Saint Peter’s University sits just two miles west of New York City. Home to around 2,400 undergraduate students, the school’s notable alumni include 1968 Pullitzer-winning author Will Durant and current U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez.
Never heard of it? You’re not the only one.
I was first made aware of the school’s existence on one of my favorite days of the year: Selection Sunday. Thousands of college basketball games lead up to the fateful day every year, with teams anxiously awaiting their placement in the March Madness tournament.
As a lifelong University of Kentucky sports fan, my confidence was through the roof for this year’s competition. Sure, the past month hadn’t seen the best basketball the team had played, but injuries had slowed the progression down. We were all but guaranteed a top seed in the tournament; all we needed was an opponent.
When the broadcast revealed the teams, confusion flooded my mind. Not only had I never heard of a school called Saint Peter’s, I couldn’t believe the name of their mascot: the Peacocks.
My mind dismissed any worry or concern about our opponent. After all, a 15-seed had only defeated a 2-seed nine times in the history of March Madness.
UK Twitter couldn’t contain its excitement. How far would they be able to go? The Elite Eight? The Final Four? Could they even win the entire thing?
No one knew for sure, but everyone couldn’t wait to find out.
As the first day of March Madness rolled around, I woke up pumped. I made the decision to get a head start on my Spring Break and make the two-hour trip home to Lexington, arriving just in time for the 7:10 p.m. tipoff of UK’s matchup with the Peacocks.
What happened broke my heart.
After a two-hour slugfest, the Peacocks of Saint Peter’s defeated the mighty Wildcats of Kentucky. Nine became 10.
Disappointment cannot even begin to describe the feeling that comes from a loss like this. UK’s first appearance in March Madness in three years, ended by the Peacocks.
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I felt like throwing up, crying and punching a wall, all at the same time.
Kentucky fans fumed following the defeat. Some called it the most embarrassing loss in the history of the program. Head coach John Calipari faced heavy scrutiny, and the same team they fawned over just hours before became the target of resentment and despair.
So many negative feelings circulated around Lexington that night. Twitter went quiet, and fans resorted to quiet acceptance of what had just occurred.
The scene in Jersey City, New Jersey, told a different story.
Elation filled the air as spectators rose and cheered in celebration of their massive upset victory. The world may not have known who the Peacocks were before; they knew now.
While most contemplated their busted brackets, I still reeled from the loss. How could this have happened? UK must’ve played so poorly, and the team had only themselves to blame.
But then I thought about it more. I built the courage to look at the game stats. Kentucky missed a lot of free throws and turned the ball over too many times. I felt vindicated, and yet UK’s stats did not tell the entire story.
Saint Peter’s deserved to win the game. As painful as it is to admit, a team that entered the game barely within the top-250 offensive teams in the country rose to the occasion when it mattered the most. When I took off my blue-tinted glasses, it was obvious that we had just been outplayed.
I experienced the lowest of lows associated with March Madness. And that’s just part of the experience. The Peacocks of Saint Peter’s had an emotional high they’ll never forget, a celebration that will continue no matter how far they advance.
Whether you’re a fan of basketball or don't know a single rule, I encourage you to get invested in the Madness. Even if you’re not into sports, the NCAA Tournament provides the kinds of emotions we crave, the highs and lows of everyday life personified in one epic, three-week spectacle.
So, in the future, fill out a bracket or two. Pick a team and root for them, even if you know nothing about the school or pick them because of how cool the mascot is. You just might experience the emotional rollercoaster of your life.
And fear the Peacocks. Always fear the Peacocks.