I had the pleasure of attending with my father the first ACC basketball game at Notre Dame upon their move to the new conference. It was a Saturday afternoon game between the Irish and the Duke Blue Devils. Of course everyone was excited for the first-ever ACC game hosted at the Purcell Pavilion, and facing a team led by Mike Krzyzewski and Jabari Parker only increased the day’s excitement. Notre Dame had stumbled a few times up to that point in the season, and the dismissal of leading scorer Jerian Grant for academic reasons did nothing to increase the optimism for Notre Dame’s first season against tough opponents in the ACC. Nevertheless, the Irish faithful arrived in droves and cheered as loud as ever. Notre Dame played Duke close for the first half, trailing only by 2 at the break. In the second half, Duke opened up a 10-point lead, seeming ready to pull away. I remember thinking, “Well we played them close, it was a solid effort even if we come up short in the end.” But the Irish didn’t give up, chipping away at the deficit with defensive stops and the 3-pointers that Irish fans love to cheer on their home court. Down 7, down 4, eventually Notre Dame fought back to tie the game, and then take a 4-point lead with 4 minutes left. Each basket was followed by the loudest cheers, and the crowed started to think we might actually pull this one off. After hitting free throws down the stretch, the buzzer sounded the 79-77 Irish victory over Duke, one of the most exciting college basketball games I have attended.
On the drive home, we turned on the radio which was broadcasting the NFL playoffs. Both my father and I are big Colts fans, and they were hosting the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs. We heard the score: the Colts were losing 38-10, and we turned off the game, not really expecting much. But after a while, I inexplicably decided to check the score on my phone, and somehow the deficit was cut to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. We turned on the game, barely believing our ears, as Andrew Luck led the most improbable comeback, capped by a long touchdown pass to TY Hilton, for a 45-44 win in front of the home crowd. Amazing. Two Indiana teams, two comebacks, two highlight wins.
I remember saying to my dad: “how many reminders do we need to prove to ourselves why we play until the clock says zero, until the very end?” I’ll admit it, my faith was shaken twice that day, yet two times it was the efforts of those stronger than I that carried my favorite teams to victory. And that’s what is great about sports: no matter the odds, we keep fighting and the amazing can happen.
Yesterday, during the NBA playoffs, we were reminded again. Down 2 games to 1, the Clippers trailed the Thunder by 16 in the fourth quarter and rallied to win. Chris Paul guarded Kevin Durant. Darren Collison propelled the Clippers with 8 points in the final 3 minutes, and when Russell Westbrook’s long 3-point didn’t fall, the Clippers had sealed a 101-99 win, tying the best-of-7 series at 2 games apiece. “Desperate coaching” was what Doc Rivers called it, but sometimes that’s what it takes. Hours later, the Indiana Pacers found themselves trailing on the road against a resilient Wizards team. They were not shooting well, and they were down by 19. It seemed to be the resurfacing of every rumor of this Pacers team collapsing, leaving behind the dominant play that highlighted the first half of their season. Then the comeback began, led by a man on a mission named Paul George. Hitting 3-pointers, getting to the foul line, George brought the Pacers all the way back. Then the Wizards opened another 9-point lead, and George again rallied the Pacers, getting help from a resurgent Roy Hibbert and the rest of the starters. A costly turnover by the Wizards on their last inbounds play sealed the 95-92 win for the Pacers, who took a 3-1 edge in the series.
Sports give us a chance to see the passion and determination that make these great stories happen. It doesn’t always work, comeback efforts fall short, and that makes the ones that happen feel even more exciting. The crowd watches with bated breath. Players will their teams to win, for the fans, for their coaches, for each other, and for the love of the game. We get inspired by any number of sports cliches (It ain’t over ’til it’s over), but sometimes we need another real example of why should never, ever give up. So the next time the shots don’t fall, the field goal goes wide right, or your team is down in the 4th quarter, think twice before you turn off the TV. It might not happen this time or the next, but sooner or later there will be another come-from-behind that rewards our faith. So turn your rally caps around and cheer a little louder; this is why we don’t give up. We wait for next great moment, we wait to be shocked one more time; this is the reason why we keep believing. Just ask Hollywood; everyone loves a comeback story. AN