I don’t know how I’m ever going to get over that one.
Losing the Super Bowl hurt, but there was a lot to mitigate it. The Colts still have a great team. They should be back next year. They lost to a great team in a fluky game. Whatever. It stings, but it’s not the end of the world. At least the got there, proving that so many stupid theories about the Colts and the playoffs were just pointless blather.
Butler losing to Duke has sent psychic shock waves back through my past. I’ve spent all morning walking around wondering how my life would be different if Keith Smart had missed his shot. Growing up, I watched two VHS tapes more than any others. One was Hoosiers (the McDonald’s edition) and the other was my recording of the 1987 Final Four. We bought our first VCR the afternoon before IU played UNLV. I’ve watched those two tapes at least 50-100 times each.
Despite a lifetime of reinforcement that the last shot goes down, my eyes saw that ball hit the board, the rim, and the floor without ever touching net. My eyes saw it, but my heart doesn’t believe it still.
I saw the Duke kids celebrating (the fans, not the players), and I despised them. I’ve never been anti-Duke until that moment. I wanted to scream, “YOU FRAUDS! That was the weakest national championship run of all time! You are celebrating that the world was denied the greatest sports moment possibly of all time!” It was all so wrong. They were danced while the rest of the world mourned, and I will NEVER forget or forgive Duke for that. Enjoy your title, South Bend Central. Bastards.
Now, the next morning, I’m struggling for perspective. I loved the words of Brad Stevens about the greatness of the accomplishment not depending on the bounce of the ball. I wrote something frighteningly similar in my book (which now no one will ever believe I wrote a year ago…I’m glad a few of you out there have already read it and can vouch for me. When it comes out soon, you all have to know that I haven’t changed a word of it). Still, though part of me knows that the Bulldogs will be loaded for bear next year, I also know that the tournament is a crap shoot, and even if they have the best team in the country, there’s no guarantee they’ll win it all.
I’m still bitter about so many moments, especially the lack of an intentional foul call on the hard foul of Hayward in the final minutes. The officials missed the call, that’s fine, but what makes me irate was Clark Kellog’s irrational defense of the officials. “He was going for the ball!” he said repeatedly, while the replay kept showing that at no time did he ever come close to contacting the ball in the process of dragging Hayward to the ground. Like I said, bad calls happen, but come on, Clark. Don’t lie to us when we can watch the same video.
Mostly it’s all just bitterness and disappointment. I talked to my brother this morning; he wouldn’t answer the phone last night. “I wasn’t ready to get this heavily invested in anything so soon,” he said. I know how he feels. One heartbreak I can deal with. That’s the nature of life. This world is a cosmic riff on suffering and tragedy. You can’t win them all, as they say.
Still, I would have liked to have won this one. On a list of the worst losses of my life, this is right there with the ’95 playoffs and ’05 playoffs, the Pacers losing game 7 to the Knicks in ’94, IU losing in the ’92 Final Four, and Pike High losing the county baseball championship 6-5 in 1995. By the way, in that game, I grounded out with runners on second and third and two outs in the sixth. We lost on a crazy line drive double play with two on and one out in the seventh. That’s probably the worst loss because I had my chance to do something about it. This is second or third worst though.
I don’t know how I’m going to get over this one.