On Tuesday morning following the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, the front page of The Wisconsin State Journal carried the headline: Out-Duked. The Herald Sun in Durham boasted: Devils Take 5.
The Badgers were thought to be the team with more momentum going into the game having defeated the perfect 38-0 star-laden Kentucky Wildcats. I listened to countless sports analysts like Jim Nantz, Greg Gumbel, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Clark Kellogg and Ernie Johnson, Jr. prattle on and on about their “predictions” for a Wisconsin win over Duke.
I understand, believe me I do, that there is widespread dislike for Duke. There will always be haters. In an open thread at Ace of Spades, Y-Not wrote before the semifinal games last Saturday night, “True Americans will be rooting for the Spartans and the Badgers. Just sayin’.”
Die-hard Badger fan and blogger friend Steve, proprietor of Grandpa John blog, was nothing but a class act before and after the big game between the two schools. He offered a correction to my brackets saying, “Sorry in advance for my Wisconsin drubbing North Carolina.” Of course, he was right. I had picked the Tarheels of North Carolina to advance to the Final Four against the Badgers. When they lost I began rooting for Wisconsin because I, like so many others, dislike Kentucky (the second-most hated basketball team in America).
Monday afternoon, well before tipoff, Steve posted a comment asking, “Whatcha doin’ this evening? It oughta be good, both teams are HOT!” On Tuesday after Duke’s spectacular victory Steve wrote, “Congratulations! Duke did a great job. (Whimper, whimper.)”
This year’s tournament was filled with upsets and heroes and some of the most unforgettable moments I’ve ever witnessed. It was heartbreaking to watch the hurt the Badgers felt when they lost. One photograph told the story most poignantly. It depicted all five Wisconsin players leaving the court with their hands on their heads in disbelief, confetti falling all around them, realizing their historic run in the tourney was over.
At the same time, Duke fans were euphoric. I was among them. I wanted to post an article here right after the game, but decided against it. It would have sounded like bragging. I didn’t want to do that. Instead, I’ve waited a few days so that I might congratulate Wisconsin on a courageous game—a game that was hard-fought, physical, emotional and charged with electricity. The basketball world may have wanted a Duke-Kentucky championship game, but what they got was a magnificent game played with tremendous heart.
Who knew the headband message “De5tiny” (the piece of tape the Blue Devil mascot wears across its forehead) would come true?
Nike Basketball tweeted this inspiring message:
Play for a legend. Win for the legacy. #justdoit pic.twitter.com/0A02bpLeUv
— Nike Basketball (@nikebasketball) April 7, 2015
By now the tears have dried for Kaminsky, Dekker, Koenig, Hayes, Gasser, Showalter, Jackson and Dukan. It’ll be hard to put aside the disappointment, but years from now they will have a story to tell of how they won more games than any other in their program history. It was a remarkable journey that was 74 years in the making. They should be proud. They were a formidable opponent. It was “One Shining Moment.”