There are those who will liken the UMBC men’s basketball team’s weekend in the NCAA tournament to an afternoon thunderstorm on a blistering hot July day. Yes, the atmosphere was shaken up for a brief time, but, in reality, the air goes back to its muggy condition in short order.
And yes, whatever betide you on Friday – cleaning out the garage, doing your taxes, clearing out your sock drawer -- is probably still staring you in the face on Monday.
But, during those roughly 48 hours between when the 16th seeded Retrievers knocked off the top overall seed, Virginia Friday, and ran out of gas against ninth-seeded Kansas State Sunday night, things were different.
There was a palpable level of excitement, emanating, of course, from the Wilkens Avenue campus and across the Patapsco River Drainage area.
Folks who regularly give their hearts locally to the colors of Towson or Morgan State or Coppin State or Loyola, went scrambling for the yellow and black of UMBC.
Chatter inside of grocery stores and churches from Havre de Grace to Westminster turned from God and cold cuts to Jarius Lyles and backdoor cuts.
All of a sudden, at the end of a winter that seemingly just won’t relinquish its icy grip, in an area that has become more known for shootings and violence, there was warmth and pride.
Who cares that there’s only one player on the roster from what might be considered the Baltimore metro area?
For a weekend, the Retrievers showed the rest of the world the best of Charm City.
Nationally, people outside the state of Maryland discovered that there was more than one University of Maryland campus.
And if they’d seen the initials UMBC before and wondered what they meant, they learned that the B and C don’t stand for Baltimore City, but rather for Baltimore County, the biggest jurisdiction in the Baltimore metro area.
They learned about the wonderful academic reputation of UMBC, a school where science, technology and chess are celebrated and mastered.
And they learned about UMBC’s amazing president, Freeman Hrabowski, a classmate of one of four little girls who were killed in the bombing of a Birmingham church 55 years ago. He has risen to become one of the great academic leaders of our time and taken UMBC with him for the ride.
And the nation met Zach Seidel, the 27-year-old UMBC graduate who runs the athletic department’s Twitter feed.
Seidel, the son of a sportswriter, made the New York Times, because he refused to let his school get trolled by ignorant Internet types who didn’t know UMBC from PDQ.
We’ve spent a number of recent weeks decrying the cesspool that college athletics, and specifically basketball has become. No doubt, we’ll return to that topic, as the NCAA, save for these three weeks of the tournament, is in full chaos.
But, for one blessed weekend, a hardy group of young men gave a school, a region, a nation a peek at the best of college athletics, and, like that summer storm, it felt good.
And that’s how I see it for this week.