This next week my beloved Aggies will enter the NCAA men’s tournament. The Aggies are projected to have their best seed in years. This team is stacked with seniors who have dominated this season and have a dearth of experience.
I hope that America sees a lot of this in the next few weeks:
It’s been a full decade since the Aggies advanced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament. However, I believe, sincerely, that this team is capable of a deep run in the tournament.
But I also know Utah sports history. I was speaking with my friend Derek on the phone this last week. Derek isn’t from Utah, but he is familiar with Utah sports. “You know,” he said, “the problem with all those teams from Utah is that they’re always good, but they’re never great.”
That’s painfully true.
Utah is a place where the teams are consistently good, but never great. Where, year after year, our teams fall just shy of Championships and being the best.
The most obvious, and tragic example are the Malone-Stockton era Utah Jazz. The Jazz made every single playoffs from 1984 to 2003 when John Stockton retired and the era ended. Every. single. year. And not a single championship to show for it. When I was growing up, my faith in the Jazz to eventually win it all was nothing short of pure. I was certain that they would one day reach the promised land. It wasn’t until 1997 that they even made the NBA Finals, although, I don’t think any fan base was as elated by a Finals appearance as Jazz fans were that year. It was nothing short of magical.
As fun as those NBA Finals appearances were, they ended in heartbreak:
But it’s not just the Jazz either. The Aggies have won 23 games for twelve straight years! Only Gonzaga and Kansas can make that claim alongside my beloved Aggies. And yet, the Aggies have not advanced in the NCAA tournament since 2001 when they beat Ohio State. Each season builds with excitement through February and ends with what has begun to feel like inevitable defeat in March.
The Utes nearly won a National Championship in 1998. They played Kentucky, who had dispatched the Utes the two previous seasons in earlier rounds. Going into the half, the Utes were up by 10 but managed to blow the lead and lose 78-69.
I know what you Cougars are saying.
“We won a National Championship in football in 1984.”
Yes, you did. And while the Cougars did win a national championship, they also provoked this incredulous, and now infamous retort from Bryant Gumble, “How can you rank BYU No. 1? Who’d they play — Bo Diddley Tech?” The sting of history has even worse to the 1984 Cougars, now considered to be one of the most overrated championship teams in the history of sports. Even when a Utah sports team wins a championship it’s considered illegitimate!
And then there are those recent Ute football teams that did win BCS games. Just not the BCS Championship. Those Utah teams might have actually been great, and not just good, but they were never given the chance to show it.
And so, selection Sunday, I’ll tune in to the watch the bracket announced. And, I’ll have a sincere, pure faith that this year, this team will be different than all those other Utah teams from the past.
These Aggies will be great.