With a run now through that will go down as one of the most blessed and unexpected in March Madness history, I wanted to get an idea of what it meant to the players at Florida Gulf Coast. Every single one of them. The memories will change and enhance and grow as these guys get older. What they think back on five, 10, 20 years from now will in some ways never change and in other ways be altered.
But in the immediacy of the moment -- with the gash still open from the 62-50 loss to Florida -- and the contradictory feelings over losing a game, having a season end yet still being proud of doing something that no other group had, what was on their minds? What memories do they think will stick out the most when they get together for a team reunion a decade or two from now?
I asked them all, including the head coach, and I've condensed their quotes for clarity.
Brett Comer, sophomore guard: "Two more years, and we can get back and try to do this. I've got all love for my teammates, my brothers. For me, the biggest memory will be the win over Georgetown because all of our lives changed with that game."
Bernard Thompson, sophomore guard: "I didn't think the whole nation would come out and support us the way they did. I'll remember the wins. The wonderful feeling. It's hard to explain. It's surreal, a dream, when you win in the NCAA tournament."
Christophe Varidel, junior guard: "We didn't have the same energy tonight as we did in the first two games. All that media was new to us. It was overwhelming. But the whole team was proud to represent our school. Every player in this locker room is really disappointed."
Eric McKnight, sophomore forward: "We made history. We wanted to push it to the limit, but it's tough, like someone scoring 100 points in a game and needing that one or two more. We wanted more records. But the fact we came together and how we made up a dance on the fly. It's the spirit of celebration with this team."
Alexander Blessig, freshman guard: "The run changed the whole school, the whole program. We are on the map now. And playing here in this stadium, it was incredible. It was so big. I'll never forget it."
Filip Cvjeticanin, sophomore forward: "We basically came from nowhere. We really are happy with what we accomplished, something like that. Every loss hurts, but that's normal. The best memories? Every one. This team is a family, a special group of people. For most of these guys, this will be the most successful thing they'll ever do in basketball. But we want to make some new memories next year."
Chase Fieler, junior forward: "It was very exciting. We built a lot of friendships, and we came to be closer as a team because of this. I'll never forget Sherwood, his antics. Shaking hands with Reggie Miller. He's led us in everything."
Leonard Livingston, freshman forward/center: "It's been an amazing experience. Being with these guys, hanging with these guys and especially how close we got in the past two weeks."
Eddie Murray, senior forward: "I'm a local guy, I grew up in Fort Myers community and to be able to deliver something back to the community -- now it's Dunk City -- well, that's amazing. I take everything from this locker room. I want to talk to all of these guys, every single one, 10 years from now."
Marcus Blake, sophomore forward: "Making school history was amazing -- and it sucks to end it all right now. My favorite memory: the chicken dance."
Sherwood Brown, senior guard: "For us, this was a thing a lot of us have only dreamed of. Dreams come true, and when they do, it's very emotional. We appreciate everything that's occurred. For me, Enfield could have gotten ride of me when he came in -- but he put faith in me. Spending time with these guys, being thankful, that's what I'll take."
Dajuan Graf, freshman guard: "It's been an amazing feeling to have the world behind us. Playing with this great group of guys, that's what I won't forget. That's what stands out."
Andy Enfield, head coach: "I think people know about us now. We're a young, vibrant school. We were very flattered by the response. We didn't plan this, didn't plan to be the talk of the tournament. The captivation of the whole country, getting behind the underdog, it gave people hope and belief. They presented themselves in a major, positive way."
And with that final Enfield quote, the sports information director closed up the locker room. The media shuffled out, and the team had a few more minutes to gather its things before heading off to the team bus. A flight home in the morning awaits, back to a city that's now known for its fake name more than its real one.
The group that had exactly three media members visit the open locker room session in Philly the day before their Round of 64 game (an NCAA staffer told me as such, anyway) was taking its last round with a press that will let it be, for the most part, for the next 11 months. Jerseys and shorts slowly piled up in the middle of the floor. There was pride. No tears. I think it was already setting in: both the end of the season and the scope of the achievement.
When it was over, FGCU players began walking to the bus, taking the long traverse through the bowels of Cowboys Stadium. They passed by the open media area, where many writers were banging out stories on deadline. They didn't leave as a group. Slowly they trickled out, some in pairs. Enfield chatted with his final police escort for this tournament.
Brown, who scored a team-high 14 points in his final college game, was one of the last to head out. He was flanked by two young cameramen who were getting their final shots of B roll, the last images of an outgoing star player in his final game, walking away from a run beyond what he or any of his teammates could have believed possible.
The walk looked lonely but proud for Sherwood Brown. He took his time in getting to the bus.