Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Way Of The Dawg

The dream was near, but not to be.

Some of my better-educated friends wonder why I follow sports, much less get excited by the games. Barry Crimmins isn't one of them. As he said to me last week, when it comes to certain games and specific teams, talking to us is like talking to a kid wearing a ball cap and chewing bubble gum. It's a primal state, perhaps arrested development. The passion we feel transcends higher thinking. Rationally discussing it is a sucker's game.

Butler's basketball team had an amazing season. Cliché but true. How they got to the final tournament game baffled most experts, yet we who follow them know that's how Butler does it -- grit, discipline, focus, luck. When Butler's on a roll, wonderful things fall into place. Last night's performance against UConn blew up that model from 80 different angles. It was the worst tournament game I've seen Butler play. UConn's size, length, and speed had a lot to do with that. But the Bulldogs had plenty of open looks. They simply couldn't sink a shot. For an Indiana team, that was most baffling of all.

Sports fans attach varied emotions to their teams. Mostly it's tribal, a lot of times just wanting to be identified with a winner. For me, it's largely autobiographical. Butler University plays an influential part in my psyche. Whenever I'm in Indy, I stroll through the small campus, memories vivid then gone as a group of kids walk past me. Kids who weren't alive when I walked in their place. At Butler I became politically aware and creatively emboldened. I forged relationships that still exist. I enjoyed some of the best times of my life there. I'm also a huge basketball fan. I'm a Hoosier. It comes with the membership.

Butler's run in the past two years animated all this and more. It's rare that I care this much for a team (not even my New York Jets match it), but the way Butler played, their tenacity and spirit, being in a place where luck ceases to surprise, inspired me. A close friend recently connected Butler with The Project. "What you're doing is like how Butler plays," she said. "You scrap, dive for loose balls, trust your instincts, combine head and heart. You are Butler."

Coming from her, this meant a lot. She's not only a Butler grad, she also taught there, as did her father, who worked closely with Tony Hinkle, the founder of Butler basketball. She lives her life the Butler Way: humble, strong, serving others, primarily in the developing world. It's a genuine mindset, and I'm flattered to be associated with it. And yes, I've had nights where my material hit around 18 percent. So I can imagine how Butler's team feels today. But it's okay. We get off the floor and go back to work. It's what we do. We're Butler.