The postgame process for me after any game is fairly routine. There is a recap posted as close to the final horn as possible then time spent writing analysis and what not. Normally win or lose, I have some thoughts on what to write. I have at least one or two keys to the game that I can expound upon to provide perspective on what we've just seen. Usually there is something to write about.
Not tonight, not after that.
Under normal circumstances, we could talk about how UNC missed too many second half shots and Villanova made every tough shot they took including the last one. Maybe there is a point or two to be made about the officiating or how Villanova kept UNC from exploiting its advantages in the paint. We could talk about those things but that all strikes me as meaningless. In reality this isn't about a single game or how UNC played or why the Tar Heels didn't handle the last play differently.
The loss is simply much deeper than that.
What we are feeling is rooted in this being how the great careers of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson ended. Not with smiles amid streamers but with confetti sticking to tear stained faces as they walked off amid Villanova's celebration. Talking about the game seems pointless because what UNC lost tonight was more than just a game, more than just a title. It was losing this team and particularly never seeing Paige and Johnson put on a Tar Heel uniform again.
We are more or less consumed with a kind of grief. Regardless of the result, this Tar Heel team with its current personnel would never take the court again. But a championship produces a legacy and at North Carolina, a title winning team is forever. There is a banner raised in one end of the building and as long as there are games played in Chapel Hill there would be talk about that special group in 2016 that won the national title.
This could have been 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009 instead it is 1946, 1968, 1977 and 1981. Sure we still talk about those latter teams and hold those players in high regard but none of them, aside from a handful who excelled individually, are remembered in the same manner as those title team players. For title teams we remember every player on the roster and every game from that season. For this season the loss will be what we remember most.
That is why this is painful. Because of what this group had endured, especially Paige, Johnson and Joel James, we wanted them to have that legacy, even felt they deserved it. Because of what they meant to the program and how they became Roy Williams' solace amid the NCAA storm we wanted so badly to see them afforded that immortal status in the annals of Tar Heel basketball history. This team would never play again but with a title they would seemingly always be there whether it be looking up at a banner or pulling out a video to watch this game again and again.
As much as we will try to remember this team, they will be a footnote to history. Paige's rip away rebound and putback followed by a double cluch three pointer could have been the beginning of an epic story of how UNC stormed back to win a title. Instead they will be the set up to Kris Jenkins' heroics and Villanova winning one of the most exciting finishes in NCAA Tournament history.
UNC lost more than just a game, more than just a title on Monday night. They lost the chance for these Tar Heels to be special and for Paige and Johnson to leave Chapel Hill as legends.
That kind of loss is going to ache for a very long time.