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Michigan. Villanova. The Stairs.

“That was really cool to see that win with all of us here. I cant believe they did it. If you’re coming by Monday night, you know I’ll be up to watch it.”

Back when the world seemed a lot simpler, back before I woke up every morning wondering how to fight off gray hair and back pain, I was just a kid, and Saturdays were about Rumeal Robinson and the creaks in the stairs.

You see, the minefield of staircase creaks and groans were the deciding line as to whether or not you’d get to go downstairs early and do stuff surely you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, like watch horror movies, play Legend of Zelda, or to start the morning off, pull out tape labeled in fading marker, “Michigan vs. Seton Hall,” or start your chores early.

My dad, a graduate from Michigan in the 1970s, taped that title game capping off a shocking and magical run, I’d come to learn later on. But at the time, I was in love with basketball, and in love with Michigan, and it’s all I had. There was no YouTube. There was no “scrolling Twitter for highlights.” Nah, there was just a VHS and a remote control to rewind back to your favorite parts and watch them again.

But I got good at those staircase creaks, and later, so would my brother. And I’d watch. And I’d imagine being there, or seeing it live, or if heaven was my reality, one day playing there. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.

People often crack wise at me about how excited I get about sports games, especially ones I have no control over. Especially the big ones, and you have to be lucky as a fan (or a coach or player) to even have a part in the big ones. Well, as fate would have it, another one of those happens tonight, when Michigan plays Villanova. And there’s that 9 year old kid inside me, wide eyed sneaking down the stairs to watch a rerun of a basketball game.

Two nights ago, Michigan beat Loyola in the Final Four. When Michigan beat Florida State to get there, my wife grudgingly had to cancel plans because I said I needed to watch the game with my folks.

Sure enough, we all got together, my parents, my brother and his wife, three generations of us, and we watched Michigan. No matter the strife, the disagreements, the situations, the weather, not holidays, not anything seemingly gets us all to drop our phones and our busy existences like Michigan sports.

There we were, my mom, telling me that when I said positive things about how Michigan was playing, to knock on wood so I don’t jinx them. My dad, lamenting about how Michigan routinely seems to come up short in big moments lately, guarding for a loss. My brother, cool as a cucumber even when he wanted to shake his fist and scream at the TV.

At halftime, heĀ  surprised us all with an announcement that he’s at long last going to be a dad. Crying happened. Hugs happened. Then basketball came back on.

We watched the Wolverines gradually come back and obviously win. The coaches in us, my brother and I would shout out what they were doing wrong as if magically, John Beilein was going to jump through the television and say, “thanks for the tip, guys.”

I told my wife last week when I knew Michigan was going all the way to the end that these moments, they’re bigger than sports. Yeah, it’s guys shooting a ball through a hoop, but it brings us all together in a way nothing else really ever does.

I was 8 when Michigan beat Seton Hall. I had the miserable flu the first time the Fab Five made a run as freshmen. I remember lying there sick on the floor with all of us transfixed on this magical run. I had to hide behind the couch to watch them get rolled by Duke. Staying up that late on a school night wasn’t remotely near any option I had, at least legally.

The following year, there I am again, navigating those stair creaks and hiding on them watching the game through a mirror that reflected on the television. It was there where I saw Chris Webber call his fateful timeout and slinked back upstairs, tears in my eyes because I was a kid, and at that point, it’s all that mattered in the world.

Tonight, God willing, I’ll take my shoes off on those same stairs as we gather ’round to watch one more Michigan championship game. You never, ever know if one will be the last, so you grab hold of the moments tight and soak them in the best you can.

These are the best of sports, and the best of times. If eternity allows you to pick the moments you want to relive over and over again, surely these will make the list. Yes, Michigan just played for a title and lost five years ago, but back then I said the same thing, “this might be the last time we can all do this.”

After Michigan had won and we began to disperse, my dad, not a man of immense public sentiment said, laughing a bit, “That was really cool to have us all here to see that win. I can’t believe they did it. If you’re coming by Monday night, I’ll be up to watch.”

Life offers no assurances in the material world, and you never know what the future brings, you just hope it brings more future.

We’ll watch that game, deep into the night, all of us, three generations, getting together for the one thing that always seems to get us together.\

My own son is 8 now.

And maybe, just maybe, if everything goes right, there will be a dusty old DVD on the shelf marked “Michigan vs. Villanova,” waiting for someone to navigate the creaks in the floor and watch endlessly. Though in his case, I’d be fine if he just woke me up early so I could sit there next to him, instead …

Go Blue.

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20 years it’s been waiting for this moment. Go Blue.

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“Jalen Rose takes the ball at the elbow. Dribbles once. 3…2…1…shot goes up…it’s IN!!!! IT’S OVER!!! MICHIGAN WINS!!!”

Back when we were kids, we’d run up to the courts or meet up in a driveway on a crisp summer evening, world way more ahead of us than behind us as it is now. Maybe stop at the local gas station on a run there if we didn’t have a ride to blow part of our allowance for doing chores on sugary soda pop and Sour Patch Kids.

Then we’d run up there and pretend we were the heroes we watched on television, never really putting it all together that we’d be college kids wondering how or why anyone would look up to us. One of us Jalen Rose. Maybe someone else was Jimmy King or Ray Jackson. Man, those were the days.

Been around the game, and been a Michigan Man for a long time, that University coursing through my veins with every maize and blue garment bought for me by my family. The first basketball game I ever watched was Michigan vs Seton Hall, the 1989 National Championship. My dad still has that game on VHS, and it’ll still send chills down your spine when Rumeal Robinson does what Rumeal Robinson did once, and because of it no one will ever forget Rumeal Robinson.

Then came the Fab Five. I’ve read Mitch Albom’s book upwards of 10 times, and end up sort of misty eyed every time I finish it. Michigan was cool. They changed basketball, marrying defiance, hip hop, and basketball in ways that changed the sport forever. I don’t think I’ve worn white socks or shorts above the knees since.
This weekend is surreal for us, the Michigan Men (and Women). Kansas controlled us. Everyone knows that. About 4:37 left in the game, I laid down on my stomach near where my brother was. Kind of that “alright, maybe moving off the couch will in some stupid, superstitious way help us go on a run.” Fans think like that.

Then all of the sudden it happened. A three. A loose ball lay-up when 0.5 seconds longer and it’d have been a pile driving jump ball turnover. Then a missed free throw by a guy who hit our center in the jejunum earlier. Then Trey Burke, from the parking lot by way of Ann Arbor. When he hit that three (and I don’t need to even be any more descriptive. It was that iconic.), I jumped up so high, you’d think I wasn’t white, and was 17 all over again and yelled “Oh my God!”

And then it was OT. And then it was over. Michigan lost a basketball game ostensibly on a half court shot at one point this year. Yet two decent Kansas looks to win wouldn’t go. It felt every bit of the Fab Five’s epic win over Kentucky in 1993. My brother and I hugged so hard, I’m pretty sure someone’s spine snapped.

And then there was Florida, from the allegedly awful SEC but with one of the most prideful, if sometimes delusional fan bases in sports. They were a shark forced to swim with minnows, we were told. They were always here in the Elite 8. Birthright stuff. This time, they’d get it done.

But it was never a game. Somewhere, Florida Gator Guy had to be saying, “oh, so THIS is what Ohio State felt like in 2006.” It was about as close as me and my first girlfriend. And we (thankfully) haven’t spoken in well over a decade. Final Four. Cut down the nets. Feels like it’s the early 90s. Come on, Florida. All that wise you crack about SEC football? This is the B1G. You really think you’re getting through on one of their elites? Pfft…

I ran outside and screamed a good, hearty Easter scream. The neighborhood kid was across the way working on his car, and turned around with a look on his face like there was a Unicorn drinking from his toilet.

Being a Michigan fan is easy. We win at the important stuff…football and basketball…a lot. Sure, it’s been since 1994 that we’ve been to a Sweet 16, but in my calendar lifetime I’ve witnessed a national title, now three Final Fours, and the first B1G tournament championship. Imagine rooting for Northwestern you’re entire life. I’m getting shingles just thinking about it.

But this is awesome. It’s juvenile to be this old and care this much, but it’s awesome. Michigan feels like it did growing up. To be Michigan basketball is to be “cool” again. And to win in Atlanta, man, it’d be all the more epic. Once upon a time, I revived my life down there. A place the Wolverines may this time next week, do the same.

So the Victors are again two wins away, coming off a weekend that conjures up memories, all of them, of the black socks, baggy shorts, Geto Boys music, and a culture shift that has withstood the test of time since. Basketball was never the same because of Michigan. Twenty years later, we’re reminded of that.

Somewhere, there’s a kid calling up his group of buddies, imploring them to scour every aperture of the couch to scare up enough loose change for some gummy worms and Jolt. And then to run down to the courts and fire up a few shots as the sun goes down and the spotlights come on. Years take our youth from us, but the dreams carry on, recycled forever.

For once upon a time, we were all Jalen Rose or Jimmy King, nailing last second shots with stars in our eyes. A generation later, they’re Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. Times change, but the dreams never do, just the names. Somewhere, there’s a kid…

“Trey Burke takes the ball at the elbow. Dribbles once. 3…2…1…shot goes up…it’s IN!!!! IT’S OVER!!! MICHIGAN WINS!!!”

Shut your windows Monday night if it all goes as planned. I’m not hitting jumpers in the park at 11 p.m. But I still can sing pretty loud. And not well. Hail, Hail, to Michigan…