March Madness can be absolutely brutal.
At the end of the day, only one team is going to earn the national title. This means 63 sets of hopes and dreams will get crushed along the way.
Northwestern's journey through the madness was the program's best ever, considering they've never made it to the NCAA tournament before. But the road ended on Saturday when Northwestern fell to top-seeded Gonzaga 79-73.
While the loss was sad, it became gut-wrenching after a controversial call by the game's officials. Northwestern was in the midst of a game-changing scoring run when a dunk was blocked by Gonzaga. Replay showed that Gonzaga's defender had reached through the net to block the shot, which should have been ruled a foul.
It wasn't, and Northwestern's head coach went ballistic, running onto the court in protest. Unfortunately, that action drew a technical foul. Gonzaga went on to seal the victory.
Predictably, Twitter heaved into an uproar when the call was blown and many reactions became attached to one crying kid in the game's attendance, who clearly had his heart broken by the officials' decision.
This young fan does not agree with the call. pic.twitter.com/A50cJE2D9N
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 18, 2017
Many basketball fans, both casual and serious, immediately felt affinity for the kid and the sheer enormity of his emotion for his favorite team. If you've ever had a favorite team in any sport, a team that you truly and unabashedly love, you will know the feeling.
In this particular kid's instance, he has a very real reason to feel this strongly about Northwestern. He is, after all, the son of the athletic director for the university.
— Dave Noriega (@davenoriega) March 19, 2017
I hope we all find something we love as much as this kid loves Northwestern basketball. pic.twitter.com/QrB9P6wru6
— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 18, 2017
Northwestern should just accept that kid into school right now.
— gary washburn (@GwashburnGlobe) March 18, 2017
Also inevitably, this earnest little kid became a meme.
— Alex Schmid (@HAlexSchmid) March 19, 2017
— Ryan Horvat (@RyanHorvat) March 19, 2017
Gotta put that crying Northwestern kid on the Mt Rushmore of sports memes with crying Jordan and the Villanova Piccolo girl .
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) March 18, 2017
This northwestern kid is going to go on to marry the Cash me outside girl. They will have a son that will be the meme to save mankind.
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) March 18, 2017
Even though Northwestern's journey has come to a bitter end, there is still much about their season to celebrate, not least of which is the level of support from their fans.
The Northwestern Basketball Fan Meme went from Guy Reading A Book During The NIT to Kid Crying During The NCAA's.
We're moving up. pic.twitter.com/b9n7EmQ4aC
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) March 18, 2017
After the game, NCAA officials released an statement confirming that they had made a mistake by missing the call. And while there's no guarantee Northwestern would have won if the call had been correctly made, the situation leaves a dreaded gray area of "what if" that always accompanies these moments.
There's always next year.