ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- While several Michigan fans made the 700-mile journey to Atlanta for Monday’s NCAA championship game, there were others who stayed behind. And with Ann Arbor bars and restaurants packed, some as early as 3 p.m., more than 11,000 fans found themselves sitting in Crisler Center to watch their team one last time this season from a familiar spot.
In some senses, it was almost like a normal game. Members of the Michigan pep band played from the north end of the arena. Fans did the wave as rounds of “Go Blue!” chants sailed through each section. They stood for each Michigan free throw, arms raised, fingers wiggling. They booed when Rick Pitino’s face first showed on the Jumbotron.
But as the clock ticked down in Atlanta, with Louisville gaining momentum, the mood in the arena changed. In a normal game, with a loss looming, fans can choose which aspect of the game to watch. But Monday night they were at the mercy of CBS, and CBS kept panning over to the Cardinals cheerleaders and mascot, its bench and its fans.
Not much there for the Michigan faithful.
Tom Idzkowski, a sophomore, sat and watched as Michigan lost and Crisler emptied. He sat alone in an entire section, below the lone national championship banner in Crisler.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “I’m not very articulate right now. … We were so close. It was the 20-year anniversary with the Fab Five, they were back together and the sanctions are being lifted, I thought this was the year. If we were going to have any year, this was going to be the year.”
Ryan Stark sat across the floor from him in section 130. Yes, his favorite team had made it to the title game. But a loss is a loss, and to him it hurts all the same.
“This was the best season I’ve ever seen,” he said. “But I guess it wasn’t good enough, again.”
He had bought in to this team and its flashy play. He had bought in to the upside of youth and the value of alley-oops. He had bought in, quite literally, to the basketball hype on campus -- in the form of a maize Michigan basketball shirt.
The influx of those wanting basketball gear had risen to such a point over the last week that M-Den, Michigan’s retail supplier, was sending out daily orders. Leading up to the Final Four, it had already accounted for five times more revenue than it did all of last season.
Davis had spent the timeouts at center court, dancing for the crowd. This, for him, had been a big party. The loss was important, but there would be other championship games for him to get excited about, right?
“It was good but then they played poor defense,” he said in his best analyst voice. “This was a great season. They made it to the Final Four. That’s good.”
His father -- a 2002 graduate of Michigan-Dearborn -- handed him his coat.
“This is all he knows of Michigan basketball,” he said. “He doesn’t even remember the dark days.”
The 8-year-old remembers the Michigan of John Beilein and that’s about it. He remembers NCAA tournament appearances and Big Ten Championships with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass. He doesn’t know the rarity of a title game or the unique combination of talent and fate that it takes to get there.
“They’ll be back,” he said.