HOUSTON -- Bally and I won't be there in Salt Lake City today. We're still in Texas, in the expansive and quiet Reliant Stadium media room. There are so many moving logistical chutes and ladders with something like this, and there simply wasn't enough time to change course. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the Twittered and e-mailed and Formed™ offers of last-minute frequent flyer miles, game tickets, and lodging that came in last night, and they are touching to my heart. We're going to take the positive approach: we're figuring that we'll just catch up with Butler next week back in Indianapolis, proud capital of Hoops Nation.
At the beginning of the week, I used what little pull in the college basketball world I have to secure seats at Houston and St. Louis -- two cities that lie within a reasonable all-night drive of each other. It's not that this was a wrong choice, or that our faith was not rewarded; Saint Mary's and Northern Iowa fought as hard as they were able to, against superior basketball forces. Watching the Gaels sleepwalk through a 17-point first half, bewildered by a basketball spectacle they were clearly not emotionally prepared for, didn't so much as hurt as it felt like all the blood was being power-vacuumed out, all at once.
It is indeed madness to place one's destiny and emotional well-being in the hands of amateur, educationally-subsidized basketball players, and to live on a contingency basis. But this is what we've done for six years now. We have no regrets whatsoever; when we finally do succumb to those, it'll be time to do something else. Longtime readers know what's on the line today: a Butler win will keep The Mid-Majority's Season 6 going for another wonderful week. A loss means that Epilogue, The Sixth
will be posted on Monday morning, and we will once again vanish until November 1.
We will be watching today. And so will you. When the broadcasters make a Hoosiers
reference today, take a drink. When they invoke 1 Samuel 17:49
, take two, but cross your chest first. If anybody, anywhere makes reference to the actions of subservient household help
, chug the whole bottle, then smash it over your own head. We understand the need to shoehorn current events into well-known narrative structures and tropes. (All sportswriters do it. I do it.) This game today represents more than a battle between a small thing and a big thing, a cuddly-wuddly toy against a big mean animal with bared teeth. It's two different ways of collegiate life.
For Kansas State University, which is attempting to recapture a basketball tradition lost since the Lon Kruger and Jack Hartman coaching era, this is a mere diversion before the start of spring American-Style Football
. For Butler, a basketball school in the classic tradition, this game is everything. It is pride in program to the bursting point. It's for the Butler Way and the Dawg Pound and generations of those who came before
. It's for everyone who kept the faith during the mediocrity of those two in-between seasons in 2004 and 2005. It's for Todd Lickliter and Thad Matta and Barry Collier (who'll have a great seat tonight) and Tony Hinkle, all the Butler coaches who never made it this far, this close. It's for the 1962 "regional third place" team, for the 2001 club that beat Wake Forest but couldn't overcome Arizona. It's also for the four decades' worth of squads in between that didn't even make the Tournament.
And even if this does end in a loss today, this is definitely not the absolute end. There wouldn't be the excited urgency of torch-passing
, but more likely the drive and desire of a team with a clear mission and a printed map. With the exception of Willie Veasley, the whole team is coming back -- with some interesting new additions. Unlike the senior-stocked squads from Cornell, Northern Iowa and Saint Mary's that have been cut down this week, there will be another brilliant chance for Butler, later on. But if the Bulldogs win today, and they will
, we're all going home. Now.
There is no way to replicate or synthesize the mixture of joy, anticipation and fear that Butler fans are experiencing today, the knowledge that their school is just one victory away from the Final Four. Davidson fans
and George Mason supporters and Kent State boosters know this tangle of conflicting feelings well, and today they will all have the opportunity to relive their moments empathically. But this is unquestionably Butler's moment, its time, a culmination of a million dreams.
And we are all behind them; we pledge our voices and energy and our cheers from every corner of Hoops Nation, from the Horizon League to the West Coast, from the far depths of college basketball to the very edge of the Red Line. Today, we are all Butler Bulldogs, each and every one of us, and Bulldogs ever do or die.Photo: AP