The Clunk Heard Round the World

Last night was the final game of the NCAA tournament for 2010.  Unless you really don’t give a hoot about basketball, you probably were aware that mighty Duke played an unexpected and underrated opponent by the name of Butler University from my home state of Indiana.  In any other year I would be cheering for Duke which I know invokes strong responses from most people.  Duke is a team folks either love or hate, there’s usually no in between.  I happen to like Duke, I respect their coach Mike Krzyzewski, I respect the fact I could spell his name correctly-ok so I looked it up-shoot me, I like the fact they are a perennial threat every year, I like how passionate their fans are.

But this year was a different story.  This year their opponent was none other than Butler, a small liberal arts university that I’d previously known for having a good dance school.  Oh and their gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse, was one of the gyms used in Hoosiers.  Butler was an improbable finalist in the tournament, rising from I think it was the 5th seed to almost win the game.  It was one of the best basketball games I’ve watched in recent history.  Both teams were neck and neck with each other, their defenses were tight so the score was relatively low and the excitement in the stadium was palpable what with Duke’s passionate fans trying to outshout the home field advantage Butler had.  Duke ended up winning by one point but not before one of the Butler players launched a mid-court buzzer beater shot.  You could hear the collective intake of breath as time slowed down and everyone waited to see where the ball landed.  It not only made it to the basket, it hit the rim with a loud clunk that CBS replayed over and over.  Alas it didn’t go in.  What a story that would have been.

So Duke won the game.  But I couldn’t help thinking throughout the celebration and press conference afterwards, that the real story was what Butler had accomplished.  That they were the real winners of the night and we were the better having watched them.  They never doubted they had the right to be in the finals, never apologized for their presence, never made excuses for their ascension, never wavered in their belief they would win.  That team should be so proud of what they achieved.  And what they taught me, not that I matter anything to them, is something I will draw on in years to come.

I do loves me some Hoosier basketball!

Cinderella Story

It’s March Madness time again.  The selection show was just the other day and the hopes and dreams of many a small school were either rewarded or dashed.  Even though I grew up in roundball crazy Indiana before they totally wrecked the high school tournament by going to a class system (sorry-editorial comment), I really don’t watch much college basketball during the year.  My sport is the NFL.  But this time of year, I become a devotee of NCAA hoops.  There are 64 teams that on any given day can emerge as a giant killer.  Yes there are top seeds that are expected to do really well but as any bracket picker can tell you, there’s always a #12 seed that just slays a #5 seed and then goes on to win the next round.  The key is that #12 believes that they have every right to be there and why wouldn’t they win?  After their victory, they look around in confusion wondering at everyone else’s surprise.

Watching these teams win, and there is at least one every year, I’m constantly reminded of the overnight success phenomena.  The actor struggling just on the edge of success, the inventor tinkering in his basement every night.  Suddenly just the right conditions come together at just the right time and people start to notice what was in front of their eyes all along.  They just weren’t seeing it.  The anonymous actor/inventor/whatever is a bit flummoxed at all the attention because he/she hadn’t really changed what they were doing, the only difference was  their efforts were now getting noticed and applauded.  It’s the Cinderella story of Caddyshack fame.  Maybe I won’t make it to Augusta to play (although I’ve been there several times as a spectator), or to a final four in basketball, or even on stage at the Oscar’s, but I believe I have every right to be there and that’s going to carry me closer to achieving my dreams.

It’s in the hole.

Glory Days

Spending so much time with some pretty nifty college students these past weeks took me back to my own experience at university.  I chose to go out of state to Marquette for several reasons, it was Catholic, they’d just won the NCAA Men’s Basketball championship, it was urban-at least more urban than where I came from, they had a journalism school (my first major until I realized I’d have to write every single day-so not for me!) and no one I knew was going there.  High school was a challenge so I wanted a fresh start somewhere where no one knew anything about me.  Plus the application didn’t require an essay.  Did I mention I wasn’t all that jazzed about writing?

So there I was at my new school with no friends around me, no one whose face I even recognized.  In other words, be careful what you wish for.  I was lucky to fall in with a good group of people that were pretty much like me, average students, average looks, average families, average ambitions.  We weren’t the jocks, the rich kids, the cool kids, the prepsters, the brains, the theatre kids.  In short, we were average.  I was happy with my friends and loved them for who they were, not what they did.  It didn’t hurt as much as it did in high school that I wasn’t part of the in crowd but I was still aware of the cliques.

Watching the students during the filming of my recent projects I was reminded that those cliques still existed.  There were still those that were in and those looking in from the outside.  I was reminded how painful it was to look from from the outside trying to figure out how to get in.  Now that I’m old and grizzled being in the cool crowd is not even on my radar.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember what it was like when being accepted was the most important thing in my life.  And the most elusive.  My heart goes out to those going through it now.  It does get better with age, the pain diminishes and is replaced with all the wonderful accomplishments that lie ahead.  I’d never give up the wisdom and perspective I’ve gained for another chance at being 18 again.  Thanks but no thanks!