Sometimes in sports, you find yourself on the wrong end of a play, cheated by chance or on the wrong end of amazing.
Saturday night’s final play flashed me back to a similar scene I had witnessed years ago in my past, during my senior year of basketball in high school. When Michigan State hauled down the unthinkable win last weekend, like some sort of post-traumatic flashback, I suddenly found myself no longer standing up in utter shock in my living room. I was sitting on the bench of a basketball game in Oshkosh.
We were up three with two seconds left against our bitter cross-town rivals (ironically, they were also named the Spartans). In my three previous years, our varsity team had never lost to them once on the court. It looked like, in front of a sell-out crowd, we were going to continue the trend. Up three with two seconds left, we had one of our guys shooting a double bonus with three seconds left.
Clank went the first one. A collective groan from our fans. Clank went the second. With no timeouts remaining, one of the Spartan players seized the rebound and passed it to a guard, who heaved up a desperation shot from far beyond half court.
Our bench deflated and the gym exploded. I remember watching that shot from the bench (where I spent the majority of my illustrious basketball career) and thinking there was no way the ball would find a way in. But somehow, the worst possible situation came true and that shot proved to be the turning point in the game, as we lost in double-overtime.
That game and that shot created one of the lowest feelings I had and still have ever felt following any game. How could this game we were supposed to have won turned on us in such an unbelievable manner? I mean, what were the chances of some miracle shot like that going in? Losing was hard enough, but being on the wrong end of some desperation heave like that? The game of basketball had played a fast one on me. Which is how I came to my conviction. There’s no loss that’s harder to recover or rebound from than one that occurs in the last second.
The locker room was dead silent. But words found their way to someone’s mouth. We couldn’t give up. We shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We had fought our way back from being down throughout the game, we had shown what we were made of and we got bested by chance.
We also understood that we had made mistakes as a team throughout the game that allowed that chance of a miracle defeat to even exist. Missed free throws, allowing second-chance points – there were many things that had to be done to never allow our opponents a chance to win like that again. We went on to beat our rival on a last second shot that same year in the playoffs to go to state. Looking back at the loss this past Saturday night, the Badgers had the Spartans by the throat with a 14-0 lead. Then some mistakes were made and the wheels fell off in the second quarter. The Badgers had to battle back.
Faced with the largest amount of adversity they had seen all season, Russell Wilson led the offense back from the jaws of defeat. Down 14 in the fourth quarter, Wilson showed his true character, poise and heart in responding from an earlier interception to tie the game. If the Badgers had gotten the ball back, the momentum seemingly would’ve pointed to a Wisconsin win.
But that didn’t happen, and the Badgers had to deal with that same sinking, crushing feeling that I had felt so long ago.
What still rings true in my mind is the idea that in those kind of moments – moments that you are seemingly at your lowest and all may seem lost – that the true caliber of a player and a team is revealed.
Will the team and its players shake off that feeling? Will the Badgers slip again on the road? Will they respond with renewed focus and energy to finish the season strong and make a run at the Rose Bowl like they did just a year ago? Who will step up to drag the Badgers away from that disappointed feeling of losing a chance at the BCS title?
Only time can tell, but how the Badgers respond this Saturday will serve as the largest indication to date of what kind of team Wisconsin is this year.
One of my favorite speeches in sports history is Tim Tebow’s promise to the Florida faithful after his team lost to Ole Miss 30-31 in 2008, destroying the Gators quest at an undefeated season and seemingly diminishing their chances at a BCS title.
“To the fans and everybody in Gator Nation, I’m sorry,” Tebow said. “I’m extremely sorry. We were hoping for an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see another player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless.”
Tebow ended up leading Florida to the national championship that year, forever immortalizing his speech and his legacy as a winner. And that’s why I’m so interested to see what will happen to the Badgers come Saturday night. Do the Badgers have the leadership and the heart to rebound from disappointment like Tebow and the Gators did?
All I know is when it comes to sports, it’s never about the fall. It’s about how you get back up. Sure, people will remember Saturday’s Hail Mary finish for a long time. But the Badgers have the chance to make people remember something else – potentially how they came back from the shock of a last-second miracle play to finish the rest of the season undefeated and capture their first Rose Bowl win since 2000.
The fact still remains that the Badgers has its fate resting in their hands. Wisconsin needs no outside help to win the Big Ten title. It just needs to win.
I hope Michigan State does the same thing. I want to see them in Indianapolis come December. Bielema and his squad may preach taking it one game at a time, but for fans, everyone is already hungry for revenge.
Nick is a senior majoring in history and english. Know who’s going to step up for Wisconsin against Ohio State? Give him your opinion at firstname.lastname@example.org.