ACC Play Will Ease Winter Woes

I once interviewed a guy who had just been on “Jeopardy.” He had won on his first appearance, but lost the second by blowing it in “Final Jeopardy” (Fun fact: They actually tape all five episodes for the week in one day. Trebek has the best job ever).

The guy spent the bulk of the interview going on and on about how unbelievably fast the game moves when you’re actually participating. If you take any time to stop and celebrate a small victory or defeat, he said, all of the sudden you’re way behind.

As thankful as I am that the American Athletic Conference has given Louisville a home for this one season in Purgatory, I must admit that I miss the “Jeopardy” life that the Big East provided for the past several seasons, the same one the ACC will be providing this time next year. I miss the grind. I miss not having enough time to bask in the glow of a top ten victory or sulk over a loss to a team at the bottom of the standings because another big game is just around the bend.

This used to always be the time of the year where it would really hit me that Big East play had arrived. The realization of what life was going to be like for the next two months would set in, and that crisp chill in the air would suddenly feel familiar again.

With all due respect to the fine teams being fielded by the likes of SMU and Houston, they haven’t helped trigger the return of that familiarity this year. Their visits to town have done little more than remind me of how great things were for the past seven years and how fortunate Cardinal basketball fans should feel that they’ll be that way again soon.

Basketball is what carries so many of us in this city through a pair of otherwise unendurable months that offer little else outside of cold and darkness and teddy bears holding candy hearts. It’s another one of those “In reality sports matter so little…except that’s not really true at all” deals.

Think about a life in late January or early February where you couldn’t spend Mondays or Wednesdays at work or school reading and thinking about that night’s big conference win, or looking ahead to attending Saturday’s showdown with another league foe. “Miserable” might be taking things too far, but it’s certainly a life less enjoyable.

Rushing home from work on an especially dark 5:30 day to kiss the wife or husband, grab a quick bite and then head to the arena or get focused on your favorite couch for the two hours of the day you’ve looked forward to since the weekend. Skipping 3:30 class because you know you’d just spend the time there on your computer reading some local blogger’s breakdown of Cincinnati. It’s what post-Christmas winter life means to insane people like you and me.

All of that is still around this winter, but it’s unmistakably different and decidedly less intense.

Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, announcers making zero attempt to disguise their Northeastern accents, old rivalries, new rivalries, debate over how many at-large bids the league deserves, battles for byes and double-byes in the Garden, hating players you’d never heard of two hours before, hating players you’ve hated for what feels like six years, pressing teams, half-court teams, big bodies in the middle, “statement” wins, “bad” losses, and talking about all of it for absurd periods of time.

All of that was so much fun. All of that used to be our reward for scraping car windows, getting slush on the bottoms of our pants and having to look paler than Bob Ley.

This year, it’s been hoping someone you know has CBS Sports Network, being disgusted by Central Florida’s home court and having to constantly answer questions from someone in your family about whether or not the team Louisville is playing is in their conference. This would all be almost impossible to stomach if it were being digested with the knowledge that it was all here to stay. Thankfully, it is not.

A year from now, new traditions will be born. The Cardinals will play in places they’ve never played before, they’ll shake unfamiliar hands and be taunted by unfamiliar fans. The only thing that will feel recognizable will be the level of competition. U of L will simply be trading their old Murderer’s Row of Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse and Pittsburgh for a new one of Duke, North Carolina….and, well, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

I miss the deep winter grind, but I’m also thankful for its eventual return.