It's not been a good year to be a Beauford Bixel Team. Perhaps, given that 50% of my last posts on this blog have been shatteringly off topic, it hasn't been a good year to be a Beauford Bixel Blog either, but that's a different argument. The Colt's are one thing; I can handle that. But why does whatever God is in charge of sports let teams like Duke beat teams like Butler?
I should expain a stupid story.
After graduating college, I lived in Indianapolis, and was in that weird funk time when you don't have a real job, and the "college" lifestyle permeates your every action. I hung out a lot at a house that I knew on the Northside of Indianapolis - one that, through an odd set of circumstances, happened to be inhabited by the Butler basketball team. The players I knew as people who lived in that house all graduated, but my loyalty to a then Todd Licklighter coached Butler team remained. They were the hometown team that could go to the sweet 16 every year and maybe scare the hell out of a 1-seed, but ultimately get beat. Charmingly harmless, I would call them; and the perfect team to decide to pull for come tournament time every year. John Calipari and his ilk have no hold over Butler University.
I have no ill will towards Duke, unlike a great many of people in my generation. I actually have a close friend who played for Duke, and now plays in the NBA. I've always enjoyed a good Duke basketball team, and never really understood the hatred towards what should be a well respected, well coached basketball team. The only time a team that I cared about crossed paths with Duke was the year that Indiana University went to the finals, only to be beaten by Maryland. Along the way, Indiana shocked Duke by (gasp) beating them, and so my initial reaction to Duke was "charmingly harmless." I'd never been stung by the evil empire.
What they never teach you as a sports fan - or the storyline that Disney never seems to greenlight - is the fact that sometimes, the Empire fucking wins. Sometimes, they take the rebel alliance, and they crush their impotent efforts to change anything about the natural order of things. The ACC beats the Horizon league. Duke beats Butler 363 days out of every year - and guess what? The odds didn't work out tonight. The Empire had a scare, but in the end, they won, just like they were supposed to.
It's not that I'm disappointed. Butler was never supposed to be a team of destiny. They were supposed to get beat by UTEP. Then they kept winning, and before you knew it, Butler was Gonzaga with a shot at winning it all. They weren't a mid-major because they expected to win. When they took the court against Kansas State, it was a forgone conclusion. When they matched up against a Tom Izzo Michigan State team, they were supposed to win. It seemed natural. So when they took Duke to the final shot - and had two legitimate shots to put themselves in a very good position to win the game - it seemed natural. This team was going to win. What's more, for myself - selfishly, I figured that I had won the "sports" lottery. When Gordon Hayward launched that last shot - the one that hit backboard and rim, and seemed the be an angel's breath away from going in - I figured that I would have my very own "North Carolina State" moment to cherish in the NCAA tournament. These moments don't come often - and they never come to a team that you've, for whatever reason, decided to cherish as the hometown team. You can root from afar for North Carolina State. It's a rare opportunity when the team that you've decided as "your own" has the shot to be replayed with the hysterical elation that comes with winning against a team like Duke.
I don't harbour ill-will towards Duke. They came and did what they were trained to. I do wish that those last two shots had fallen. I wish it for Hayward, and Norad, and Coach Brad Stevens (and, from a DePauw grad myself, you're welcome Butler...), and Howard, and Mack, and all of the scraps that bigger D-1 programs left behind.
Sometimes though. Sometimes, Duke wins. And there are a whole other slew of people in North Carolina and spread across the country who can breath a sigh of relief that their team did what they were supposed to. It's just that there was another team, who will likely be lost to history after another 2 years, who had a job to do too. It's just too bad that the Victors are inevitably the one's who write the history books. They'll be missing one hell of a story.