Posted on April 7, 2021
When Jalen Suggs ended a riveting semifinal against UCLA with one of the best buzzer-beaters in Tournament history there seemed to be a widespread belief that Gonzaga was a team of destiny.
Then Monday night happened.
From the opening tip, Baylor was better than Gonzaga in every conceivable way. It was a wonderful moment for a likeable Baylor team, but it was a devastating way for Gonzaga’s season to come to an end.
One of the questions raised by Gonzaga’s title game loss is what to do with Jalen Suggs’ shot.
Had the Zags gone on to claim the championship, Suggs’ shot would have been their version of Christian Laettner’s heroics.
But Laettner’s game-winner versus Kentucky in the ‘92 Elite Eight is remembered as arguably the greatest shot in Tournament history, in part because Laettner’s Duke team went on to win the title.
What do we do with an iconic moment when it doesn’t lead directly to a championship?
The answer is surprisingly simple. We choose to remember it more than we remember what came after it.
When I was a senior in high school, my football team was trailing our state semifinal game 28-15 late in the fourth quarter. We rallied for a 29-28 win and 20 years later the final moments of that game remain one of my most cherished memories.
I remember the exhilaration of being on the field for the game-tying touchdown and then scrambling to take my place on the line for the PAT attempt.
I remember consoling an opposing player who was in tears after the game. I remember my parents finding me amidst the celebration and giving me a hug. I remember the triumphant scene in the locker room.
We lost the state championship the next week in heartbreaking fashion.
But you know what? When I think back to my experience playing high school football, the first thing I think about isn’t the feeling of losing that championship game.
The first thing I think of is that flood of memories from the most thrilling sporting event I’ve personally been a part of. I choose to remember one thing more than I remember what came after it.
I’ve seen this at work as an Oregon fan as well. My single favorite Autzen Stadium moment was a 47-20 win over USC on Halloween night in 2009. It was an unofficial changing of the guard between Pete Carroll’s Trojans and Chip Kelly’s Ducks and it was an exhilarating experience for Oregon fans.
My second favorite Autzen moment came later that season when Oregon entered their season finale against Oregon State with both teams playing for a spot in the Rose Bowl. It was probably the most anticipated football game in the state’s history and Oregon won a thriller 37-33.
Oregon lost that Rose Bowl to Ohio State. Similar to the Zags, they’d go on to lose a couple national championship games in the ensuing years as well.
But you know what? Every single Halloween my dad and I talk about how much fun that win over USC was, and every single time the Ducks and the Beavers square off I think about how fun it was to see the two battle for state and conference supremacy.
If you think about it, there’s examples of this in every sport.
One of the most replayed moments in World Series history was Carlton Fisk’s 12th inning homer off the foul pole at Fenway Park to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Cincinnati came back and won Game 7 the next night.
The greatest moment in Buffalo Bills history was their 1993 Wild-Card win over the Houston Oilers when they came back from a 35-3 deficit to win 41-38. Those Bills would go on to lose the Super Bowl a few weeks later.
Reggie Miller is remembered as one of the greatest clutch shooters in history. The most memorable shot he hit was probably his three-pointer to win Game 6 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Chicago went on to win Game 7.
The 2013 Auburn Tigers pulled out a 43-38 win over Georgia that was immediately referred to as “The Miracle on the Plains,” and followed that up with an even more miraculous win over No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl that was immediately referred to as “The Kick Six.”
That Auburn team would go on to lose to Florida State in the national championship on a last-minute touchdown.
In 2017, the Mississippi State women’s basketball team ended UConn’s 111-game winning streak in the Final Four when Morgan William hit an overtime buzzer-beater. At the time, it was arguably the greatest moment in women’s college basketball history. The Bulldogs lost the title game to South Carolina two nights later.
My father was living in Boston at the time of Carlton Fisk’s home run, and he’s told me the story many times of staying up late to watch that game and hearing the entire city cheer after Fisk went yard. He’s never talked to me about what happened in Game 7 and I’ve never cared to ask.
My brother-in-law grew up in Alabama as a diehard Auburn fan. I happened to be visiting for Thanksgiving the weekend of the Iron Bowl and watched the Kick Six with him. The memory of watching that game together comes up in conversation on an annual basis. We’ve never talked about the loss to Florida State, which ended that season.
Given time, I think that’s how Gonzaga fans will come to remember the Jalen Suggs shot. They will remember where they were and who they were watching with. For a few fans, I imagine that with every passing year the details will get a little more sensational.
Fifty years from now, after countless retellings and the exaggeration that comes with them, I’m sure there will be a grandchild in Spokane hearing his grandfather talk about the half-courter that Jalen Suggs hit to give Gonzaga a one-point win in triple overtime over the top-seeded Bruins.
That grandchild will probably go to bed that night assuming that Gonzaga finished the season undefeated, the same way I grew up assuming the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1975.
In a way, they too will be choosing to remember that shot, and forgetting what happened after.
—Recent Mark Schmor Stories—
- Schmor: A Game for the Ages and a Shot for All Time
- Schmor: A Big-Picture Preview of the 2021 Final Four
Schmor: Years from Now, Zags will Mostly Recall ‘The Shot’Players & Fans tend to remember the best of a season, forgetting disappointment that came after - April 7, 2021
Schmor: A Game for the Ages and a Shot for All TimeIt’s a shame someone had to lose because both teams made an abundance of winning plays - April 4, 2021
Schmor: A Big-Picture Preview of the 2021 Final FourA look at the road to the stars, coaches, and rooting interests of this year's National Semifinal - April 3, 2021