The last time I was invested in an NCAA Tournament Cinderella Run, I was 18-years-old and traveling four hours south from Dallas to watch Loyola play its Final Four matchup in San Antonio. Coming from a family of alumni, I was brought into the madness by association.
That was it, until this year — up in one of our Pittsburgh hotel rooms, I stayed up late into the night with the other Phoenix sports editors and Rambler Sports Locker producers watching St. Peter’s University knock off the University of Kentucky March 17.
My mom was immediately obsessed with the fact there could be a team called the Peacocks and texted me all about it. Our social media manager Leslie won $150 betting $10 on the upset. The group in Pittsburgh and I were invested in the fact another Cinderella Run could be beginning.
According to the great online collection of knowledge that is Wikipedia, Cinderella Runs are defined as “situations in which competitors achieve far greater success than would reasonably have been best expected.” Loyola’s trip to the Final Four in 2018 as an eleven-seeded team fits the bill along with St. Peter’s journey as a fifteen-seed.
The last big run I followed in college basketball happened to be one that occurred before I even got to college. Now, as I’m nearing my graduation, I got to experience one that will mark my final year of college.
Here’s the thing about the NCAA Tournament — it brings millions of people together to watch these types of crazy stories that can only happen in this type of tournament. Regular college guys compete playing the sport they love on a national stage, and with that type of adrenaline and determination, anything can truly happen.
I’m the only person in my family who watches anything to do with college sports — besides, of course, anything Loyola-related — but my entire family became invested in the run of the Peacocks. My mom followed every game and texted me updates when she was stressed about the score. When I told my roommates St. Peter’s was leading in any game, they were as excited as me. So many types of people saw the brilliant story of an underdog, and it brought them all together.
And, of course, there was the social media aspect. I would open my Twitter after a St. Peter’s win and find that my timeline was filled with nothing but Tweets about how amazing it was to watch this little school succeed. I follow a variety of sports people, everyone from those with big professional followings to fellow college sports editors trying to get a start. And there everyone was, cheering on the Peacocks.
When Loyola was in the midst of its Final Four run, my mom used to wear her Loyola sweatshirt out in public in Dallas and be so excited that people knew who her school was. My grandpa — class of 1963 — couldn’t stop telling all his golf and dinner friends that his alma mater was the little school everyone was hearing about. I knew my family went to Loyola, but I had never seen them so proud and excited about it.
Watching the Peacocks experience a run of their own, I thought about all the people like that who finally got to show the world what their school and what their team was all about. They won’t forget that excitement, the school won’t forget their rise to fame and those students will never forget this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Although they fell against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill March 27, they remain the only fifteenth-seed in NCAA Tournament history to make it to the Elite Eight. Those players — and their fearless coach, Shaheen Holloway — will go down not just in school history or NCAA history, but sports history overall.
From one Cinderella to another, thank you, St. Peter’s. Not just for the unbelievable magic you brought to the NCAA Tournament, but to the joy and excitement you gave to everyone around the world who got to know who you are.