It's like when you turn the final page of your favorite book.
No matter how many times you may have read that particular story before, you still close the book and look around in a daze, almost dejection. Sure, your life carries on just like it always had. As your brain snaps back to reality, the emotional connections you felt so strongly with the characters still linger, even though the very nature of those connections is completely make believe.
What are you supposed to do now?
Well, now we reflect, Cyclone Nation. And luckily for us this entire story, cover to cover, was real the entire time. There were no make believe connections; no pretend relationships with this Iowa State basketball team. Emotion like this doesn't fade in this business and it never will.
The 2013-14 season, however fleeting it may seem now, will live on forever, and it's our duty as loyal sons and daughters to make sure that our children -- and our children's children -- know just how special Fred Hoiberg, Monté Morris, DeAndre Kane, Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim, Dustin Hogue, Naz Long, Matt Thomas and the rest of the characters in this story truly were.
Maybe this basketball season will end up drawing more comparisons to the finale of "The Sopranos" than anything else - concluding just as striking as it began. No, there was no fairytale ending here. This team isn't riding off in the sunset with anything in particular (like a National Championship trophy). Happily ever after? Maybe. That sort of fate will be up to the men that took the floor with "Iowa State" proudly sewn across their chests.
So what do you say, albeit indirectly, behind a keyboard, to a group of men that brought thousands upon thousands of people an insurmountable sense of pride, happiness, excitement?
I simply say thank you.
Thank you first and foremost to Johnny Orr for your years of teaching, coaching and unwavering and unmistakable enthusiasm for Iowa State University. There has been no bigger ambassador for everything ISU stands for, and the world is a far worse place without you in it. I like to think that every modicum of effort and every ounce of blood, sweat and tears shed this season was in your honor. That "JO" patch has seen its final days, but you live on forever.
Thank you, men, for showing us how to carry yourselves in the face of adversity. Melvin, I will never forget turning to my brother with a shared look of disbelief when I saw you check into the game against Michigan. I hyperextended my knee once and barely had the desire to walk on it, let alone help win a college basketball game that meant so much to so many people at the time. Georges, you scored five points on a broken foot. Enough said.
Thank you, men, for bringing Hilton Magic all the way back. I like to think Hoiberg helped raise part of the phoenix from the ashes four years ago, but as that unparalleled winning streak built and built throughout this season, you guys were the ones that gave it its wings again. It will never be proven, but I am convinced 14,384 die-hard Cyclone fans were exclusively responsible for keeping Mike Gesell's free throws from going through the hoop on that December night. If the baskets weren't actually shaking then I'm fine with calling it magic. I bet Gesell would rather chalk it up to that, too.
Thank you, men, for being our big, dick-swinging clutch motherfuckers that refused to lose (trademarked by whoever deserves that trademark - you know who you are). I had every intention of being three sheets to the wind for an entire weekend when Northern Iowa jumped out to that 18-point lead at Wells Fargo Arena. For the life of me, I'll never be able to figure that one out, nor how you ended up winning. And let's just apply that same sentiment across the board, shall we? Every hair-pulling, teeth-grinding, seething rage-inducing, God awful start to a game that you ever had this season - every lead you gave up and subsequently recaptured. Countless times, whether we liked it or not, you refused to say die and that is a quality that I have never known this team to have as long I've been alive.
Thank you, DeAndre, for that time you not only went balls-to-the-wall against a guy who looked exactly like Drago from Rocky IV but actually dropped him to the floor like Drago from Rocky IV. I don't encourage flagrant fouls, but when obvious parallels can be drawn to one of my favorite films of all time, I'm okay with a thousand inadvertent eye pokes.
Thank you again, Melvin, for your leadership in every sense of the term. I don't have enough words in my vocabulary to express the importance of everything you've done for this university. Alley-oop your way to a big fact paycheck, buddy. I'll come watch you on the Clippers.
Thank you, Georges and Naz, for being both the closer and THE FUCKING CLOSER. You put band-aids on perfectly healthy foreheads and "3sus" t-shirts in dresser drawers, all thanks to an unprecedented will to win basketball games. Never seen anything like it. These next two years are going to be something else.
Thank you, men, for winning a championship - two of them actually. At the conclusion of the Diamond Head Classic, this fan base began to realize that something special was definitely in the air. But watching everything come full circle when that clock hit triple zeros at the Sprint Center is a feeling that I hope everyone gets to experience in their lifetime. You made me simultaneously cheer and cry like an absolute bitch.
Thank you for your commitment to excellence, your desire to take the floor for reasons that go beyond your personal satisfaction. As Naz said about Cyclone Nation during the Big 12 Tournament, "They love us and we love them." You'll never know just how much, Naz.
Thank you for every moment I chucked a throw pillow at my TV (That's what they mean by "throw pillow," right? I'll see myself out.). For every bellowed curse word I was sure would garner a noise complaint from my neighbor. For every high-five that made my hand sting, every hug I gave to a stranger, every time I lost my voice.
Every lob, every no-look pass, every assist, every three, every and-one, every unfathomable drop-step spin move, every rebound, every karate kick, every steal, every middle finger (or just that one) and that fateful day The Mayor accidentally created his Dancing With The Stars audition tape -- thank you.
Personally, I don't really need a happy ending to a story. Nothing really needs to come full circle. I don't need closure. The guy doesn't need to get the girl, the underdog doesn't have to win it all. As long as I was on the edge of my seat with every turn of the page - those heart-pounding moments when you just can't put it down - I can live with whatever is written on that last page.
Like how this was the greatest Iowa State men's basketball team I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
WRNLers, if you can think of anything else (and I'm sure you can), add it to the comments below. Fred, Monté, Dre, Georges, Mel, Hoguey, 3sus, Ice, Dozer, SDW, Percy and yeah, you too Doc - you have embodied what a true family and a true brotherhood looks like in this sport, and we simply thank you for the ride.
On behalf of Cyclone Nation, our hearts are very full.