Maud Muller ponders the Final Four

Kansas comes to Missouri and earns a trip to the NCAA’s Final Four.

Kind of salt  in the wound, isn’t’ it?  There were some folks who had Missouri in that final four.  And this year our Tigers were 4-1 against teams that had made the Great Eight or whatever marketing phrase the NCAA attaches to that round.  The Tigers were 1-1 against teams in the Final Four.  But they’re not there because they went 0-1 against Norfolk State.

We’ll get over it.  And so will the guys who went 0-1 that day.

We found ourselves wondering as we drove through the dark streets of Jefferson City to our newsroom this morning how many of this year’s Tiger players had said to themselves as they have watched the tournament games, “We beat those guys,” or “We could have beaten those guys.”  We bet  of lot of Tiger fans have thought the same things.

We hope the young men who were the 2011-2012 Tigers soon put those thoughts into the deep, far reaches of their minds.  They’ve been watching the games, not playing them, because they’re human.  And they’re not alone in having those thoughts.

It’s so easy to overlook the humanity of sports and believe that excellence never fails. It’s why those failures are so painful.  We expect the great hitter to always hit .300,  the great football player to always gain yards, the great basketball player to always hit the crucial basket.

But you can’t beat percentages.  The best you can hope to do is tie them.  Sooner or later, though,  the batter swings and misses; the running back fumbles behind the line, and the 100th free throw bounces off the rim.

Imagine a basketball game of robots programmed to never miss a shot they take and to never let the opponents take a shot.  We would be treated to endless overtimes of scoreless games.  But since our games and their players are not robots we are left to deal with great highs and devastating lows from which we recover and get on with life.  It’s the human thing we do.

Years before there was a Final Four — years before there was even basket ball (two words when it started) — there was Maud Muller.

Maud was a poor but lovely young farm girl who crossed paths one day with a wealthy judge.  They made eye contact and went on their ways, never to meet again.  Years go by.  Both marry different people and their marriages turn out to be less than fulfilling.  From time to time they think about how much better things would have been if that chance meeting had flowered into something other than a passing glance.   How nice it would have been, thinks the judge, if he had married this lovely young farm girl and instead of making a life passing judgment on other people he had been able to live the quiet and peaceful life of a farmer.   How nice it would have been, thinks Maud Muller, if she had married a wealthy man who traveled in high society circles, knowing and being known by important people.

The great poet John Greenleaf Whittier tells us the story of Maud and the judge in a poem he wrote in 1856 called “Maud Muller.”  Part of the last verse goes:

“God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’

Our Tigers of 2011-2012 are not alone in wondering what might have been.  Three teams that had been number one seeds are not going to New Orleans either.  And about seven months from now, a new basketball season begins.  Life moves on.

If Kansas wins the tournament, good for them.  If the Jayhawks, too, are left to ponder what might have been that will be okay too.  It’s just basketball.  It’s just a game no matter how much the NCAA tries every year to convince us that it is more important than life itself.

“God…pity us all who vainly the dreams of youth recall.”

The world doesn’t have time to wait for those who mourn the losses of or the loss of youth. We should always see tomorrow as more exciting than yesterday.

We’ll get over this year’s NCAA tournament–even if Kansas wins it.  It’s the human thing we do.

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