That belief, however, is not total. Somewhere in our subconscious, the doubts are always there. They creep into our thoughts at the most critical moments. What if I fail? Am I really prepared for this? I can't do this.
And the self-fulfilling prophecy scoops up another victim.
We live in a world of statistics and numbers, and for the most part, that's a good thing. Without them, science and mathematics, and by proxy, things like medicine and alternative energy - you know, things that will actually help the human race live for more than the next century hopefully - wouldn't exist. Those are more important than any college basketball game we'll ever witness.
Somewhere, though, there still has to be a place in the modern world for the dreamers to dream. Logical solutions to even the most complicated riddles make things, well, uninspiring, for lack of a better term. Just as they do in real life, logarithms, advanced data, and extreme analysis play a massive role for most teams in college basketball.
Experts than turn around to use that information to sound intelligent and - the most important job of the sportz analyst - to make predictions on what will happen in the future. Because we need to know, we're told. For the most part, it's hard to argue with said data, sadly. Although it's probably relied on too much, there is obviously value in the data. Things don't hang around long if they aren't useful, especially in the technology world.
But every once in a while, the data fails, the information plugged into the computers is returned with gibberish, the fool-proof system is clearly made to play the fool.
"Hope is a waking dream."- Aristotle
You may have seen the potential in Florida Gulf Coast (no hyphen, please) University before its run in March began. If you did, you weren't phased by the now infamous double whammy Lipscomb threw on them (ironically Belmont's biggest rival, with the Bruins' departure from the Atlantic Sun to the Ohio Valley possibly opening the door for FGCU to get to the NCAA tournament; Belmont beat Lipscomb twice this season). You also weren't bothered by a loss to Maine in December, a squad I saw five times this season and never saw them emerge victorious
In 10 losses, the Eagles gave up at least 77 points in all of them. Point guard Brett Comer finished the season ranked in the top five in the nation in turnovers, 300 Division I squads averaged less turnovers per game than Florida Gulf Coast. They were 43rd in the nation in scoring, but played in the Atlantic Sun for crying out loud, you had to look really deep into the advanced data to find something to help your case there.
Sadly, we at the Mid-majority weren't much better. I pegged teams like Stony Brook and Bucknell as potential NCAA game-winners (the mistake obviously being "pegging" in the first place). Ian McCormack saw FGCU in January (complete with a picture of a Dunk City dunk
), and - before a near-capacity crowd of 759 in Spartanburg, S.C. - ironically talked about sudden stardom, in this case, his now-Jeopardy champion cousin. Little did he know he was watching what would turn out the biggest story of the postseason.
Hell, I didn't even think enough of them to make the trip down to Philadelphia for their first game against Georgetown. There were other extenuating circumstances like ticket prices and trying to keep my job, but had I thought the Eagles had a legitimate chance of winning, might I have made the trip? Possibly?When I saw FGCU at St. John's in November
I devoted about 50 words to the team and the rest on trying to drive around New York City. Oops. A month later, my Aunt Sharon, a Vermont transplant who lives in Fort Myers now, messaged me to ask why I didn't cover FGCU. I said I did, the Eagles might actually have a chance to make a run. In the Atlantic Sun Tournament. Double oops.
No one knew. All the best computers and most intelligent people studying them could not and did not imagine that Florida Gulf Coast would make any impact on the NCAA tournament. And that's what makes Our Game so awesome.
__"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results." - Albert Einstein
To believe in the face of unfathomable or seemingly impossible odds is seen as craziness at best, recklessness at worst. And in many facets of life, rightly so. Driving a car, for instance, being one of them, kids.
There are different ways to spring a massive upset. The most common in the NCAA tournament involves "shortening the game", not wasting possessions, not opening the game up for the "more talented" team to run. These are still fantastic to watch, to see the giant taken down by the little guy always has a special place in our hearts regardless of the structure or circumstance.
There are also plenty of examples where complete belief meets a complete ass-whooping. I'm not naive, I understand that most of the time talent is the divider, that teams like Florida Gulf Coast are going to be on the wrong end of lopsided results more often than they prevail.
But when opportunity meets belief, you get, well you get Dunk City.
The signature moment of FGCU's upset of Georgetown was obviously the lob pass late in the game from Comer to Chase Fieler that made more than a few rounds on the Internet. It certainly wasn't the percentage play. However, it worked, and so it was brilliant. Computers and stat nerds be damned.
In the previous six engagements of a No. 15 seed like FGCU advancing, they were not only graciously shown the door in their second game, most of them weren't real close. That fear eventually kicks in, a run by the favorite makes it more and more palpable.
But FGCU showed none of those symptoms against Georgetown. And so it was down to Philadelphia I went for their next game, even when CBS decided to make the eastern-most doubleheader the latest tip-off time.
It's forgotten now, but the Eagles actually trailed by six late in the first half against favored San Diego State late in the first half Sherwood Brown was on the bench in foul trouble, and it was the time that the rising doubt would appear. Comer threw a cross-court pass to Fieler that easily could have been intercepted. Most people in his situation wouldn't have thrown it. Fieler drove the baseline and 95 percent of kids in his spot would have pulled up or tried to avoid contact.
Of course, Fieler drove straight to the basket and threw down a one-handed dunk, posterizing his poor defender. Could he have been called for a charge? Well, you and I might think so, but the doubt likely never entered Fieler's mind. The Eagles had cut the deficit to one by the half.
At a time when the No. 15 seeds that made it this far before them wilted, the Eagles went on a 17-0 run midway through the second half to not only defeat favored San Diego St., but blow them out completely, a run that was ironically fueled by tenacious defense and didn't feature a single dunk.
Oh, those dunks would come, of course. As time wound down and other teams might decide the prudent thing to do was pull the ball out, FGCU went into entertainer mode; after all, they knew the whole country was watching. Their belief never wavered, and when their opportunity came, they were able to seize it.
I wish my belief could match those guys in the blue and green shirts below me. The lead was 18 with 3:20 left, and yet - with perhaps the biggest rooting interest I've had all season - I was still nervous, thinking of things that could possibly go wrong, how things could implode below me, what barriers could get in their way.
With another game still to come, I took the opportunity to wander the concourse of the Wells Fargo Center. I first went to the souvenir booth where they were selling overpriced cheap t-shirts, the same ones the NCAA peddled the last time I attended tourney games nearly two decades earlier. Seven teams that played in Philadelphia had shirts displayed; one did not.
"There's no chance you have any Florida Gulf Coast shirts left?" I asked.
"Nope. Long gone."
There was commotion nearby, which turned out to be the giddy and suddenly celebrity FGCU cheerleaders posing for pictures with fans of every team and creed.
A few minutes later, after a quick (and far too expensive) meal, I came back to see the families of the FGCU players sitting in the lobby, charging their phones, likely just the same as they had done that night Ian was there in Spartanburg, S.C. or Johnson City. Tenn. or Kennesaw, Ga.
Minutes later, with the Duke-Creighton game now going on, the players started to spill out to meet their families. For a while, they went unnoticed in their blue and green sweatsuits, just as they probably did in the Atlantic Sun. But as people started to spill out for trips to the bathroom and halftime approached, word got out that the new conquering heroes were still here.
Pictures? Autographs? Why not? Even with the Mid-majority.
Eric McKnight, who had a couple of spectacular alley-oop omgdunxs late took the time to actually see them for the first time on his family's phone in the meta moment of the evening.
In the post-game press conference, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher accidentally called FGCU, "Florida State", which was shockingly subsequently blown out of proportion by the media. But if anyone could speak to belief, it might be Fisher.
You may remember that Loyola Marymount was the focus of a few of our pre-season essays. You might have to go all the way back to 1990 to have a second-round game (and it's the second round, despite what the NCAA tells you) comparable to what I saw between FGCU and San Diego State. The styles were slightly different, and no one is ever going to duplicate what Paul Westhead was able to do, but when his Lions beat defending national champion Michigan 149-115, there were many similarities.
The stunned look on the looks of the vanquished. The gasps of the crowd with the underdogs making play after play they weren't supposed to. The sheer arrogance of the underdog in the face of what should be an impossible situation. And, of course, the opposing coach. Fisher was the leader of that 1990 Michigan team. Twenty-three years later, his team never knew what hit it. Again.
As Fisher could attest, belief and opportunity are a powerful mixture in the rare cases that the ingredients are put together in just the right environment.
But, with apologies to Mr. Fisher, it may be one of the most beautiful things in the world to watch.
"To much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is, instead of how it should be."- Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote
The message of the Cervantes classic, even half a millennia later, is still debated. Did Quixote finally get his comeuppance and understand that his journeys were farcical, that he should obey his proper place in life? Or before he got beaten down by the system, did he live life as is should be, not caring what others think of his quests, doing the best he could to make the world a better place, against the odds?
We did find out reality does have its limits late in the game when Comer, a fantastic story who had 14 assists against SDSU and played as brilliant a point guard position as anyone in the tournament through two games, found himself alone behind the defense with a minute left and the game out of hand.
The kid who was on the providing end on most of the dunks that have made Dunk City famous had his chance to throw one down and light up the crowd one last time. But Comer, unlike his teammates, is not a high-flier and just laid the ball in.
Sadly, even fantasies have their limits.
We don't know what will happen to Florida Gulf Coast from here on out. The computers give them a .002%, give or take, of it not eventually ending in a loss this season. The numbers stare at us, make us do computations in our heads, shake our belief, most of the time with good cause, damning the teams in Our Game to sure defeat.
Against the odds, though, somewhere in us, that belief remains. After all, as Quixote himself put it, "I know who I am and who I may be".
Maybe the lesson here is that it's not about the destination, but the journey itself in life.
Maybe it will end in a loss. We certainly hope it doesn't.
But first we have to believe.
"Do you see over yonder, my friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them."
Two giants down and four to go.