Monday, March 17, 2008

Another blog from the father-to-be


This blog has absolutely nothing to do with pregnancy or the like. However, Steve wrote this blog on his myspace profile last year and was so proud of it that he wanted me to re-post it this year on my new blogspot blog.

I guess it kind-of ties into "us" in that this blog has to do with our time at Butler together and of the heartbreaking NCAA tourney Butler-Florida game that we were both in attendance at in 2000. So, in honor of our Bulldogs dancing again this year, here is Steve's blog in all it's glory (note this was written after they advanced to the sweet 16 last year)...

The revenge game: Why I'm excited that Butler will be playing Florida

And here we are. My Butler Bulldogs are in the sweet sixteen for the second time in five years. I couldn't be prouder. I really thought at the beginning of this season that it would be tough this year, losing Brandon Polk and Avery Sheets. Then I worried that winning the Preseason NIT would end up being the highlight. No, this team surpassed even my highest expectations for this season. Now, we get the game I've been waiting seven years to get. Time for revenge!

First, a little background: in 2000, I was a junior at Butler and a proud member of the basketball band. Me, Carrie, and about a half-dozen other people who are now on my MySpace friends list were selected as members of the condensed basketball band that would travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to cheer on Butler as they took on the fifth seeded Florida Gators. As soon as the brackets were announced, I was excited. Florida had come into that season with high expectations, but had never really matched them. They seemed like an over-hyped BCS school (except there was no BCS at the time) that would be ripe for an upset. Plus, Butler was on a roll. After a sluggish start to the season, Butler cruised down the stretch and eventually won the conference tournament. I was confident. We were all confident and hopeful. This was the year Butler would finally break through.

I had a front row seat for the game, underneath the north goal. If the game is ever on ESPN Classic (as it sometimes is) I'm the one in the white Butler hat. Sitting next to me was my buddy Utah (now Brodie). Carrie was a few spots to my right, in one of those fishermen's hats that were popular at the time. You can see her in the ESPN Classic footage too. I remember that I bought a water bottle from the concession stand at the arena, but representatives from the NCAA told us to hide it because they didn't want the TV cameras to pick up the label on the bottle (that particular water company wasn't a sponsor of the tournament). That's how close we were to the action.

From early on in the game, I knew Butler might be in trouble. I remember seeing Udonis Haslem, the Florida power forward (now with the Miami Heat). Dude was legit 6'9" 260 at least. Butler's power forward was Mike Marshall, 6'4" of pure muscle and heart. If competitive fire alone were enough to make it in the NBA, Marshall would have been an All-Star. Butler's center was Scott Robisch, lanky and awkward but nonetheless effective. He was a transfer from Oklahoma State who had gained eligibility midway through the season. His arrival was a major reason for Butler's turnaround. But neither Robisch nor Marshall was going to be able to stop Haslem in the paint. Dude was a monster compared to everyone else on the floor. What's more, Florida also had Mike Miller, Wooden Award candidate and future NBA lottery pick. So early on, I had a bad feeling.

But Butler keep hanging around. Then we took the lead…and we kept the lead…and the half kept winding down…and we still had the lead. Excitement was building. It started to look like Butler was about to pull the upset. I remember looking up at the game clock during the second half and seeing just over 5 minutes remaining. I had watched the tournament since I was a kid, I knew how CBS' coverage worked. And as I looked at the clock, saw the time, and saw the score, I knew that every CBS affiliate in the country was tuned to this game right now. No other game was close. All eyes were on the 12th seeded Butler Bulldogs, from a school of just over 3,000 in central Indiana, giving the University of Florida all they could handle.

The Bulldogs couldn't hold that lead though, and the game went into overtime. I remember everyone around me being beyond tense. Excited. Ready to explode. By this point, there was absolutely zero doubt in my mind that Butler would prevail. The halftime wore on and as time wore down, Butler had a one point lead as Lavall Jordan approached the three point line. This would be to ice it. He missed the first. He missed the second. Florida grabs the rebound and gets the ball into the hands of Mike Miller…

My seat was on the opposite side of the court from Florida's goal. I had a bad angle, so I never actually saw the shot go in. But I knew it did. I saw Miller jumping up and down. I saw the Florida bench clearing and mobbing him at mid court. I just stood there; stunned. We lost. It seemed utterly impossible only a few moments before, but we lost. I was deflated. The energy had been completely sucked out of my body by one simple basket. In the words of's Bill Simmons, it was a level 2 stomach punch game. In my entire life as a sports fan (which means basically as long as I can remember), no loss has ever hurt more.

The band played "Back to Butler" after the game, just as we did after every game, win or lose. But this time, the song had a different feel to it. Nobody wanted to go back to Butler. We wanted to keep on dancing. On the bus back to the hotel, the band's bass player went down the isle giving a hug to everyone. I know that there was a 12 hour bus ride back to Indianapolis at some point after the game, but honestly I don't remember any of it. The rest of the trip was just a blur. Florida eventually advanced to the National Championship game, where they lost to Michigan State. Everyone at Butler was happy when Florida finally went down. All I could think was, "what if?"

Fast forward seven years later. I now work at Ball State, but remain devoted to my Dawgs. People ask me all the time "who do you root for when Butler plays Ball State?" I say "I spent four years having floor seats and screaming my head off for Butler. Some people might be able turn off that kind of passion like a light switch; but I'm not one of them." Most of the principal players in that game have moved on. Butler coach Barry Collier went to take a job at the University of Nebraska after that game, but later returned as Butler's Athletic Director. Two Butler players from that team (Jordan, along with Joel Cornette) are now assistant coaches at Butler. Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem are enjoying productive NBA careers. Florida coach Billy Donovan now has a National Championship. Butler has won their first round game in each of their last three tournament appearances. Most people seem to have forgotten that game.
But I haven't forgotten. I'll never forget that game. And even though much has changed since 2000, I would still love a shot at revenge. That's why I want Florida so bad.

P.S. Here's a link to a recap of that 2000 Butler-Florida game.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How I remember that game. So close! Didn't Florida play in the final game in Indy? I seem to recall that they played Butler in scrimmage as a warm up. Ah, those were the days...good seats, surrounded by friends... How I wish I could go back to Butler and relive some of those days. :( nostalgia