I was violently ill on Sunday. It was the kind of flu that makes you feel like you’ll die and afraid you won’t. At around 11a I told Joel that I would try to watch the game so I could contribute something to the postgame coverage. At 4pm I woke up to a Xavier loss and the first game I hadn’t listened to or seen in nearly a decade. My first thought wasn’t of disappointment, though, but rather that it may have been a relief.
This has not been a good season for Xavier. The team is going nowhere of any import, isn’t improving as the season goes, and isn’t loaded with young players getting blooded. Frankly, it’s a bad team playing bad basketball under uneven coaching. That makes tuning in each game something less than the rush it was last year on the way to the Big East championship or during 2016’s stampede through the early season.
So why watch this team? There will likely be other things on television tonight that won’t raise your blood pressure or cause you to spend time verbally abusing inanimate objects that have been cursed with displaying the game for you. You can probably watch The Bachelor without becoming Mad Online. I’m not here to tell you that there is a compelling basketball reason to catch tonight’s game. Were relegation a thing, this one would matter, but neither Xavier or Georgetown is going to finish last and be sent down to the American for next season. Naji, Q, Tyrique, and Paul will all factor heavily into next year, but you aren’t going to catch a glimpse of the next generation of Xavier talent taking the floor against the Hoyas.
But this is still Xavier. Personally, when the game tips off I’ll be making my usual Wednesday night coffee run with Byron and Joe on TuneIn. Once soccer practice and church start, I’ll be in the back with the game on YouTubeTV on my phone. Why do I keep watching knowing that this is likely the worst team I’ll see for another decade? Because it’s Xavier. Because when Justin Cage raged against the dying of the light against OSU, I’d been with him through 17-12, because when BJ Raymond hit my favorite shot ever a year later, Stan Burrell and I both couldn’t contain cathartic screams.
Because I watched Dee Davis’ miserable sophomore season and saw him dagger UC and become an elite passing point guard that went to the Sweet 16 two years later. Because for every missed Isaiah Philmore tip against St. Joe’s there’s Malcolm Bernard racing into open court in a spasmodic sprint. Because for every memory of losses in NCAA play-in games there’s Myles Davis killing off Georgetown in a Big East classic or Tu Holloway spinning two different ways to beat Dayton, or Mark Lyons punching on a Lehigh team that beating Duke in March doesn’t mean anything. I’ll watch because I remember Dante Jackson running out of the tunnel with the flag, I remember thinking Keenan Christiansen was the answer, and thinking Keith Jackson could walk on the sky.
Those teams weren’t all good, indeed some of them were quite bad, but sticking with this program during those down times has made moments like The Run, BJ’s shot, Malcolm’s sprint, the crazy comebacks against Vanderbilt and Purdue, and thousand excited text messages so much the more meaningful. Maybe fans who leave during the bad times still enjoy the good ones, but they don’t savor them in the same way. Why watch? Because better times are on the way, and we’ll be here for all of it.