This heartbreaking UCF video changed how I looked at the NCAA tournament

A strange thing happened when I first saw video of UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins address his team following a heartbreaking loss to Duke on Sunday night. I re-assessed how I look at March Madness as a whole.

I’ll confess I might be slow on the uptake here. I don’t intensely follow college basketball from November to February. Occasional checks in on my alma mater, a general understanding of who is good, but aside from that I, like many I suspect, live off highlights until March, when we exit our caves like sports-loving bears to pore over everything about college basketball before returning to our slumber.

It becomes so easy to use pejoratives like “they’re trash” about teams when we see No. 16 vs. No. 1 games, or root for upsets — but doing that causes us to lose sight of the fact teams have worked their asses off to reach this point, every single one of them. The sacrifice, the bonds, the special seasons — all can get swept away with the ephemeral nature of college sports, as players leave school and move on.

When I see a coach like Johnny Dawkins, his voice wavering every-so-slightly, try and keep it together while delivering a eulogy on UCF’s season in front of his weeping players — suddenly everything comes into contrast. The work, the sacrifice, the effort. This wasn’t just a team being fed to Duke to appease our brackets, they were so much more.

Outside of Tacko Fall I couldn’t tell you much about UCF before seeing this video, but I will say I admire their passion, willingness to be vulnerable, and truly playing the game in a way that either meant celebration or tears, just like Dawkins said.

This is what sports are all about. The juxtaposition of adulation and agony only they provide, and we are all willing participants — knowing full well we’ll be devastated 50 percent of the time. There’s nothing else like it, and I want to thank Johnny Dawkins and UCF for reminding me that.

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