The 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds is best known for its epic Game 6. What made this game so special is that its greatness was clear well before it was over. During his 10th inning at bat Pete Rose famously told Carlton Fisk “this is some kind of game, isn’t it?” Fisk, of course, further validated Rose’s comments hit a walk-off home run a few innings later. It is a rare occasion to realize you are in the midst of watching an all-time game.
On Friday night the Wisconsin Badgers played the Florida Gators in one of the most memorable basketball games you will ever see. The game was elevated to the pantheon of March Madness greatness when Zak Showalter completed Wisconsin’s comeback with an improbable three-point at the end of regulation. That shot turned the game into an event that will be forever remembered by everyone who watched it. And then overtime happened.
Now, it goes without saying that this was one of the most agonizing defeats in Wisconsin Badgers history, regardless of the sport. The likes of Chris Chiozza’s running three-point shot may never be replicated. I would not be surprised if a statue of Chiozza floating in the air will be erected in Gainsville sometime soon. Conversely, highlights of that shot may be permanently banned from appearing on Madison television stations. Despite the nightmarish finish for Wisconsin, this is a game that Badger fans should have some positive feelings about – even if the positive feelings are infinitesimally small.
The reason we watch sports is to spend a few hours being totally invested in the outcome of the game. At their best the games will demand our complete and undivided attention. You won’t be thinking about filing your taxes, shoveling snow, that awkward comment you made to a coworker 12 years ago, or anything like that. Instead you’ll be thinking “If we can just string together a few stops we can make a comeback.” This is how I felt watching the game on Friday night.
In all of my years watching the Badgers, few things were as euphoric as watching Showalter force overtime with that three-point shot. As if his basketball heroics were not enough, watching him do the “Title Belt” and then point to Aaron Rodgers (who was in attendance) will go down as one of the greatest celebrations in Wisconsin sports history. If we watch sports to be invested in the outcome, these moments are what make the investment worth it. Most games are forgettable, but these transcendently good moments keep you coming back. Of course, the transcendently bad moments make you envy people who could not care less about “sportsball.”
There is another reason Badger fans should be fond of this game. Just as fans “don’t boo nobodies,” bad teams don’t experience gut-punch defeats. Indeed, the Badgers have amassed a nice collection of gut-punches over the past four seasons. Let me rephrase that: The Badgers EARNED those gut-punches. Wisconsin lost to Florida because they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by beating the #1 overall seed Villanova Wildcats. In 2014 they were victimized by Aaron Harrison and the Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four. That was a devastating loss, the magnitude of which made possible because it happened in the Final Four. If that same loss happened in the NIT nobody would remember.
The Badgers had to do a lot right to be in position to have Chris Chiozza shock the college basketball world. Moreover, and a transcendently good game with a devastating finish is still a transcendently good game. These games should be appreciated, even if you’d prefer to forget the last few seconds.