It's walking through a neighborhood of quaint houses on a brisk January afternoon, turning the corner and coming face to face with history made of brick and glass.
It's hearing the pep band music from across the parking lot, the sound leaking from every pore of the classic building and lolling along in the chilled breeze. Surely enough, it's "Rock and Roll, Part 2."
It's stepping inside and moving slowly through the narrow hallways lined with actual cork bulletin boards decorated with the latest accomplishments of the students: a track runner, a baseball player, a tennis player, and their respective GPAs.
It's the sentence written around the edges of that bulletin board, and on many more signs placed throughout this classic building, the credo, the "I Believe" of this school. It's more than just words. It's the Way.
"The Butler Way demands commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality, yet seeks improvement everyday while putting the team above self."
It's me and three of my best friends: Wes, Drew, and Toby, making a four-hour drive to Indianapolis on a Sunday to see this place and this team for the first time, an experience we will always remember.
It's winding our way up the ramps, all the while noting that running down them would indeed be dangerous. Wes makes a joke, "I guess they didn't have escalators back then, huh?"
It's making our way through another narrow hallway, one with old chin-up bars hanging on the walls, coming around another corner and finally seeing it spread out before us. The rafters arcing high above, the open windows on both ends, the rows of seats all leading down to the court, with the Bulldog logo in the middle. A view impossible to take all at once, my eyes dart around trying to piece it together as best as my racing mind would allow.
It's shafts of sunlight slicing across the arena from the high windows onto the seats below. They cast each grain of dust, each particle of air, each person in the seats below in an other-worldly glow. If the Good Lord lets me design my own version of Heaven, surely it will look like this.
It's 15 feet from the backboard to the free throw line. It's 10 feet from the rim to the floor, just as Buddy, Strap, and Ollie found out. You'll find it's the exact same measurements as your gym.
It's the bleachers, real wooden bleachers, pockmarked from years of use and track cleats. It's knee to knee, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder with your neighbor. Plush seats and their armrests only serve as walls of isolation. In the bleachers, we are individual cells pressed together to compose one body, functioning as such while watching the beautiful game.
It's the mascot, a real bulldog named Butler Blue II, barking menacingly at the visitors from Youngstown State as they were announced, then gladly accepting a loving rub from each Butler player as they took the court.
It's the coach, the Wunderkind, who actually does look that young in person, directing his team from the sideline right in front of us. I bought my seats with one purpose: I wanted to be as close to Brad Stevens as I possibly could. We watched as he grew frustrated, but never flustered, with his team as Youngstown State drilled two three-pointers at the start of the game. But then, on the offensive end, he would applaud and even encourage when his players would make the highly infrequent miscue. At Butler, mistakes will happen, but a defensive breakdown will never be tolerated.
It's humility. Knowing who you are, knowing your role. Every player in white knew theirs. Those on the floor meet their coach's demand for stronger defense by effectively shutting down all but one of Youngstown State's players. Ashen Ward would be the only Penguin to score with any regularity, and he dropped deep shot after deep shot on his way to 21 points. Any Youngstown State points usually came after finally cracking the puzzle that was Butler's defense late into the shot clock. And on almost every defensive set, the entire Butler bench rose to their feet, encouraging that defensive pressure.
It's passion. It flows freely through the place, not just from the players on the court, but in the stands around us. It's in the students in front of us, swaying left and right as they clap along to the Butler War Song. It's in the young woman in the tie-died blue shirt standing and applauding every made basket.
It's unity. Butler slowly taking control of the game with a complete team effort. The veterans, if you can call sophomore Khyle Marshall and junior Andrew Smith such, make lay-ups with relative ease. Then the freshmen, Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods start to chip in as well with lay-ups. What was a deficit of four is now a lead of seven, and the tide of momentum turning fully in the Bulldogs favor.
It's servanthood. Ronald Nored, the floor general, distributed the ball to his teammates seven times for those lay-ups, all at the sacrifice of his own point total.
It's thankfulness. Accepting and even appreciating all happenings as part of the elaborate blend of beauty and pain that is life.
It's the two banners, hanging from the rafters above the north basket. Both have Final Four logos on them, both have the phrase "National Finalist."
It's the eighth of an inch that changes one of those banners. It's the space between immeasurable joy and unfathomable disappointment, ending in a loss not once, but twice. But it's knowing this team, this coach, these fans will be all the more thankful for the experience.
It's letting people come on the court after Butler had secured the win and made their way to the locker room. It's walking on to the court, standing on the high altar of this cathedral of the game. We had wondered why so many kids had basketballs. Now we wished we had brought one.
It's lingering a little longer than we usually do after a game, even though we needed to get to the second game of our personal doubleheader in Terre Haute. We wanted to drink in this scene just a bit more, to make sure the flavor stayed with us long beyond this day.
As we settled into the car for the drive to our next game, Drew leaned forward from the backseat and asked:
"So, Donovan, explain to me again just why you are so fascinated with Butler?"
at BUTLER 71, YOUNGSTOWN STATE 55 01/15/2012
YOUNGSTOWN STATE 9-8 (4-3) -- A. Ward 7-12 2-4 21; D. Eargle 3-8 1-4 7; K. Perry 4-12 2-4 10; B. Allen 3-7 0-0 8; D. Brooks 2-5 0-0 5; N. Perry 1-4 0-0 2; F. Larson 1-1 0-0 2; J. Chojnacki 0-0 0-0 0; J. Amiker 0-0 0-0 0; M. Podolsky 0-1 0-0 0; D. Cole 0-0 0-0 0; D. Reese 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-50 5-12 55. BUTLER 10-9 (4-3) -- R. Nored 1-5 4-7 7; A. Smith 7-13 6-6 20; R. Jones 3-7 0-0 6; K. Woods 4-6 2-4 10; C. Stigall 3-7 0-0 7; C. Hopkins 2-7 0-0 6; J. Aldridge 3-6 2-2 10; K. Marshall 2-4 1-1 5; G. Butcher 0-1 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 15-20 71.
Three-point goals: YSU 8-25 (A. Ward 5-9; B. Allen 2-6; D. Brooks 1-3; K. Perry 0-5; N. Perry 0-1; M. Podolsky 0-1), BUTL 6-22 (R. Nored 1-3; C. Stigall 1-5; A. Smith 0-1; C. Hopkins 2-6; J. Aldridge 2-5; K. Woods 0-2); Rebounds: YSU 22 (D. Brooks 7), BUTL 36 (K. Woods 10); Assists: YSU 12 (K. Perry 3), BUTL 16 (R. Nored 7); Total Fouls -- YSU 18, BUTL 15; Fouled Out: YSU-N. Perry; BUTL-None.