Loving the Underdog

I’m not much of a college basketball fan, but I usually manage to drum up a little interest when the NCAA finals start heating up.

This year was a drag.  My team — that would be the University of Texas — crashed and burned in the first round.  All right, no big deal, no reason to gnash my already-worn molars.  I’d root for our son’s team, the University of Kansas.  Forget the Longhorns, go Jayhawks.

Then, KU got annihilated by some team I’d never heard of — Northern Iowa or Illinois, maybe.  Even from a distance of thousands of miles, I could tell our son was in a horrible mood.  (Mothers are so intuitive.  Also, he stopped taking our phone calls.)

All right, all right.  So I’d ignore the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four.  It was spring and I had better, more meaningful things to think about, like how I have no spring wardrobe whatsoever and how people seem to constantly smoke marijuana directly under our second-floor window without ever offering us any.  Important things like that.

Time passed, teams got eliminated and I started hearing about the David and Goliath matchup between rich, entitled Duke and some little Midwestern team from Butler University.  I just love David and Goliath battles.  Every time I hear about one, I want to pick up a slingshot and a rock.

“We have to watch the final,” I told my husband.

We settled in to watch last night.  I was already in love with Butler — their navy-blue uniforms were so much more attractive than Duke’s, their faces so fresh and rosy and Midwestern, their excitement palpable.  Then I looked at the two coaches and that sealed the deal.  Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, looked like he’s stepped straight out of a century’s stay at Madame Tussaud’s to work on a new ulcer.  Butler’s coach, Brad Stevens, in contrast, gets my vote for being the cutest coach in the NCAA.  Thirty-three years old, and he looks as young as most of his team members.  Plus, he wasn’t a screamer.  He was calm and intent on the sidelines.  He looked like a coach who clearly deserved to win.

“I want Duke to win,” my husband said, out of nowhere.

Oh, brother.  It was like a knife going through my heart.  What did he mean, he wanted Duke to win?  I pointed to the TV set and all the fresh little Butler faces.  “How can you deny them this?” I demanded.  “It’s the biggest moment of their lives.  Everybody else in the world is supporting Butler, except Duke alumni.”

Who can root for Goliath when you’ve got Team David right in front of you? I wondered morosely.  I texted our son, to see if he was still boycotting basketball.  Nope.  He was rooting for Butler, too.  I wrote him back that his father was supporting Duke, with roughly the same dolefulness I would have used to report his father liked to club baby seals to death or had just joined the Tea Party movement.  Duke!

The game went on.  Butler was scrappy and smart and never-say-die, even if Duke — like all giants — was taller.  It all came down to Butler’s final shot, from mid-court, and you know the rest.  61-59, but my, oh, my, our Butler boys and coach did shine.  Even my husband, friend and fan of the empowered, insatiable giants of the universe, had to admit as much.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

See one of my favorite posts about how I helped the University of Kansas win the Final Four

2 comments… add one
  • I heard it was an amazing game. My husband kept passing the bedroom door saying he couldn’t take the pressure. I come from a Duke family, but I was secretly rooting for Butler. I like underdogs. 🙂

  • I’m always hoping the University of Arizona is in the finals because I’m a Wildcat for Life (and an easy target for alumni marketing campaigns…can you tell?!). I know Gonzaga usually makes it pretty far, and that there are always office pools. That’s the extent of my knowledge and real interest, unless there’s a party with schmoozing. Aside from that I prefer to have my husband tell me about all the highlights of the game and call me into the room to watch a spectacular play. 🙂

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