For Butler’s Fighting Crew

Butler War Song

We’ll sing the Butler war song,
We’ll give a fighting cry;
We’ll fight the Butler battle–
Bulldogs ever do or die.
And in the glow of the victory firelight,
Hist’ry cannot deny
To add a page or two
For Butler’s fighting crew
Beneath the Hoosier sky.

Fight songs are so hokey.  Virtually all of them bring Chip Hilton-esque images to my mind.  Visions of rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed coeds and earnest, pomade-dripping young men hopping in their jaunty jalopy on a clear, crisp day and heading down for the Big Game, pennant proudly flying from the back.

But, you know what?  Occasionally, I crave hokey.

The Butler Bulldogs lost to the Connecticut Huskies last night in a brutal 53-41 affair.  No one can pretend it was anything other than ugly basketball.  UConn’s champions shot 34.5%, and the Bulldogs managed only 18.8% – a number worse than any I can remember.

Desperation makes for ugly.  For all complaints about quality of play, we tend to forget that we are just a few months away from a Game 7 with several future Hall of Famers where the teams combined to shoot 36% from the floor.  Pacer fans tend to forget that the last game the Pacers played that had championship implications was a 69-65 loss in which the teams combined to shoot 34%.

But mostly, we all tend to forget that basketball is almost never about basketball.  Just like football in rarely about football, or baseball is rarely about baseball.

It’s about something else.  What that something else is, I couldn’t necessarily tell you.  Really, you’d have to tell yourself.  Whatever it is, it’s personal.  It acts as the medium through which people experience family, community, drama, hopes, dreams, solace, escape.

I find myself missing my Chip Hilton view of the world more and more.  I find myself saddened that my son likely will never have it.  I’m not kidding myself.  I hold no illusions about the “purity” of college athletics.  Hypocrisy and worse exists there – just as it does almost everywhere today.  I’m not going to pretend that was “good basketball.”  I’m just going to say that I don’t care whether it was or not.

For whatever other issues the Connecticut Huskies have, the players on that team earned the right to be proud of their title and their tourney run.  Congratulations.  Today, you are National Champs.

For whatever is said about Butler’s performance last night, they have done their families, their friends, their city, and their state proud.  In two great tournament runs, the Bulldogs accomplished some amazing things.  Their road was not easy.  In 2010, they defeated  the #1 and #2 seeds in their region to get to the Final Four, then defeated Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans before falling just short against the Duke Blue Devils.

In February of this year, they stood 14-9 and appeared headed back to the anonymity that awaited “Cinderellas” who fell short in the past.  In what largely amounted to two months of win-or-go-home basketball, Butler won 14 straight games to return to the title game this year.  Along the way, they played a conference tourney championship game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee on UWM’s home floor.  They again had to beat the #1 and #2 seeds in their region to get back to the Final Four.

I find myself oddly heartbroken today.  My dad graduated from Butler in 1956, and I went there for my freshman year before I realized it was just too expensive (if I wasn’t actually going to go to classes.)  But I can’t really claim to be a Butler fan.  I cheered for them, but I was raised an IU fan.  It would be dishonest to say that I have the emotional investment that many do, which is why I’m surprised at the depth of my feeling today.

It’s not only sadness, though.  I feel gratitude.  Gratitude for a team that re-awakened fond memories of my childhood when the ideal of Chip Hilton was a real, tangible thing.  I feel pride.  Pride to be even tangentially associated with the institution for which these young men performed over the last two years.

Today at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs will celebrate one more time this year with their fans.  And it should be a celebration, not a mourning.

Coach Brad Stevens and Butler’s Fighting Crew should stand tall and proud beneath the Hoosier sky.

Thanks, Guys.  It’s been swell.

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