Yeah, this is going to be a rah-rah column. So sue me.
I can feel you out there, all depressed and down. Nerlens Noel is injured to some degree, and it doesn't look like the news is likely to be good. Kentucky looked bad enough compared to Florida with Nerlens last night, and you can't imagine them without him. Visions of the NIT, or even no post season at all, are dancing around in your Big Blue head. You secretly wish the season were over right now, and you can't wait until it is, and you are thinking about maybe you are going to be too busy with something important to watch the next game. Maybe several games, heck, maybe all of them for the rest of the season. Life as a UK fan may just get real complicated here at the end of the 2013 season, and the last thing your life needs is more complication.
And when it's all over, you'll heave a sigh of relief and start thinking about all the blue-chippers coming in next year.
Think about all that for a moment. If a fan of Louisville, or Duke told you that last year, you'd laugh out loud and write a snarky, schadenfruede-laced comment somewhere, maybe a tweet or Facebook post. You'd think to yourself that real fans would never abandon their team in a time of need, would never throw up their hands. They would fight to the last, and try to lift their team through it. It's so easy to think things like that when everything is going well.
This year's team has disappointed all of us to some degree. For some fans, their coping mechanism is to hide from the team's failure, find an excuse not to watch them, stay away from the Internet blogs and message boards, and partially withdraw from that part of life. For some, temporary withdrawal is better than the alternative, just as discretion is sometimes the better part of valor.
As a Kentucky blogger, that's not really an option for me, but if it were, it wouldn't matter. I once told my wife that if I can stay up past midnight watching the Wildcats win by 30, and I can stay up the same way and watch them lose by 30. I still feel that way. I'm not saying this should be true of everyone, but for me, the act of watching a team that didn't live up to expectations is a validation of my fanhood. In a way, it's kind of cathartic, a way to purge myself of... something. Maybe just a bad jalapeño, I don't know.
Not every fan feels this way, and it isn't my place to tell others how to appreciate their team. Life is full of hardship and difficulty, more so for some than others. We do our best, and sometimes our best is to withdraw, to the extent we can. It is human nature, a self-preservation reflex, to move away as far and as fast as possible from painful stimuli, and last night was some darn painful stimuli in so many ways.
There may be more unpleasantness to come. Nerlens Noel may be lost for the season. Kentucky with Noel was only just slightly better than mediocre. Without him, the mind conjures all kinds of horrors, like when we are faced with a Stygian darkness in a creepy place. Spiders, Balrogs, Rodents of Unusual Size and other horrors may wait within, their maws agape. The movie Pitch Black comes to mind.
Navigating such trying times is not easy. Some people are not up to it. Without Noel, should that possibility become real, this season looks terribly intimidating just to finish. It will take bravery, not just from the team, but from the fans. We must be able to look detractors, smirkers, and other elitist fans in the eye when they take their shots, remembering that if you are going to dish it out, you'd better be able to take it. Even if you aren't in the habit of dishing it out, you're going to get it anyway, that's just the way of things. Success, like failure, comes with a price, and that price isn't always roses and confetti in New Orleans.
So those of you who have mailed it in, see you next year. I'm not going to judge you. Fandom is a thing we do on our time, it's not required of us. There are no penalties for withdrawing from a tough situation, no government agents with alphabet soup jackets coming to knock down your door, demand your Big Blue ID card and drag you off, bound hand and foot, to some trial before your peers. Anytime the going gets too tough for us, we can vanish into our lives, withdraw from all this, and come back when things are looking up. You only have to answer to yourself, not to me or anyone else about how you support your team.
For those of you still around, at least for now, remember that I, and many others, will be here. I know it sounds like a kubaya thing, but as silly as some people might think it is, sports fanhood is very deep and very personal to many people. It is an important part of their lives, a major investment of time, energy, and most importantly, their inner selves where they keep their deepest and most passionate feelings. I feel all of you out there, feel for you. I know each of you is concerned about Noel's future, and I am as well. I know we fear the worst for the season if he is lost, and I do, too.
Sometimes, fandom asks you to be brave -- pretty often, in fact. When you lay it out there and cheer for your team, somebody is always just around the bend waiting for an opportunity to put you in your place, to take from you the joy of being a fan and twist it into something negative for their own perverse pleasure. When that happens, it wounds us, even though we like to pretend otherwise. It takes bravery to face that, and self-sacrifice. It's hard. It is uncomfortable.
And, lest we forget, it is exactly what we demand of our team.
So no matter where you fall in the continuum that is the Big Blue Nation, know that you have friends here that you can commiserate, as well as celebrate with. It's been a long time since we've had to face genuine adversity in the basketball program, so a lot of us have forgotten how to deal with it, including me. We'll have to figure it all out together.
Keep in mind, this is not just going to be hard on us, but on the team as well. They could use our support if we have it in us. This is a flawed group, but, they are OUR flawed group, and that matters. Recriminations are no longer useful, and it is my opinion that they are downright harmful. Here at A Sea of Blue, you will, as always, have a safe place to rationally discuss the team. Trolls, orcs, and goblins beware.