What else is worth saying after a season and a tournament and a final game that had taken not just the University of Memphis basketball team but the whole community, the entirety of Greater Memphis, and — dare we say? — Tiger Nation, to the brink of ultimate success. When we say "brink," you can't get much brinkier than a nine-point lead with 2:11 to go in the final game of the NCAA college basketball championship.
We all knew that the Tigers, for whatever reason, had a free-throw problem — one that they had managed to put aside for most of the NCAA tourney, though this accomplishment of the team's may have owed something to the fact that, when they were hitting near to perfection from the free-throw line, they were most often playing in blowouts. In the Kansas Jayhawks, the Tigers were up against a team much like themselves — quick, muscular, capable of both supersonic fast breaks and tenacious defense. When asked early in this illustrious 2007-'08 season how his team could sustain its excellence against relatively weak Conference-USA competition, Coach John Calipari liked to say that in each game he asked his players to play not so much against the opposition but to play against their own limitations — to extend their thresholds and to play, as it were, against themselves. In the final game of the season, they were quite literally matched against a version of themselves.
So has March Madness yielded to April sadness. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month,/ breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain." And the poet continued that memorable lyric, aptly entitled The Waste Land, with the line, "Winter kept us warm."
Yes, it did. A season of 38 wins, the greatest total ever for any Division I NCAA basketball team. A season in which the team on the court wearing Memphis Tiger jerseys often resembled an All-American quintet. A season in which the number of Tiger fanatics (that's the root word of "fan," remember), expanded from a sizable local hard-core into a broad community transcending race, gender, politics, and even geography. Tiger Nation, indeed.
It has long been remarkable to hear Tiger loyalists use the pronoun "we" when speaking of the exploits of Messrs. Rose, Douglas-Roberts, Dorsey, Anderson, Dozier et al. Let us not deny it: This team brought us together. "We" may have lost the final game. But we had a glorious season. The credit belongs to the players and their coach. But the glory and the pride and the sense of being a unified community accrues to all of us.
Undeniably, we're sad, but this mixing of memory and desire, this stirring of our common roots, this bonding in unified purpose is something that will linger far beyond this cruel but memorable month.
Thanks, Tigers. We won't forget you.