I was really excited when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown.
My wife and I had actually gone to the Belmont the year before in hopes of seeing California Chrome win the first Triple Crown of my lifetime. The heartbreak was overwhelming. We decided we wouldn't go back the following year. Instead, we had about 40 friends gather in our living room to watch and scream in jubilation.
If you've listened to Glenn Clark Radio or have read my columns, you've probably caught on to my cynicism in recent years. There are reasons for this turn in my life. I mean, I'm getting older; I've dealt with a lot of unlikeable people during the last decade-plus of covering local sports, and, also, again, I'm getting older. Watching a horse accomplish something I had never seen before was a moment of pure joy. I spent zero time thinking about anything other than how cool it was to see this thing happen that I had heard about but never experienced.
I actually wondered then if I would experience another moment as a sports fan that would allow me such unbridled joy. I certainly didn't think it would happen less than three years later.
My college career began (but ultimately did not finish) at UMBC. I ate hundreds of personal pizzas during "late-night" dining hours in the renovated dining hall. I ate breakfast there once or twice, too. I drank so much jungle juice the day Busta Rhymes played "Quadmania" in 2002. (There's a statute of limitations for underage drinking, right? Also, I don't encourage such behavior, and I'm certain none of it occurred in Catonsville, Md., this weekend). I watched then-prized recruit Peter Mulligan and his teams play so many terrible basketball games at the RAC Arena.
I don't really care about horses. I truly love college basketball. I always have. I always will.
March 16, 2018 -- the day
UMBC knocked off No. 1 seed Virginia
, 74-54, in the NCAA Tournament's first round -- will forever be remembered as the night that provided me more joy than I ever reasonably believed would be possible again as a sports fan.
You guys, I was on the field as the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. Sitting on a recliner in my home office watching my alma mater spring the greatest upset in college basketball history gave me even greater joy than that.
Look, if Texas Southern had become the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history, I would have been fired up. I would have been pumped. I love college basketball. I love the NCAA Tournament. I would have been texting and Tweeting with friends about getting to see a moment I genuinely did not think would ever happen. I remember being 12 years old and actually hugging my alarm clock radio as 16-seeded Western Carolina battled No.-1 seed Purdue all the way to the buzzer (they lost 73-71) in the NCAA Tournament.
But this … this is UMBC. This is the school I attended. This is where I met friends I still love to this day. So yeah, I cried. I woke up my 3-year-old and hugged him and held him tight, and I allowed sports to bring me joy again.
Also, I've just written an entire column about the best moment in college basketball history, and I have basically just talked about myself. So allow me to actually say something about them.
I'm grateful for head coach Ryan Odom, who from the moment he arrived at UMBC appeared to have a little more to offer than any other reasonable hire the school could have made. Are you one of the 50,000 Baltimoreans who has claimed to have been at the then-Baltimore Arena in 1995 -- the last time our city hosted the NCAA Tournament? Well, Odom was there, too. His father, Dave Odom, was coaching at Wake Forest, which played in those first two rounds at the building.
Twenty-three years later, Ryan Odom authored a far more incredible Baltimore NCAA Tournament moment.
I'm grateful for these players, most significantly guard Jairus Lyles. I'm grateful former UMBC coach Aki Thomas was able to get him to the school to begin with. Guard K.J. Maura is incredibly special, too. But Lyles may be my favorite college basketball player ever not named Juan Dixon.
I'm grateful for athletic director Tim Hall, whose vision has bettered the entire campus. As cynical as I am about the NCAA, I do believe in the role sports can play in bettering a campus community. Hall has never been OK with the idea of UMBC simply being an also-ran when it comes to athletics. He's played a major role in getting the program to this point.
I'm truly grateful for Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who is a genuinely wonderful school president. When I was a student, Dr. Hrabowski would actually walk around the quad just approaching students -- asking them their name and talking to them about their goals. Dr. Hrabowski is a special man beyond his accomplishments in academia.
I hope UMBC wins more games. I hope it wins the NCAA championship. But even if it doesn't, I'll always be grateful for this insanely unexpected moment.
Photo Credit: Gail Burton/UMBC Athletic Communications