As a diehard ABD (Anybody But Duke) fan, I was feeling a little guilty heading into Monday night's title game.
I mean, it's hardly been fair. My teams, after all, have won 16 of the last 17 NCAA titles. I've been lucky enough to enjoy a dynasty unmatched in sports history. But what started in October as my 346 favorite teams trying to take Duke down is now just a single squad -- Butler. Would it be asking too much for the scrappy Bulldogs to make it 17-of-18? And it is really fair to be able to claim every other team but Duke as my favorite every year? What did Coach K ever do to me? The kids play hard, no arrests, no NCAA violations, they mostly graduate.
Isn't Duke really what's right with college sports today?
But then I close my eyes and see Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill and Chris Collins and J.J. Redick and Steve Wojciechowski in a group hug after a Duke win over Butler and suddenly all sense of perspective takes a flying leap out the window.
Here's one man's running diary of the 2010 NCAA title game ...
9:02 p.m. (EST): When did I agree to be Jim Nantz's friend? Was there paperwork involved?
9:04: Clark Kellogg has the "It doesn't matter what I say, everyone is just happy I'm not Billy Packer" look going.
9:08: I don't have the stamina to hang in with whatever Greg Anthony is talking about, so I might as well use this spot to file my annual complaint about the Final Four taking place in an arena five times larger than the average college basketball gymnasium. Basketball isn't meant to be played in front of 70,000 people. Makes the crowd a non-factor.
9:14: CBS showing Brad Stevens' pregame speech. It would have killed him to hire Preacher Purl from Hoosiers?
And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.
Sorry, that beats a 5-year-old doing a Herb Brooks impression every time.
9:18: What ever happened to the players shaking hands with the opposing coach when the starting lineups were announced? Is that a swine flu prevention thing?
9:20: Oh, before I forget, Seth Davis told us that Coach K "really wants this one." Thanks for clearing that up, I had assumed he was kind of ambivalent about the whole thing.
9:24: Did Butler practice 8-on-5 yesterday to prepare for the refs?
9:26: I case you were wondering, Nolan Smith is the 2010 winner of the "Guy from Duke that I can't bring myself to hate." Previous winners include Mark Alarie, Grant Hill and Shelden Williams.
9:29: Is it too much to ask Kellogg to randomly scream "Duke in a 2-3!!" in the middle of a Nantz sentence as a tribute to Packer?
9:32: Four minutes in and I'm concerned that Butler won't be able to keep Duke off the boards. A 6-3 rebounding edge early for the Blue Devils. Brian Zoubek (future ninth man on a D-League team) could turn out to be the difference.
9:35: Shelvin Mack hits another 3 (his 17th of the tournament). He kind of reminds me of Joe Dumars. Not sure he would have picked Darko, though ...
9:37: It pains me that Kyle Singler and I share the same childhood idol (Larry Bird.) I might have to alert the BS police, though, as he was just 4 years old when Larry Legend retired. I doubt Singler ever faked a back injury or tried to grow the Bird mustache, as I did in the late '80s. And did he ever contact Rick Robey about becoming a drinking buddy?
9:45: Shawn Vanzant ties the game at 16 with 10 minutes left in the half. Looks like a game in the low 60s, which is where Butler wants it.
9:47: First look at Coach K going off on a ref. I've never seen his plaque in Springfield, but I hope somewhere it mentions that he is the career NCAA leader in F-bombs.
9:50: On his deathbed, my grandfather asked for two things -- peace in Ireland and that Jennifer Lopez would someday star in a romantic comedy that uses a sperm donor as a central plot device.
9:53: Kellogg just informed us that Stevens has a "terrific future" as a head coach. Not much gets past him, huh?
9:56: Fifteen minutes into the game and the teams have combined to attempt 14 3's. Even Rasheed Wallace and Antoine Walker think that's a little much.
9:58: Singler drives and scores to give Duke a 26-20 lead with 5:08 left in the half. Timeout, Butler. Singler (9 points, 5 boards) has been the best player on the court.
10:01: Butler comes out of the timeout and rip off seven straight to regain the lead. First time the crowd has really made some noise.
10:03: Why doesn't BC just end this fiasco and hire the Cornell coach? Do the Eagles really think anyone believes that they are going to land a heavyweight? There were a couple of stories that indicated they might make a play for Stevens. Please. Don't insult us. Just make the vanilla hire and move on. The problem with the Eagles is you get the feeling that they don't believe they deserve to land an A-lister.
10:08: Tuesday, on CBS ... Forest Whitaker cashes in his Oscar for a high-paying lead role on a crappy drama. Alan Alda guest-stars as a DNA specialist with a torrid sexual history.
10:10: Duke leads at the half, 33-32. Pretty sure that if you told Stevens before the game that Butler would shoot just 35 percent in the first half, he'd take a one-point deficit.
10:27: CBS has a $6 billion contract with the NCAA, correct? Apparently that gets you a halftime show located right in the middle of the Duke band.
10:32: Second half underway.
10:34: I'm looking forward to this week's very special episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" when Duke center Brian Zoubek learns that he is actually the son of Uwe Blab.
10:36: Anyone else have the sneaking feeling that Kellogg is rooting for Butler? He comes to life when the Bulldogs score. He's five minutes away from pulling a Tommy Heinsohn and threatening to punch out Ted Valentine.
10:40: Tied at 40 at the under-16-minute timeout. Jon Scheyer can't handle Mack. I don't need to hear anything more about Scheyer as a potential NBA player, right? Stick him next to Wojo on the Duke bench and let them spend their days slapping the floor in an endless battle to earn Coach K's approval.
10:45: If I had told you in 2004 that a big-budget remake of "Nightmare on Elm Street" would star Jackie Earl Haley, what kind of odds would you have given me?
10:50: If my name was Avery Jukes I truly believe that there is NO WAY I couldn't be a Division 1 basketball player. Well, either that or a backup singer for the Commodores.
10:53: Hey, it's the first "Duke player flops, draws an offensive foul and gives what is supposed to be a primal scream of intensity but really looks and sounds like a 16-year-old girl seeing a Jonas brother at the mall" of the night!
10:55: Potential big moment at the 11:21 mark. Zoubek picks up foul No. 4 (on, to be fair, a questionable call.) It's 49-45, Duke, but Butler may be able to attack the basket for the first time tonight.
11:00: Coach K brings back Zoubek with nine minutes left and Duke still up by a bucket. Panic move or a risk worth taking? One thing we know for sure: No matter what happens, it will never be second-guessed by anyone on ESPN after the game.
11:05: Duke by four with 7:58 left. Nantz just mentioned that the crowd is electric, and I have to admit that it is the best Final Four crowd in the football dome era. Of course, one of the schools is located six miles from where the game is being played and the other is the biggest program in America. If you can give me that combo every year I'll stop complaining.
11:10: Singler with a block on Mack. He has been a beast tonight, no question.
11:13: Lance Thomas with a hard foul on Gordon Hayward. I want Butler to win this game, but I can't buy into that as a flagrant. If McHale/Rambis was a 10 on the flagrant scale, that foul was a .00000000001.
(My favorite part of the McHale foul? Might have to be the few seconds after, with Rambis getting up in anger, making a move toward McHale, only to wipe out again.)
11:18: Duke up three with 3:16 left. Hard to image that the Blue Devils actually could win a national title without Johnny Dawkins on the bench, sitting next to Coach K with his trademark vacant stare.
11:20: How did it take CBS two hours and 20 minutes to give us the "Hoosiers" theme? I still say they should have Bill Raftery come out as Dennis Hopper, fully blasted and yelling at the refs.
11:25: Butler down three with 1:40 left. Not sure this qualifies as an all-timer (some ugly stretches), but it's been plenty entertaining. If this were a pair of 1 seeds from power conferences playing it wouldn't be the same. The Cinderella factor bumps it up a few spots right away.
11:26: Nolan Smith misses an easy layup, and Mack has a wide-open 3 to tie. He misses, but Butler gets the ball back and Howard scores to make it 60-59, Duke, with 55 seconds left. Now it feels like the game is being played in a cramped, 12,000-seat arena.
11:28: Singler comes up WAY short on a 15-footer (a short-armed special patented by Chris Webber in 2000) and Butler has the ball with the shot clock off and a chance to win. Timeout with 13.6 seconds left. Has to be Mack or Hayward here, right?
(Of course, the Bulldogs could run the picket fence ...)
11:30: All five Duke players and the three refs slap the floor in unison coming out of the timeout.
11:32: It was Hayward, taking an off-balance fallaway. No good, and Zoubek is fouled.
11:35: Zoubek makes the first and misses the second intentionally (no timeouts left for Butler.) Hayward grabs the rebound and gets a clean look from midcourt ... and just misses. This close to banking it in for what would have been the greatest shot in NCAA history.
11:36: The Duke coaching staff with a group hug. I just vomited every piece of food I have ever eaten. (Checking.) Yup, that would be the Gerber food.
11:38: Coach K now doing the "grabbing the arm of an opposing player while telling him what an honor it was to compete against him" bit. I think I was on to the phoniness of this act when he was pulling it on Gimel Martinez in 1992.
11:48: Again, this was not the greatest NCAA title game ever played. How is that possible? Butler shot 32.8 percent from the floor, Duke 41.1 percent. The two teams combined to attempt 37 3-pointers. They made a total of 11. We are in an era where everything always has to be "the best." Peyton Manning is the best quarterback ever. "The Wire" is the best TV show ever. US-Canada was the best hockey game ever played. Maybe not everything that happens right now has to be the best ever. Now, was Duke-Butler a lot of fun with some legitimate thrills in the last couple of minutes? You bet. The best NCAA title game ever? Not even close. My vote is still for the 1982 final. North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62. Take a look at the roster for each team and tell me that the level of basketball was higher with Duke-Butler. I'm not sure there is a guy on the floor for either team that will have a solid NBA career. Carolina-Georgetown? Well, you've got the best player of all-time (Michael Jordan), a top-30 player in NBA history (Patrick Ewing), a Hall of Famer (James Worthy), a 17-year NBA veteran (Sam Perkins) and a 13-year NBA veteran good enough to make an All-Star team when the league was stacked in 1987 (Sleepy Floyd.) Both Carolina and Georgetown shot over 50 percent and you've got The Shot from MJ.
11:56: After watching what was in essence a five-minute Jennifer Hudson music video with some basketball thrown in, I think it's safe to write that "One Shining Moment" and I are dead to each other.
12:00: And now Jay Bilas goes back into hibernation and we all wait for Midnight Madness. That should give my favorite 346 teams plenty of time to get ready for revenge.