Almost two years ago, the UMass men’s basketball team was in the mix for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament behind what looks like a loaded team by today’s standards: Forbes, Harris, C-Lowe, Milligan, Brower, and guys like Gaffney coming off the bench. On Valentine’s Day, UMass hosted lowly Fordham in a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2 (I think…it may have even been ESPN itself though). It was the boys’ chance to strut their stuff on a national stage, during an otherwise slow week for sports. Marketing even drummed up support with t-shirts. If you’re fairly new to UMass, you may be wondering where the “UMass ❤ ESPN” t-shirts came from, which I’ve seen at least a couple of at literally every UMass sporting event since then (whether ESPN was involved or not). Well, now you know. And now I will make you hate those shirts.
Y’see, the Minutemen inexplicably failed to show up for that game, letting Fordham hang around for the first half and falling apart down the stretch to let the A-10’s typically less-dangerous Rams embarrass us on national television. I call it the Valentine’s Day Massacre, even though we only lost by a few points. It felt like a blowout loss to a real team (and remember, these were the glorious times of just a few short years ago when the Minutemen actually beat inferior teams at home). Instead of rolling into the A-10 tourney, the Minutemen had the pressure of needing to win one to keep hopes of an at-large bid alive, and, well, we all know how that worked out in the Travi$ Fraud era.
Now, normally, when your favorite team suffers a soul-crushing defeat, you’ll want to erase all memory of that game and move on. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Red Sox 2003 ALCS shirt, or a Patriots 2007 AFC Champions hat. Yet, for whatever reason, clueless UMass fans continue to wear these shirts recalling the Valentine’s Day Massacre, as if they have no idea what actually happened on the court, and just came to the game for the t-shirts. Oh, wait. That’s because they did. This is something that has pissed off many a true Minutefan for the last several years: the people who come for the free t-shirts and leave before halftime (or, in a few cases, before the game even starts). Now, granted, when it comes to college sports, it’s better to have a mix of fairweather and hardcore fans than no fans at all (see: the Mullins Center this year for basketball), but if you can’t be bothered to stick around to see your team play for at least the first half – and even that’s pretty lame – it’d probably be better for you to just not come at all. The point of the shirts is so that you’re seen on TV wearing them, not walking around campus next week, or two years later. One of my buddies – let’s just say he’s one of the more prominent student fans at basketball games – came up with the idea of proving a point by making Facebook events promoting free t-shirts for games where that isn’t the case. Ethical? No. But he’s got a point; a midweek t-shirt game against an A-10 dreg would probably draw a bigger crowd than a weekend game against an upper-tier team like Richmond or Dayton with no free swag.
A little disclosure here: I was held up by something, I don’t recall whether it was class or work obligations but I was definitely late to the game, juuust late enough to miss out on getting a t-shirt. (As in, literally the person in front of me walking in got the last one.) But I’m preeetty sure part of drowning our sorrows after the game would have included some sort of shirt-burning ceremony. I wanted nothing to do with that game; I wanted to get that memory purged, Eternal Sunshine-style. (And for that matter, sophomore year, I wanted the memory of Leemire Goldwire purged, too. And hockey’s entire second half. And the Super Bowl. And, uhh, maybe a couple of hookups. Man, sometimes I wish that movie was real.)
Anyway, rant aside, the Rams are paying their first visit to the Bill since that awful, awful night two years ago. No national coverage, and probably a lot lower stakes, as the Minutemen are coming off two consecutive disappointing losses and Fordham is beyond awful this year. They’ve lost last year’s breakout star Jio Fontan to USC, they’ve won just twice all year, they already fired their coach, they have two guys averaging double figure scoring. If UMass wants to do anything in conference play this year, they cannot lose this game, because really, everyone UMass has played this year (including Dowling and Arkansas-Ft. Smith) should be able to rout the Rams at home. I have a lot of loyalty for the hockey team. A LOT. They could lose every game down the stretch, change their fight song to a Keith Urban song, have the UMass Republican Club sing the national anthem, replace Matty G with Glenn Beck, and replace the pucks in the Chuck-a-Puck contest with kittens, and I’d still follow every game. Basketball? Yeeeah, they don’t exactly have that from me yet, and besides, losing to Fordham would be far more egregious than all of that combined.
I’ll be back on hand to call the game on WMUA (the stream is right here or just tune your old-fashioned radio-mabobber to 91.1 FM at about 7:15 or so) and Matt’s gonna be there too, so you can probably expect a blog post from him at some point.
And there better not be any UMass ❤ ESPN t-shirts, or so help me Cosby, there will be consequences.