Championship Collectibles (Part 2): The Pain

This is a continuation of my column from two weeks ago, so if you haven’t read The Drive, you should take a look at that one first or this won’t make as much sense to you. (Actually, it will make complete sense, but you’ll be missing the back story.)

The Story Behind the Object

After playing as many carnival games as possible and procuring an autograph from one of eight individuals in Carolina men's basketball history to earn retired jersey status  as well as getting a Ralph Sampson autograph for my mother — there wasn’t much more that could distract me from the knot in my stomach. The game was a few hours away. The moment had come to make our way to the stadium area.

There were more activities there in the huge parking lot. Photo ops with a giant national championship trophy, an enormous bracket, a colossal NCAA logo and numerous other oversized objects and replicas. Then there was a large area where everyone congregated before the gates opened. Food trucks, a giant screen showing Final Four trivia and prior years' One Shining Moments, a roped off area where you could watch the talking heads on air for the pre-game show, a beverage area, more carnival games...you get the idea. All of this was pretty cool, but would have been better if it had not been constructed on the black asphalt of a parking lot in the middle of a 147-degree Texas day.

Just prior to heading in, we found a booth set up by one of the cell phone companies that had cell phone charging stations. Couldn’t head into a big moment like a national championship game with a low battery, so we set up shop there for a bit to get some more go-go juice. As I sat, I overheard two Villanova fans talking to one another. One of the guys was probably in his mid-twenties, and I remember him saying, “I’m so tired of hearing my dad talk about 1985. I’m ready for my moment.” I hope that guy is happy, which is not something I would have said immediately after the game. Or even 11 months after the game. But now it’s fine. Ish. Fine-ish.

Finally, with phones adequately charged, the time came when we were allowed into the stadium. We headed to the entrance, flashed our tickets using the app and walked around the monstrous football stadium to our presumably great seats in the lower level, row G. Sure, they were behind the basket, but I could look past that. However, what I had a hard time looking past was the 10 rows of band members, 30 rows of students and the talking heads’ analysis desk, all set up on the floor in front of row A. Turns out, row G was somewhere around half a football field away from the court — which makes sense, given that the court was built in the middle of a football field.

In hindsight, we’d have been better off in that same section, but about 15 rows higher up, because our low seats coupled with the raised court made it impossible to tell whether the players were at midcourt or the free-throw line. I wound up watching the entire game on the Jumbotron, getting the same camera views I could have gotten from home. Of course, the Jumbotron was about 100 times bigger than my television at home, and the atmosphere — particularly in the lower level — was incredible. But I learned a valuable lesson on seat selection should I ever have another opportunity to attend a Final Four. (Teaser alert: Part 3 chronicles my journey to the 2017 Final Four.)

We grabbed dinner and ate in our seats as the stadium started to fill up. I think I had a burger, fries and a drink, but all I truly remember is getting the souvenir cup (BONUS collectible, not the feature item of this column) and hoping that I didn’t puke back up everything I ate like that fateful night in 2007.

 BONUS COLLECTIBLE

BONUS COLLECTIBLE

Finally, tip-off arrived. You know what happened from there.

With about five minutes left, I’d made peace with the fact that Carolina was going to lose. And that I’d driven 17 hours to watch the loss. Driving 17 hours to watch the Heels in the title game was a rare opportunity to do something spontaneous and fun, and even though Villanova was going to win, I was glad I went. I even tweeted something to the effect of “win or lose, still glad I came” when Nova led by eight or so.

And then Marcus Paige hit the game-tying three with 4.7 seconds left, the place erupted and all of those thoughts went completely out the window, because I was only interested in winning the whole darn thing. I screamed out “MARCUS PAIGE!” just as I saw the first of thousands of seat cushions tossed into the air. (Side note: those things were a bad idea. They rained down during the entire timeout following the three.)

After my initial celebration, I had only one thought go through my mind: “There’s way too much time left.” (Editor's note: me too.) I didn’t say it out loud, of course. I was afraid if I said it, other people would catch on. If I kept it to myself, maybe Villanova wouldn’t figure out there was too much time left. Alas, that was not the case. I stood there and watched as Kris Jenkins released the shot, and like everyone else in the stadium, I knew it was good the second it left his hands. My wife looked over at me as it swished through, and I said the first thing that came to my head. “Yup.” The rest of the sentence should have been “Too much time left.” But if I didn’t want to say it before the shot, I definitely didn’t want to say it after it was proven true.

So I just stood there in silence and stared at the court and the Jumbotron. Stared at Kris Jenkins pointing to his veins and asking if there was ice in them. Stared at Marcus and Brice as they walked off crying. Just stared. The seat cushions that were tossed by Carolina fans in elation minutes earlier were now being tossed in elation by Villanova fans. (Side note: those things continued to be a terrible idea.)

Prior to the game, I’d made one declaration: “No matter who wins, I want to watch them cut down the nets, and I want to watch One Shining Moment.” A couple of minutes after the game ended, Argyle Report’s very own Turner Walston stood up on press row, gave a deep sigh that I could see from 20 feet away and headed toward the locker room (I assume). At the time, we had no connection other than me following him on Twitter, but for some reason I just happened to catch him at the moment that he was attempting to process what had happened and collect himself to go do his job, and his body language was exactly what I imagine mine was. Miserable.

We sat there for what felt like two hours, but amazingly it must have actually only been 10 minutes or so. Then the Carolina fans started clearing out and Villanova fans got louder and louder as they came down toward the court for a better view. There was still no ladder set up for a net cutting. It seemed like we were a ways off from getting to the two events I’d vowed to sit through win or lose. So I looked over at my wife and said the only thing I could think to say. “Let’s go.”

“You don’t want to watch the net cutting or One Shining Moment?”

“Nope.”

And I don’t regret it. Not even a little bit.

We marched out of the stadium on a mission to get back to our car to make an hour of progress on the 17 hour drive before stopping for the night. As we exited the arena area, there were individuals stationed all over the place passing out 2016 NCAA national championship commemorative Coke cans. The guy I passed by extended his hand to offer me one. I reached out to take it but offered no words (of gratitude or otherwise) to him. I just looked at him, with an expression that I assume said, “I’m dead inside.” He reached down, grabbed another can, handed it to me and said, "Here man, you look like you could use two of these.”

But I didn’t need two Cokes. I needed redemption in 2017. Would I get it? Stay tuned for the shocking conclusion of this three part series…

Carolina Collectibles Description

This object doesn’t require much description. I mean, it’s a can of Coke. Actually, to be 100 percent accurate, it’s a can that used to contain Coke. If there is one lesson my father taught me, it’s that you should always poke a hole in the bottom of your collectible Coke cans and drain all the liquid out, lest it explode and spill Coke all over your desk/shelf one day. I’m a big fan of learning from other people’s mistakes, and this was apparently a mistake he made and felt strongly enough that it was such a blunder he should warn me not to repeat it.

And for the record, you read correctly — you poke a hole in the bottom. You don’t open the can and ruin the appearance. You make it appear un-opened and full, even though it is, in fact, empty. It’s an illusion.

The can isn’t all that amazing. The focal point is a finger twirling a basketball with a bottle of Coke inside it, which seems a little ironic since this is a can. It’s like Coke is saying, "Hey, we know you have a can of our beverage so poisonous it can eat through aluminum cans, but you’d enjoy it a lot more if it were in a bottle instead.” To the left of the twirling finger is the 2016 Final Four logo, highlighting that it was in Houston — a city that I never plan to re-visit.

IMG_1398.jpg

Carolina Collectibles Comparison: Marcus Paige

This can had the potential to be one of the first collectibles I showed guests to my home, but one Kris Jenkins three-pointer at the buzzer ended that. Unfortunately, Marcus Paige is the same. He came inches away from being listed with Raymond, Ty, Joel and Phil. Instead, he’s listed in the next category, with Cota, Kendall and Kenny. Still a great list to be on, but sadly plays second fiddle to the first list. And this can plays second fiddle to all the championship collectibles in my home.

Carolina Collectibles Rating: 3 Stars

If Carolina had taken home the trophy, it would get the five star treatment. But a gut wrenching loss in a championship game drops it two stars. Can you imagine how much play the Marcus Paige game-tying three would get if Carolina had won? It would be up there with MJ in ’82 and Luke Maye in '17. Such a shame. It was an amazing shot.

@HeelsboroDave