by Matt Dollinger
IU Final Four News Bureau
I was told growing up that you could be anything you wanted to be as long as you dared to dream big enough and were willing to work hard enough.
I was told wrong.
On Monday, in what previously seemed like fate, turned out to be something completely different. The Butler Bulldogs, the unlikeliest of underdogs, saw their Final Four dreams rim out against the mighty Duke Blue Devils in the closing seconds of college basketball’s championship game.
It was all over.
The indescribable sound of heartbreak filled every crevasse of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis almost instantaneously. Seconds before, it sounded as if 70,000 fans were set to storm the court, leading to a riot of apocalyptic happiness. But now, after Gordon Hayward saw his two courageous game-winning attempts rim out – one from behind the backboard, one from halfcourt – it sounded as if 70,000 fans wanted to curl up in the fetal position and never to be heard from again.
Confetti fell from the ceilings Monday as Duke celebrated, but tears rained from the basketball heavens.
Leading up to Monday’s championship contest, it felt as if Butler was meant to win March Madness’ top prize. It seemed as if the Bulldogs were being backed by a higher calling. It seemed as if Butler’s One Shining Moment would come this weekend.
The Final Four’s slogan was, “The Road Ends Here.” Turned out, that road also ended smack down in the middle of Butler’s campus. Coincidence? Maybe. Destiny? Possibly.
At first, it sure seemed like the latter. Butler’s tournament run was like no other, one that would have made even the glass-slippered princess herself proud. After defeating UTEP handedly in the first round, Butler squeezed by Murray State with a two-point victory in the second round. After that, it was a four-point triumph over top-ranked Syracuse followed by unlikely ‘W’ over Kansas State to make it home for the Final Four.
And then, just six miles from their own campus, the Bulldogs outlasted Michigan State, 52-50, and it seemed as if this year’s tournament champion would inevitably be the same ones who grew up down the street. It seemed as if this year’s tournament champions would inevitably be the ones who dared to dream big enough and were willing to work hard enough.
Week after week, Butler defied the odds, and week after week, Butler moved closer to defying the biggest odds of all.
Logic would tell us this was a once-in-a lifetime chance. Chances are Butler will never make it to another Final Four. Then again, chances also told us this team had no shot in the world of playing in Indianapolis this week.
But the stubborn Bulldogs made it anyway. You tell them to bite, they barked. You tell them to lose, they won. You tell them to go home, and well, they were already there.
But Butler couldn’t quite muster enough magic to make it past Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils. As Hayward’s attempts soared through the air, time seemed to stand still, as the cliché often tells us. If those shots fall, Butler goes down in history. If those shot fall, Butler comes out victorious in the greatest college basketball game ever played.
Sorry Keith Smart. Sorry Bill Walton. Sorry Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. A Butler national championship would have lapped the field.
So forgive the City of Indianapolis when I tell you they believed their hometown Bulldogs could do it. Forgive Indy when I tell you that the entire Circle City shut down Monday night to watch their boys compete for a title. And, most importantly, forgive Indianapolis when I tell you that this heartbreak trumps the pain of any other sporting loss in recent memory.
The Bulldogs came within a paw’s length of history this weekend, only to roll over and come painstakingly close to sinking their teeth into the sweetest basketball victory of all-time.
Sometimes dreams don’t come true.
Sometimes things aren’t meant to be.
But this one sure felt like it was.
A team of Indiana University journalists is reporting for the Final Four Student News Bureau, a project between IU’s National Sports Journalism Center and the NCAA at the men’s tournament in Indianapolis.