Another year of March sadness

Published 8:25 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

Warning: What you are about to read is a tragedy. Proceed carefully. You understand that part of our “front-porch” arrangement here weekly is that you allow us to “cry in our milk” occasionally. That’s part of the arrangement, as I understand it.

The occasion for today’s Steve Sauter “Do you want some cheese with that whine” moment is March Madness.

Me? I prefer March “Sadness” — or, better yet, the “Daggers of March.”

You understand.

“Oh, thank you for that glass of milk. Won’t you sit here while I cry in it for awhile?”

Just as it is with Shakespearean tragedies, we shall tell the ending at the beginning. In the end ­— as with Shakespeare — there will be a dagger, and there will be a heart, and the twain shall meet.

The heart, dear friend, shall be mine.

Tragedies, though, always begin well. In the first round of the tourney, the Houston Cougars – my alma mater – won a game against San Diego State with a drive-to-the-basket winner with one-second left. It actually kind of reminded me of our hitting the game-winning shot a couple of times from long-range at the Y and being halfway to Texas by the time it nestled softly in the twine. Well, at least halfway to the water fountain that sits just outside the gym door. (But let’s stay on topic and save those non-tragic memories for later.)

In the first round, Houston began well as senior Rob Gray provided the “dagger” against San Diego State with a buzzer-beating layup to give the Cougars their first NCAA tournament win since 1984.

For perspective, that was their first win since the Phi Slama Jama years. That was the team that lost to North Carolina State by a lob and dunk at the buzzer, one of the biggest upsets in championship-game history.

The “Phi Slama Jama” teams included three great players who were raised within two or three miles of the Houston campus, one being Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler. It also happened to have a Nigerian named Hakeem Olijuwon.

I not only was a fan of the team in those days but was also a fellow student. We exited UH with the Phi Slama Jama in 1984 at the merciful end of a “ten-year college plan.”

That loss to North Carolina State was brutal, especially with the irony of Houston’s being beaten by a dunk. After all, Houston was the high-flying, dunking Phi Slama Jama.

I still remember the Houston television reporter standing in a quiet hallway after the game and reporting:

“The Cougars lost tonight,” he said with a grimace, “in the most ironic of ways: with a slam dunk.”

That loss denied Guy Lewis, the iconic Houston coach known for carrying a red checkered towel with him, his best chance of a national championship. He did take the next year’s team to the championship game but lost convincingly to North Carolina.

To put it in perspective, last weekend’s win for the University of Houston was their last tournament win since the semi-finals of that 1984 Final Four. This year’s team did not have the high-wire talent of the teams in the 80s, but they had plenty of grit.

They brought every bit of that grit into the second round last Saturday evening, controlling a higher-ranked Michigan team throughout.

But basketball games have their ominous “tell-tale” signs, as does life, I guess.

There was a pivotal six-point swing in Michigan’s favor in the final minutes; and a little later, there was a rare five-point play, also favoring the Wolverines, that tied the game.

Still, Houston, determined to avoid the tragedy, went up by two with a few seconds left, then stopped Michigan and got the rebound and a foul with 3.6 seconds to play.

At this point, two really bad things have to happen for the Cougars to lose:

Houston’ Devin Davis – who has made 9 of 10 free throws in the game – has to miss both of these, and Michigan has to sling up a prayer from downtown and have it go in.

You know, friends, there’s something about tragedies. They all end the same: Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, the Phi Slama Jama.

And, alas, the gritty Houston team of 2018:

They all end with an unexpected dagger in the heart.