When Gordon Hayward's desperation shot bounced off the backboard and then off the front of the rim ensuring Duke its fourth national championship a small part of me died. More than anyone, I know sports don't always end up with the poetic ending, but for the past 39 minutes and 59 seconds of basketball Butler had come out and proven that they could fight their way to their storybook ending with stifling defense. I guess I had bought in to the Hoosiers comparison that had been constantly thrown around in the media over the past few week. So when the chance for the comparison to come to fruition came just short, I like many others was disappointed.
Once I started thinking though, I realized that the real sports movie comparison wasn't Hoosiers at all. It was an even better sports movie. One that won the Academy Award. One not about basketball. Yep, you guessed it, Rocky. While I enjoy every movie in the Rocky series (well except Rocky V, but that never happened), the first movie is undoubtably the best film. The thing that makes it so unique is that the hero loses the fight at the end. But that's not the point. Unlike 99.9999% of sports movies, the point of Rocky is not winning, its proving you belong when others don't think you will. Its about going the distance.
So now, a few days after a tantalizingly close missed buzzer beater crushed the hopes of pretty much all college basketball fans, I realize that even though Butler lost, the real storyline of the tournament was that they went the distance. Don't let the typical post championship articles about Duke fool you either. They were Apollo Creed. Duke had 6 McDonalds All-Americans. Butler had all of zero. Duke had the coach who many feel may be the best the sport has ever seen. Butler's coach just finished puberty. Yes Duke and Butler weren't separated by that much in the polls entering the season. Yes Butler was on the longest active win streak entering the game. But Butler seemed to eek out every one of their games and never looked dominant. Duke on the other hand picked Baylor apart late in their Elite Eight matchup and then delivered a haymaker to a West Virginia team who had just knocked off Kentucky. Duke wasn't the collossus that last year's UNC team was (lets just say if Duke was Creed, last year's UNC was Ivan Drago and we all know what happened there) but in the context of the national championship game, Duke was the overwhelming favorite. While the usual media hype accompanied it (I mean some tried to sell last year's UNC vs. MSU final as a great matchup) there was an overwhelming sentiment that Duke was poised for a blowout.
Much Balboa-Creed, Butler came out and surprised everyone including Duke by giving them their best shot. Duke was never really able to get into a rhythm and couldn't get the open threes that had carried them through the tournament. By the last few minutes Butler looked as if they could not only stand toe-to-toe with Duke but could actually pull the huge upset. In the end Duke never delivered the knockout punch, they survived and won in the end by a few centimeters with their opponent still standing, a team that had emerged victorious in every manner except on the scoreboard (NOTE: by no means am I implying Duke won unfairly. Personally I thought the refs were very fair and Duke did deserve the win).
So when you're busy reading all the stories on ESPN and Sports Illustrated about how you should appreciate Duke's hard work, or Brian Zoubek's transformation into an effective basketball player, or how Coach K needs to be praised for being able to win with a lineup of 4 upperclassmen McDonalds All Americans (okay so that last one is a bit sarcastic, but the other ones are true), just remember that sometimes the team that loses can be the best story. That is the case with Butler. They went the distance.