Mason Miracle, March Miracle, and Miracle Run are just a couple of the turns of phrase invoking miracles or divine-intervention that have been used to somehow describe the fact that, against all odds (literally), the George Mason Patriots men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four, upsetting the tournament’s top seeds one after the other, until they sadly lost to Florida, 73-58, after a hard fought first half on Saturday night. The Cinderella Team has become standard fair each year during March Madness, but this year, as The New York Times sports reporter Pete Thamel wrote yesterday, “By the time George Mason took the court for its Final Four game with Florida on Saturday night, the Patriots had already redefined the role of Cinderella in the N.C.A.A. tournament.” And though the George Mason came out of the locker room to the tune of the their pep band playing “All I Need Is a Miracle” by Mike and the Mechanics, alas, Thamel reports that their “plea for one more divine performance was left unanswered.”
What is it about championship games, particularly the ones that come in March, that lead us to take up such religious language in our descriptions of wins and defeats and the “why” behind the Cinderella Team’s success? And why do we adore the Cinderella Team so much in the first place? Is it the fact that we somehow believe that, via a group of men or women dribbling a ball down a court, there really is a miracle unfolding before our eyes? That God is somehow playing a role in the spectacle?
As a lifelong college basketball fan, one whose team is always a Cinderella-bid at the N.C.A.A.’s (University of Rhode Island–I know, who’s that?) when they somehow manage to squeak out a good enough season or win the Atlantic 10 title to get a ticket to the ball, I am an unabashed follower of the underdog, that team that is just not supposed to be there but somehow is, and whose every win is regarded as coming on a wing and a prayer and with a lot of divine intervention. I have prayed, screamed, and begged my way through heart-stoppingly close games that are won and lost by those Hail Mary shots from across the court (notice our name for those). And I’ve been known to perform all sorts of superstitious rituals, because–as any sports fan knows–every little move you make can effect the outcome of a game and potentially upset the gods and goddesses of game-watching. Though George Mason is not “my team,” I always follow Cinderella each year, because I want the miracle as much as the next fan.
Of course, lurking beneath all the wonder is the hard fact that sometimes, despite our faith, prayers, and believing, more often that not, these March Miracles are fleeting. Though George Mason seemed to sustain the stunning run longer than most Cinderellas have in the past, it seems that finally, on Saturday night, God sadly got distracted and, at least for this year, the Mason Miracle came to an end. And in the wake of the sadness of fans who’ve been closely following this unusual Cinderella tale this season, we are all now left with a totally disappointing final game this Monday night, between two superpowers of basketball, Florida and UCLA, a game I plan to forego for “24″ now that Mason is no longer a contender.