Just This Once.

I freaking love The Tournament.

It's almost a joke among my family and friends. When the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament rolls around, the retired cheerleader comes out in me in a major way. As does the type A++ planner. My brackets are always kept up to date, using that year's "bracket pen." (Oh, come on. Nothing looks tackier than mixing ink types/colors.) I always know what game is on and what channel is carrying it. I know the seeds and the backstories. I've tried all season to keep up with other conferences, just so I can talk about their teams, their players, and their respective strengths. Apparently, it's funny how obsessive I get with watching mid-major games from other time zones, just so I'll know what's in the field. Some people call it ridiculous; I call it being prepared. I don't want any surprises going into The Tournament. I guess it's the curse of being a coach's daughter.

Now, this year, The Tournament brought more surprises than I could ever anticipate. My beloved Wildcats, coming off an abysmal season, didn't even earn an invitation. I found myself watching from a distance -- not really caring even when teams I'm interested in (or hate) were playing. But, then, Sunday night, something changed.

Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered the most horrific injury I've seen in a long-assed time. Just watching it on TV was gut-wrenching. Twitter equated it to the Joe Theismann - Lawrence Taylor injury (y'all Lee Anne Tuohy fans know the one...); all I could think of was the time I was standing at the rail at Keeneland when a horse went down and threw a jockey. Even though sports are fueled by high speeds and high level physical performance, you just never really expect a serious injury to occur. As a spectator, you're physically sick and you just don't want to be there any more. Personally, I just can't watch the injury footage. I turned the TV off when it was Marcus Lattimore back in football season, and when it was our own Nerlens Noel earlier this year. This time, I almost followed suit, but I was haunted by the image before me.

via Philly.com
It wasn't the replays of the awful fall that got to me. It wasn't the graphic focus on Ware's injury. It was the pure pain and love and despair expressed by his fellow Cardinals. These boys were in anguish at the site of their teammate's pain. And they channeled their own pain into one of the most convincing victories I've seen this season. Coach Pitino, whom I've scorned for as long as I can remember, was brushing away real live tears of heartbreak. Chane Behanan donned his teammate's number as a tribute. And they beat the crap out of Duke, which is always a good thing.

Two hours earlier, I'd been fed up with the sanctimonious folks who'd wanted to ruin my Easter by reminding me that Louisville "is still an in-state school" and that I should support them. As I tweeted from Easter dinner, I'm fully apprised of the city's geography. They aren't my team. I just wasn't cheering for anybody. But, as I watched the way those kids pulled together, I realized where my focus should be, at least for the next week. Geography or rivalry aside, these kids are a team. They like each other a lot, and they are willing to make sacrifices for each other. That's what wins The Tournament. 

So, just for a week or so, I'm pulling for that amazing team to win it all. They have the talent and they certainly have the heart. Kevin Ware is receiving tons of support and encouragement and quality healthcare treatment. He'll be back next year. Joe Theismann says so. We'll start a new season in a week. Kentucky will scoop up Andrew Wiggins and I'll go ahead and pre-order my 2014 National Champs Tervis Tumbler. But, for this week, I'm changing that bracket pen to Cardinal Red ink and rooting for the team that deserves it the most.

Here, in print for the world to read forever, is the only time you'll ever see me say it.  
Go Cards.
In