Coming up small in the big one

Butler did something no school outside the power conferences in college basketball had ever done. They entered the NCAA tournament and after one game, wore their dark uniforms indicating that they were the underdog. They kept winning. They won ten tournament games in two years, and in only three of them were they considered the favorite.

On Monday night, that all evaporated. The team spit the bit, choked, performed well below expectations in a historically bad shooting performance. They couldn’t hit the water if they fell off a boat. It was a constant stream of insults about the game on Twitter. UConn was forgiven because they had a few stretches of competence and prevailed.

Butler took a 25-19 lead and were outscored 34-16 the rest of the way. Their dream, along with the hopes of the neutral observers who had fallen in with the underdogs, was extinguished.

Sports can carry us on a wave, and more often than not we end up crashing on shore and forget the ride. There were 68 teams in the tournament and Butler finished second, but the result of that final game practically nullifies their run to get to the championship. Is that right?

I’m thinking back to my personal experiences with frustration. The 1986 Miami Hurricanes had Heisman Trophy winning QB Vinny Testadaverde, a great defense, and only needed to beat Penn State to take the title. Vinny had an epic fail a generation before someone came up with the term. He threw five interceptions including the final one with 18 seconds left at the goal line.

I could do a blog post just on Titans failures. Kevin Dyson’s inability to break the tackle of a so-so linebacker left the team one yard from a potential tie in the Super Bowl. Fans don’t forget the team’s incredible run just to get to the big game. First-round losses to the Ravens twice are more prominent in fans’ memories for games that wiped out the achievements of a fantastic regular season.

There are two with the Missouri Tigers. During my sophomore year Melvin Booker led the team to an undefeated conference record. They got to the Elite Eight and faced Arizona. This is the singular moment in which a Missouri team was the higher seed in an Elite Eight game. Arizona blew out the Tigers by 20. It wasn’t close. The football team had a number one ranking heading into the Big 12 title game against Oklahoma three years ago. If they won, they would have played for a national title. Instead the team scored a season-low 17 points and lost by three touchdowns. The margin of victory led to stinking Kansas getting an Orange Bowl berth and Missouri played the mighty Arkansas Razorbacks, the sixth-best team in the SEC, in the Cotton Bowl.

In the year 2000, I had seen my White Sox in the playoffs twice. Both times they were defeated fairly soundly. 2000 was different because they finished with the top record in the American League. They went quietly into that good night, getting swept by the Wild Card Mariners. At least the team came through five years later.

I can’t imagine that Butler fans will let this single-game performance tarnish the team’s achievement. There were plenty of “they won’t be back” comments. While there are good odds that it won’t happen again, that’s exactly the odds they bucked this season. I’ll be rooting for them.

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