Butler's homegrown Indiana boy, Gordon Hayward, had just missed a Hail Mary half-court shot, and with that, their Cinderella-Indiana-Hoosier-like run ended with a sad whimper. Duke winning 61-59 was not the storyline that this sports contributor wanted to share with you this fine April morning.
The ascension of the Butler Nation and the small-town feel of those Bulldogs will forever live in college basketball lore, even while the championship title returns to its familiar haunt of Tobacco Road. Last night the nation rallied around Ronald Nored, Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard, who knocked down key three pointers in the first half. They were clubbed by the thug-like Dookies who clawed, scrapped, and willed their way to Coach K's fourth national title. They did it the way it ought to be done, even if it hurt. After this basketball season where the number-one teams appeared to lay down like dominoes, it seemed like this year would see the crowning of a people's champ (Butler) and not the college basketball machine's candidate (Duke).
Yes, there is cynicism my voice. I stood cross-armed for every shot, every play, glued to the screen wishing that 3-D television was already here so I could will these boys to victory. Cheering them on from my small apartment in Brooklyn, I was reminded of the unifying factor that lies in sport. If we could rally behind these small town boys, whom we have never met, never even heard of before, what could we do as a people given the opportunity?
Duke deserves respect, but as a school they have dashed too many hopes and erased all too many great performances in order to hoist another banner. On this day, Duke will get nothing but the respect due a champion and a competitor, but America does not smile today. Only Duke smiles - and they deserve to for the hard-nosed way they played. (Now this sportswriter knows what the rest of the nation feels like when the Yankees win the World Series.)
All across the land, people will wake in disgust; they will ponder what could have been if the small school in the middle of America had only won. Oh, what could have been! Still, as the all-American saying goes, "almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
Good night you warriors from Butler. We will share your pain and will never forget your effort. You won the hearts of 300 million Americans, even some who claimed they were rooting for Duke.