- and at the end of the Duke game, which Roxie characterizes so vividly and so well. I was sure Harding would land both of those shots, and sighed in despair on behalf of my Knights who, amazingly, lived to play another game. I think it's the sheer unpredictability of college basketball -- and the effect, as I'm sure you'd agree, dear Roxie, of sheer doggedness -- that's part of the appeal. What I like about these Scarlet Women is that they take none of this for granted. Coach Stringer really rode them hard this year, knocking all of the presumption out of them. They seem as if they know both how good and how lucky they are.

    I bet Moose and Goose like the coaching part of basketball, too -- kinda like teaching, insofar as there's only so much you can do. The kids have to do their own thing, with you on the sidelines egging them on. Man, I can imagine both Moose and Goose as basketball coaches! But it's probably not a good idea to put that idea in their heads!

    Now what was it that Emily Dickinson said about March Madness? Watch all the hoops, but watch them slant? There is no time-sink like a game /Between Maryland and Duke? Better check those new Franklin numbers. . . .

    Meanwhile, why not an opera about basketball? I'll leave that one to Jason.

    Go Knights!

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  3. My life had stood a sweaty uniform?

    Hope is a thing like overtime?

    After great pain a foul shot comes?

    Goose will have to come up w/ others from her years of careful study of Dickinson's lost basketball manuscripts. And, yes, dog-eared book, Roxie's World has previously commented on the parallels between coaching and teaching. See "Fear the Brenda," a post from early April 2006 that honored Coach B's skill in the wake of last year's championship.

    Boy, did Tennessee ever make mincemeat out of those poor Rebels from Ole Miss last night! I hope the Terps take a look at that game tape.

    Go, Knights!!!!

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