I needed more than 24 hours to digest, reflect, and express thoughts and feelings regarding the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball NCAA Tournament run – probably because I didn’t want a sob-filled post typed out by angry fingers with ludicrous, madman insults to Michigan and their fans everywhere. So I took 36 hours, and feel that I can finally write a thoughtful and emotional expression of what this 2018 Ramblers Run in the Dance meant to me… and it’s way more than basketballs going in hoops.
Difficult times are usually difficult to talk about, but 11 years have past since I departed college, and analyzing every step of the road is the only way to see the road in totality and not just the good parts, as they are the building blocks to your life and this isn’t Facebook where we unabashedly sugarcoat and “Insta” only good moments.
Enter 2003 when I embarked on a college career that started in West Lafayette, Indiana at Purdue University. I spent a year and half there, but most of my time was out of the classroom playing video games (Halo), drinking cheap beer, sleeping on a futon, and contemplating life for a better part of two semesters.
Wasted time. Wasted tuition.
Then January 21, 2004 happened — alone, depressed, directionless, my birthday. I had a breakdown that felt like all the blood in my body rushed to my heart and it wanted to explode and spill into a pool of sadness. Asking my 18 year-old self “what do you want to do for the rest of your life?” was about as treacherous a subject as “where do we go when we die?” or “what’s the meaning of life?” For me, it had weight, and more than I could bear because I couldn’t answer it. I refused to go to classes, leave my dorm, or even answer questions from my parents or family members — “Hey, how’s school going?”
Awful. That’s how it was going.
The eventual result was that I was on the verge of flunking out of Purdue. Usually you have to go to class to get good grades…and I didn’t do that. Stubborn and sad, I resorted to easy (aforementioned) comforts of college life.
Needless to say, my parents were not going to tolerate hard-earned money flushed down the toilet on a kid sitting in a dorm and/or fraternity house, pretending he was going to turn it around. So they forced me back home. After loads of tears and fighting on phone calls, I finally agreed, transferring to Columbia College Chicago, commuting every day for a year from my parent’s house in the suburbs. I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study, so I jumped in the film program.
But there was a “but.” I have no hard feelings toward the institution. I met some real characters and folks I called friends for a time, but something was missing. A void lingered deep inside me.
Deliberating life (once again), I wanted to transfer to a “real” college, not to disparage Columbia, with a true campus feel and tradition I could identify with. I was a Catholic kid from the suburbs who went to a Catholic grammar school and Catholic high school (Go Corsairs!).
You see…my entire family attended Notre Dame in some form or fashion. ENTIRE family. Dad – law school; Mom – St. Mary’s in South Bend; Pat – law school; Brian – Double Domer – undergrad and law school; Chris – undergrad (and scholarship football player of the 2012 NCAA BCS National Championship team!); Will – undergrad (and walk-on football player of the 2012 NCAA BCS National Championship team!). So, like I said… my ENTIRE family. This was my collegiate paradigm.
One could easily label me the “Black Sheep” of the family, and you’d be correct. “Where did you go to school? Did you go to Notre Dame too?” You have a few minutes for me to explain?
Also, one could assume a natural resentment for such an “in-your-face” school like ND, especially here in the Midwest. You’d be partially right. Although there are twinges of resentment (mostly a quick eye roll) toward the Fighting Irish talk that consumes our text strings and dinner conversation, and that “coveted” black sheep label, I hope my family knows how proud I am to be associated with that university in a sort of third-party fashion. Mostly I am proud of them. They are the heroes of my life.
…and being the black sheep means I was a contrarian to all. I wasn’t going to even try to maneuver, manipulate, beg my way into Notre Dame as an option. Stubborn, remember?
When January 2006 came around, I transferred to that little-known Catholic Jesuit university in Rogers Park, Chicago. I had heard my aunts went there, so I took a visit and fell in love. Applied immediately. Boom, I got in.
I was a Rambler now.
It was on this idyllic lakefront campus where it clicked — an emotional and mental maturation if you will. I found my voice. I found my path. I found a fill to that void. I enjoyed the beauty of their campuses in Rogers Park and Water Tower. The student body felt like home (not to mention a favorable 65% women / 35% men ratio…) and like family. I loved them, and the professors, and classes, and school.
I enjoyed their basketball as well. My dad proudly told me they were the only team in Illinois to win an NCAA Men’s Basketball national title, albeit during the Kennedy administration. From then on, I paid attention to the beloved (and under-performing) Ramblers.
After two years in communications, I earned my degree in Advertising & Public Relations with a clearer path in life and a confidence to go attack it. My turbulent collegiate odyssey arrived at a satisfying close at a university I could call my home forever.
2018 Rambler Run
Something about this season was special from the very beginning. Other than that cringe-worthy loss at Boise State (34 points – yeesh), every single Rambler game gave me a sense of “we could really make something happen,” starting with that upset of then-ranked no. 5 Florida in Gainesville. Then dominating the Missouri Valley Conference. THEN winning the conference championship. THEN the tremendous four wins in the Big Dance, and first Final Four in 55 years.
I followed every second, attended what games I could (capped off by the Sweet Sixteen victory over Nevada in Atlanta with my dad), learned about the players, and fell in love with what is now my favorite basketball team of my life (that includes Michael Jordan and the Bulls six titles). They could win the national championship next season … but these guys – Moser, Richardson, Ingram, Townes, Custer, Jackson, Krutwig, Williamson, etc. — these guys are my first love.
To the team – thank you for inspiring our university. You ignited students and alumni, and made us feel alive. The do or die of the tournament (both conference and NCAA) increased our blood pressure, but that’s what makes the winning so much sweeter. No one expected you to do anything. Maybe no one really wanted you to. We, the Ramblers, did.
At the end of the Michigan game, there were plenty of tears and broken hearts. Unrealized wild dreams and hopes crushed. For me, my hooting, hollering, and slapping the floor while pacing was enough to show my family how crazy I am. Crazy for the Ramblers.
And God love my family. They invested and cheered as if they wore maroon and gold in their hearts and were fellow alumni. We talked about match ups. Texted during games. Watched together. That’s the kind of people they are. Heroes.
Don’t ever say sports aren’t important. Because of the rarity of their NCAA trips, the Ramblers instilled pride in a university and city, dominated news headlines and text strings, created a celebrity in Sister Jean, brought my family together under the Loyola flag, and put Ramblers basketball back on the map (and made Porter Moser a lot more money!). These players are the trailblazers of greater glory that’ll surely come to this program.
Everyone knows who we are now.
Loyola may have been the black sheep of the tournament and Final Four. The one who maybe didn’t belong. They came by a different path. But America adored every piece of them. Yeah, I’m pretty good with that. Being the black sheep isn’t so bad sometimes.