We came so close.
Sisyphus rolled the rock up the hill again, only to watch it roll back down.
Charlie Brown tried to kick that football again, only to watch Lucy pull it away.
WVU came so close to attaining that elusive national championship, only to fall short.
It just wasn't our night.
WVU athletes have won national championships before, as individuals and as teams, but never in the two big sports that Mountaineer fans follow most, football and men's basketball. To make it to the Final Four and then not win the championship is disappointing to us. And I'm sure the disappointment we feel as fans is nothing compared to the disappointment felt by the team members and coaches.
When we realize that, we ache for them. They gave us so much joy this season. They wanted to win the national championship. Having come so close and fallen short, they must be hurting. The thought has probably crossed their minds that they failed us. Guys, you have not failed us. You have not failed at all. You succeeded beyond what any WVU basketball team has achieved in more than a half century.
I've wished often during this tournament run that my Dad and my father-in-law were alive to see it. They were both such great Mountaineer fans. They would have loved it. They would have loved seeing WVU players cut down the nets as Big East Champions and as East Region Champions. They would have loved seeing WVU go to the Final Four. Just as I did. Just as all WVU fans did.
And those two men are still teaching me, for there's a lesson in the death of a loved one that applies here. Now we're disappointed, but that will pass. When someone close to us dies, when a loved one goes to what Carl Sandburg called "a long sleep, child," we mourn. We feel deep loss that hurts so much. We feel a hole in our hearts. In the immediacy of their deaths, we can scarcely think of them without crying. But with time, the pain passes. Eventually the day comes when we think of them and the memory makes us happy, not sad. Not always, but more and more often. The sadness is pushed out by the warmth of remembering them fondly, remembering the good times and not the loss. Then when we think of them, we smile.
This was just a game, not a death in the family. What we feel is disappointment, not mourning. And we will get over it much more easily. The good memories will push out the sadness much more quickly. Yes, we wanted that national championship so much, and we wanted it for the team. We feel sorrow that they didn't quite achieve that goal. We feel the loss.
But sometime very soon, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, we and the team will feel much better about this. We and they will realize what a great achievement it was to win WVU's first Big East Championship in men's basketball, how excellent it was to win the NCAA East Region, how fantastic it was to be one of the Final Four. We and they will be very proud of all of that when the banners are raised in the Coliseum.
It's been a great run. The sooner we can put away our disappointment and just appreciate the success this team has had, the better. How wonderful it has been to share this Big East Championship and the NCAA tournament run with family members and friends -- with "thousands of our closest friends." How great it has been to pump our fists in the air and shout with joy and hug one's spouse or child or someone we love, and share the pure delight this team has given us.
And, oh, how much we want to tell the team how much it means to us. How much we want to embrace them, too.
For however much we claim this great run as "ours," it's theirs. A gift from them to us, to be sure, but one that remains theirs forever. Their names are etched on it, never to be removed, as surely as if their names were inscribed on the trophies they brought back to Morgantown. Their faces will live in our fond memories as long as we breathe. How much we want to thank them, shake their hands one by one, give them a hug, tell them about the joy they gave us, take away their disappointment.
In the end there's the image of Coach Huggins on the court, kneeling over an injured player for what seemed like a very long time, comforting him, cradling his head, brushing the tears from his cheeks. We will never forget that.
Today, it seems as though Coach Huggs was comforting every one of us.
President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech in Paris on April 23, 1910, titled, "The Man in the Arena." One particular passage has been often quoted:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
Our team dared greatly.