This was the year I became a Butler University basketball fan. For me to become a fan of a non-Southern college sports team is quite out of character.
I was born and raised some 90 miles northeast of the University of Tennessee, and it is said that on a clear day during football season, you can hear the 109,000 Volunteer fans gathered at Neyland Stadium singing “Rocky Top.” I never heard them myself but somebody did say that once.
I was also a fan of the Buccaneers of my alma mater East Tennessee State University just 20 miles from my home. They even had a domed stadium which was cutting edge back then, especially for a mid-size school. However, dastardly and diabolical forces infiltrated the power structure and after more than 80 years of Buccaneer football, the program was canceled in 2003.
In 1960, ETSU went 10-0-1 and defeated a Terry Bradshaw-led Louisiana Tech team 34-14 in the Grantland Rice Bowl. Mike Smith, current head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was a linebacker for ETSU. That was before the carpetbaggers and socialists destroyed 80 years of football tradition.
Okay, maybe they weren’t carpetbaggers or socialists, but they sure weren’t true Southerners, because no true child of the South would cut an 80-year football program. It’s just not right. It may not even be Christian.
Anyway, none of this has to do with Butler University except to say that I generally pull for Southern teams and take very little interest in college basketball.
But when little Butler University, with a student population of some 3,900, began tearing through the big boys of the NCAA, it was hard not to notice.
Butler was formed in 1855 by an abolitionist lawyer named Ovid Butler. The school was first known as North Western Christian University and made its home in Indianapolis. A small, private, liberal arts school, two-thirds of its student body receives some sort of need-based assistance.
Small as it is, Butler is no pushover. The Bulldogs defeated the powerful Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11,733 students) the last six times they met on the court. Butler has been to nine NCAA tournaments and three National Invitational Tournaments since 1997.
In the 2010 “Sweet Sixteen,” Butler defeated the #1 top seed Syracuse (19,638 students) and then eliminated #2 seed Kansas State University (21,570 students). Butler then met and defeated Michigan State University (student population 46,000) and met powerful Duke University (13,457 students) in the championship game.
On the last play of the game, a game in which no team led by more than six points, a Butler player shot the ball from near half court as the final buzzer sounded and hit the rim — but the ball did not go through the hoop.
Thus, Duke University scraped by only by the skin of its teeth to win 61-59. What a finish to an incredible journey!
I think that Hollywood should make a movie about the 2010 basketball season of Butler University. It is the underdog story of the year — maybe even of this young century.
“They didn’t win the championship,” you say? Rocky Balboa didn’t defeat Apollo Creed either in the first Rocky movie. And that was fiction. These Butler warriors are the real deal!
And, like Rocky, they will get another shot at the prize. Maybe it’s the minister in me, but I love a good David and Goliath story. Especially when “David” tears ‘em up![David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Fellowship in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]