Personal Musings

An Ode to My Toenails and Their Respective Role in the UVA Men’s Basketball Championship Run of 2019

What are you doing right now?

I’m trying to pretend I’m not coming down with what my son has. He’s sick in bed with strep. He missed his big soccer tournament this past weekend and was pretty bummed about it.

He’s got a nasty cough, runny nose, and lots of congestion so it’s possible he has a virus along with strep (bacterial). It’s hard to say these days. My stomach has been pretty blah this morning. I’m crossing my fingers and eating oranges.

What did you do yesterday?

I ran five miles. It was a mix of paved trails and nature trails. I ran the Big Hill as I like to call it. It’d been a while since I’d last run this hill. I love hills. It has its place, but flat ground running alone bores me. Hills kick my behind. I feel like I’ve pushed my body to its limits by the time I reach the summit. Hills exhaust me. They’re good for me physically and mentally.

Any epiphanies while you were running?

I need to cut my toenails. I broke off a piece of my big toenail on my run yesterday. That left it jagged, so when I pulled off my sock after my run, the jagged edge caught hold to a thread on my sock. It was like peeling back the lid of a Beanie Weenie’s can.

Tell us more about your toenails

My toenails grow freakishly fast. I’m not sure why. They’re like Bald Eagle talons. I could swoop down and snatch salmon swimming upstream with these things. I’m guessing it has to do with the food I eat. Eggs probably. I eat eggs every day. They are high in biotin which aids in nail thickness, as well as protein, Vitamin D, and B12. Eggs are a complete protein food. Keratin loves protein.

Back in 2019, when the University of Virginia men’s basketball team went on their championship run, I had been clipping my toenails during their opening round match-up against Gardner-Webb. It started out of fear they were going to go the route of the 1-seed losing to the 16-seed again for the second straight year. With 6:43 left in the first half, they were getting spanked 30-16. That’s when I started clipping my toenails.

They closed the gap to within six by halftime, trailing 36-30. Then went on a blistering 25-2 run to open the second half. I was clipping furiously as they mounted their comeback. UVA would go on to win 71-56. History would not repeat itself with a 1-seed falling to a 16-seed.

I placed the toenails from that game in my window sill. They became a good luck charm of sorts: an amulet to a championship. The remainder of the tournament was even more intense.

Virginia vs Oklahoma63-51 (W)
Virginia vs Oregon53-49 (W)
Virginia vs Purdue80-75 OT (W)
Virginia vs Auburn63-62 (W)
Virginia vs Texas Tech85-77 OT (W)
Virginia Men’s Basketball. NCAA March Madness 2019

In the Purdue game, Carsen Edwards went nuts, scoring 42 points with 10 three pointers. It didn’t appear a banner raised at John Paul Jones Arena was in the cards.

I remember texting back and forth with my buddy Gary. Our texts mirrored one another: “I can’t take this.” “This game is going to give me a heart attack.” “The Cardiac Cavs strike again!”

There’s a lot to be said about the play of Mamadi Diakite, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter during that run. The pass from Kihei Clark to Diakite alone in the final seconds of the Purdue game may be one of the single greatest clutch plays in all of NCAA history.

Virginia vs Purdue: Clark to Diakite to send to OT

But Braxton Key, can we talk about him? He was a transfer that season. He’s forgotten a little when it comes to that year. He was a big time contributor. His block against Texas Tech in the final second left the door open for us to win in overtime. He snatched ten boards in the game, too.

Every player’s contribution secured the title but let’s give Braxton Key some love, shall we? He was one of those guys that flew under the radar. A grab your lunch pail and get to work type of player always in the right place at the right time, blocking crucial shots and securing rebounds that could have easily been put-backs by the opposition.

When it was all said and done and UVA had finally won it all and cut down the nets, I opened my front door and screamed at the top of my lungs, flipping my porch light on and off repeatedly like a madman.

That’s when I told my wife about my lucky toenails in the window sill.

What did she say?

That I was gross. That I needed to throw my toenails away.

Did you?

Not immediately. UVA’s baseball season was underway. It became clear pretty quickly the title hopes wouldn’t extend from basketball to baseball, however.

So you got rid of your toenails then?

Oh, no, I didn’t mean to lead you astray. I kept the toenails another full year. I pushed them into the corner of the window sill so no one knew they were there but me. But then the pandemic hit and shut all sports down so no chance for UVA repeating in basketball. That’s when I said farewell to my lucky toenails and sucked them up with the vacuum.

I’m still not sure it was the right thing to do. They’d served their purpose but there’s a part of me that feels they deserved a better send-off. I considered keeping them in a jar under my bathroom sink.

I think I should have kept them.

They were as vital to that run as Bennett’s Pack Line Defense, Diakite’s last second shot against Purdue, Kyle Guy’s free throws against Auburn, or De’Andre Hunter’s corner three against Texas Tech with 12.9 in regulation.

It’s one of the few regrets I have in life.

Any parting words?

Yeah, there’s an ESPN documentary about the UVA men’s basketball championship run that year titled UnbelieVAable. We watched it as a family recently to re-live the year considering our current season is in shambles. It’s a hell of a documentary.

If you have a short attention span, you can watch the NCAA’s compilation of the highlights here.

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