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Duke vs. Butler : The View from Inside Lucas Oil Stadium

photo by Wilson Weldon

At about the 5 minute mark I realized I had better sit down and breathe ( or, more accurately, stop breathing so much) or I was going to end up trying to watch the end of game through the legs of one of the paramedics administering oxygen to me on the ground in row NN.

And I’m only half kidding. Just take all that angst, stress, anxiety, rage, anticipation,hope,fear,and excitement you were feeling while watching it and multiply it by about 70,000. That’s what the inside of that stadium felt like. It was a palpable and tangible energetic force that seethed and rose and steadily built, tsunami-like in proportion, sweeping the majority of the fans up out of their seats with virtually every posession, driving them to shrill-voiced exclamations of expletive laden invective and strident encouragement, and carrying them to the utter limit of their endurance as it threatened to drown them in that maelstrom of emotion.

It was, quite frankly, an ecstatic experience in the truest sense:

Ecstasy is subjective experience of total involvement of the subject, with an object of his or her awareness. Because total involvement with an object of our interest is not our ordinary experience since we are ordinarily aware also of other objects, the ecstasy is an example of altered state of consciousness characterized by diminished awareness of other objects or total lack of the awareness of surroundings and everything around the object. For instance, if one is concentrating on a physical task (or in this case a basketball game), then one might cease to be aware of any intellectual thoughts. On the other hand, making a spirit journey in an ecstatic trance involves the cessation of voluntary bodily movement.

For the duration of the ecstasy the ecstatic is out of touch with ordinary life and is capable neither of communication with other people nor of undertaking normal actions. Although the experience is usually brief in physical time (from momentary to about half an hour), there are records of such experiences lasting several days or even more, and of recurring experiences of ecstasy during one’s lifetime. Subjective perception of time, space and/or self may strongly change or disappear during ecstasy.

Thankfully my strategy worked and my heart remained unexploded, enabling me to watch the end of arguably the best college basketball game in history. Once you factor in the storybook Butler run, the rabid cults of love and hate around the Duke program, the home town setting, the enormity of the championship game and its national stage, the exciting build-up that this particular tournament provided,the overall competitveness and quality of play in the final game ( 15 lead changes/5 ties) and the fact that what would have been the single greatest shot in the history of college basketball became the single greatest missed shot in the history of college basketball by a soul wrenching 3 inches, you realize that these are the ingredients for what can only be considered a one-in-a-lifetime game, This is all the more true if you are a fan of one of the teams involved.

For the 50,000 or so Butler fans the ecstatic moment ended abruptly, drawing them instantly back to the reality that their team had lost a game they deserved to win every bit as much as Duke. You can almost understand the Indiana governor’s sentiment in declaring them the “real champion” and someone in the media ( Gottlieb , was it?) referring to them as Co-champions. If the world had suddenly ended with the score tied, I tend to imagine that all of our disembodied souls could have floated through the ether content with that result. It was in many ways the ultimate too-bad-there-had-to-be-a-loser game.

However, as there did have to be a loser, I’m glad as f***ing hell it wasn’t us. When the moment gave way for Duke fans, it gave way to indescribable, mindless, transportive, disbelieving exaltation. I still don’t believe it. Coach K still can’t believe it. NOBODY in Duke blue can fully grasp the fact that this team without a true point guard, that got embarrassed by the worst team in the ACC and run off the court at Georgetown, that initially had a lot of height and not much else in the frontcourt, that ground out ugly looking victories while shooting abominably from the field, and that played in a conference that was having one of it’s worst years in memory , won the FREAKING NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP!!! WHAT !?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

The fact is that I have not even attempted to watch a televised replay of the game, as the emotional imprint of the experience is still so potent that even highlights of the last play threaten to push me over the edge ( again). I guess I’ll just have to wait a month or two…

I would like to leave you with a quote from my good friend Wil’s post-game facebook update: ” Dear Duke, you took years off of my life…and then gave them back. Thanks!”


For your viewing pleasure here is the reaction in Cameron.