(Originally post 04/06/10, around 5:00 am following Butler's loss in the National Championship Game and a really, really long drive from eastern Pennsylvania to central Indiana.)
Something Kyle wrote last night got me thinking. Go figure, right?
We all start the season wrapped up in what our teams can possibly do. Every second of every early season exhibition game - or the first games against the local D-3 schools - are spent ensuring the bugs are worked out. Student sections practice their best chants, writers prepare all kinds of special story lines that they'll follow throughout the year, and the general population of fans show up to games with their families for a sure-win game. But as the season (especially this last season) draws to a close, the entire nation ends up rooting for one team or another. Instead of so many hundreds of teams that dream of being the next national champion, there are two. This year those two were Butler - aka David - and Duke - the modern Goliath. This year lines were drawn a bit differently. It wasn't ACC vs Big10 like last year's North Carolina vs Michigan State. No, this year was the little guy vs the big guy. Below the Red Line and above it. "The Big 3" vs "The Baby Faced Assassin" and his crew all clad in blue.
One of IUPUI's own raised a good point, though most likely in jest (yeah Smooth, I'm talkin' about you). He said, and I quote, "come on Mike! how u just become a bulldog.. and you supposed to be a Jaguar??? disappointed... :/" on my facebook status that said I was a Bulldawg (HELL YEAH!) today.
I suppose I am a Jaguar. I attend IUPUI. I write on this blog all about IUPUI basketball. I am definitely a key member of the Red Zone. Hell, I go to every IUPUI-related sporting event I can possibly go to. Why then am I a Bulldawg NOW, and so proud of it at that? At what point do I stop being a Jaguar and become a Bulldawg (or anyone else)?
We are all separate while being equal parts of a whole. We've all committed to a lifestyle, so to speak, or a type of bond with a particular institution that makes up the majority...the painfully ignored majority. My bond is with IUPUI, while others are with hundreds of different schools. [The connection to Butler is easy for me, Kerri is an Alpha Phi at Butler and a lover of (and only of) all things BU-related. She moved 600 miles from home just to attend BU.]
You see, there is no place above the Red Line that would understand what we have. Going to an Indiana University game earlier this year was one of the worst experiences of my life. True, I was surrounded by basketball history - undefeated team banners, Final Four banners, National Champion banners...But I would GLADLY have given that ticket up to see Evansville play Indiana State. My 1215-capacity gym is a far better place to watch a basketball game than the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. I went to a gaggle of Butler games my freshman year of college, and I had more fun than I could have ever imagined. My senior year of high school set me up well for those experiences, I was invited to (and in turn attended) three different Valparaiso University games. Even though I had no allegiances to those schools per se, I still screamed my head off and jumped until my ankles throbbed because even then I could feel the draw to this world so many understand and so few outside of it can comprehend.
So how can a Jaguar (or a Vandal or an Aggie or a Saint or a Flyer or a...) become a Bulldawg? We already are. From the time our commitment is made to one of these schools, we are entered into the world of togetherness. Those of Us who are lucky enough to have our teams continue on through the final tournaments welcome these new Bulldawgs and Gaels, Panthers and Big Red...s. When Butler wound up the only team left, WE ALL became Bulldawgs. And all of the Bulldawgs opened Us with open arms because We were brethren (or sister-ren...). They accepted Us because they knew our struggle. They felt Our pain. They just so happened to have the opportunity so many of us have never, and could never, get.
For thirty-nine minutes and twenty-two seconds last night, there were millions more Bulldawgs. They understood, even if only slightly, the battle we face so many times throughout the year. We never have Dicky V saying "THOSE JAGUARS BABY! LOOK OUT FOR THEM IN THE SUMMIT!", or whatever it is he screams at the camera.
And then the most amazing thing happened. Butler got a(nother) stop. They were close the entire game, but it always felt like an 11-on-5 game (5 players, 3 refs, and 3 announcers all against the 5 on the floor for BU). But the Dawgs had the ball down just one and 38 seconds to play. There were shots, and then the ball went out of bounds...and the referee pointed towards Butler's end.
I froze. Through the timeout and commercials that followed, I was stuck. The whole season, the entirety of Our beautiful season came down to this. And then another time out.
A phone call from my father came to say simply, "This is why we care, let's watch," before hanging up. (He's always so loquacious.) A squeeze of Kerri's hand. Then the play. The one none of Us can get out of our heads.
An amazing job by Hayward to get open, somehow, down to the baseline. An amazing fade-away shot, but it wouldn't go. The bearded Goliath with a rebound and he's fouled immediately. There's still time, and plenty of it. 3.8 seconds to be exact. First free throw was sunk. Duke was up by two.
"Now what?" asked Kerri.
"Just watch. This is it." I still couldn't move. I was frozen by anticipation. My heart raced. My soda was flat. My food was cold. I couldn't touch it. I couldn't jinx it.
Beardy McGoliathpants intentionally misses the second free throw (hey, who wouldn't have coached him to do that, right?). The final 3.8 seems to take forever.
Immediately spinning and running down the near sideline was Gordon "The Baby Faced Assassin" Hayward. He carried all of Our hopes and dreams in a bright orange sphere.
And then, after what seemed like hours, he was able to cross half court. Sprung from a perfect pick by Matt Howard, Hayward released the last shot of the 2009-2010 Men's NCAA College Basketball season. The last shot for all of US. In the time it took for that ball to travel from Hayward to the backboard, We all became one. Each and every last one of Us knew this was it. If it goes it, We win. We all win. If it misses, We all lose. It doesn't get any more black and white.
Backboard. Left rim. Floor. No net. No reprieve. No trophy. No memorabilia. No jumping for joy. No closed downtown Indianapolis Tuesday. No requests for 'swag' from far away friends. No joyous phone calls from my dad. No history. It was over the same way for each and every one of Us. It ended with a loss.
Our teams didn't lose this game. Our Jaguars already lost to Tigers. Our Saints already lost to Boilermakers. Yet somehow we feel just as heartbroken. In those last seconds we shake just as much as for our own seasons.
And that's why we do this. That's why we were all Bulldawgs who are Too Big, Yo. And Panthers with huge balls. And Gaels that are Beasts. That feeling of passion. That feeling of sheer joy or utter disappointment. That feeling that we can only have when your next nine months will either be "can you believe" or "what if".
So go ahead and ask yourself "Who Am I?" Look in the mirror. Metaphorically, of course, unless you actually like looking in mirrors. Who are you? If you're with me, you know.
We are all one, no matter what colors we put on.
We are all Bulldawgs.
We are all Jaguars.
We are all Anteaters.
We are all Purple Aces.
We are all Catamounts.
We are the true majority.
We are the luckiest people alive.