It just hit me. I wondered when it would.
The runway is slowly drifting by through the windows.
I have spent the past 6 days waiting for it to take hold. Actually, to be more honest, the span is probably closer to 19 years. And to be honest to the extent of vulnerability, the time has really been 1 year and 12 days.
Over the past 6 days, I have read articles, watched video clips, made phone calls, read hundreds of text messages, and stared into the air between the wall and myself for countless hours…waiting for it to sink in.
And just now, it hit me.
I grew up in Spokane, WA. I wasn’t born a Zags fan. In fact, hardly anyone was prior to the turn of the century and even fewer were prior to the mid 90s.
I went to Gonzaga Prep, as much of my family did, and I developed a love of Jesuit education. But I can’t say that the Jesuit education was the only reason I went to Gonzaga, maybe not even the primary reason. I also can’t say that I went there because both my parents had degrees from the institution. As a person who has made a career in education, I should probably have better criteria for what tipped the scale in my college search, but I don’t. When it came to choosing a university, I couldn’t imagine going to a school that wasn’t Gonzaga. I couldn’t envision myself rooting for another team. I couldn’t imagine not going to Gonzaga basketball games.
I can trace my Gonzaga basketball fandom back to the first game I attended in 1995 and to watching the Zags win their first WCC tourney on national TV on a 16 inch television in my parents’ bedroom with my Dad.
I can trace my love of the program back to the same moment as nearly everyone in Spokane. It was an unforgettable afternoon in March. The year was 1999. It was the day the run began.
So much has happened in my life since that game against Minnesota, over 6,900 days ago. I received my education, career moves took place, I’ve lived in different cities and countries, friendships have strengthened and weakened, relationships have come and gone, I asked a girl to marry me, I welcomed new people into my life, and I said goodbye to many of those most influential to me.
I have experienced smiles, laughter, tears of all emotions-- and hours of staring into the air between me and the wall. Gonzaga basketball has been a constant throughout all of my life’s signature moments.
And here I am sitting on a plane with these thoughts…
1 year and 12 days.
I believe that I have gotten better at explaining emotions each year that I have aged. I suppose it aligns with developing wisdom. However, I still can’t explain what it means to me to be a Zags fan. I try. It is such an enormous part of my past, my identity, my growth, my relationships with those closest to me… and that’s where I lose it. I can’t get beyond that. I can never finish that sentence. I can never finish that statement to the point of satisfaction. But maybe that is it though. Maybe that is the end of the sentence… It is a such an enormous part of my past, my identity, my growth, my relationships with those and closest to me.
But as I sit on this plane, with my dad’s ashes in my pocket, I finally know the end of that sentence.
Gonzaga basketball is such an enormous part of my past, my identity, my growth, and my relationships with those closest to me…
…especially my dad.
He passed away 1 year and 12 days ago, shortly after Gonzaga beat Utah in the tournament. He hung on to see them get one more win in an improbable season.
That’s why I can’t fully explain my love for this program, and why so many other people feel the same way.
The die-hards are people who have a common past, one rooted in a region of the country that doesn’t get visited without a specific purpose. We remember when no one else knew our team—or our university. We remember that day in 1999. We remember calling our dad before every game. We remember our heart breaking year after year. But most of all we remember learning what hope feels like--even if it is lofty and unrealistic and naive. We know what it means to believe that each year might just be our year.
And we remember watching games together.
We remember watching games together—sometimes with someone on their last day on earth.
My dad and I are going to the Final Four this weekend.
To watch another game together.
Maybe this is our year.