College basketball is probably my favorite sport, which makes the Monday of the National Title game almost like a holiday for me. And considering most holidays mean a day off from work, I normally aren't able to concentrate that well on that specific day. That is especially true on the rare days that Duke makes the national title game. One would think this might even be more the case this past Monday, since not only was it a title game, and Duke was playing, but also I was attending the game. However, for this past Monday I actually had a very productive day. I think part of that had to do with wanting to leave early in order to drive to Indianapolis to go see the title game, and the other part had to do with getting ready to on a work trip to Texas. Up until I got in the car to leave work it was just a normal day, but everything after that was beyond surreal. I had invited one of my friends (who happens to live down the street) to go to the game in Indy after finding tickets on Sunday. I was fortunate enough to be able to buy tickets that were more than 50% less than previous prices because all of the fans of Kentucky were selling the tickets for a very reduced rate. However, despite the *discount it didn't feel like any hype was lessened when we arrived in Indianapolis. There was literally music in the streets as countless waves of people walked by with smiles on their faces. I have been to many sporting events, but the feeling walking around Indy before the basketball title game was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
*The prices were still high
We walked around for a little bit, picked up our tickets from Stubhub and then went into Lucas Oil Stadium to watch warmups. At this point I was getting a little bit nervous. I had invested a ton of time, money and emotions into this one game, and it was being projected (by Vegas and many commentators) to be a close Wisconsin victory. Also, there was the little issue of having a 6:30am flight leaving from Columbus the next morning. The one really good sign was that in a stadium made up of about 85% Wisconsin fans, the people in section 153 were more of a 50/50 mix. That included this one diehard Duke fan who had flown in from Orlando to see the game by herself. A new friend that (spoiler alert) I found myself hugging during some of the game's more dramatic moments.
The game itself was absolutely transcendent, and that isn't hyperbole. It was 70k people whose emotions were tied to every single play, and were standing the vast majority of the game. I have never been to a Super Bowl, but I heard that was more of a corporate crowd, and that the game wasn't for the common fan. This game seemed completely different from that because the people in the stadium just seemed normal - if you define normal as people who act like me when watching basketball games.
The game followed a familiar pattern for anyone who had watched Duke all year. This game was almost exactly like the St. John's game or the UVA game or either UNC game. Unlike last year's team this year's team almost seemed to offended when teams would take seemingly overwhelming 2nd half leads against them. This game was no different, but the one thing that was different was that the 8th man (on a team with 8 scholarship players) was the one that closed the game by hitting a 3, creating a turnover and then having a 3 point play. Grayson Allen (the 8th man) took a 9 point Wisconsin lead and cut it to 3, and this year's Duke team had a new hero.
After that it was time for Tyus Jones and somewhat surprisingly considering his struggles all game Jahlil Okafor to step up. Jones hit what seemed to be truly impossible shots (from my viewpoint they looked like really poor, low percentage decisions) and Okafor had two extremely important field goals with 3 minutes to. And before I knew it, it went from making excuses (it's ok they are about to lose....Wisconsin is just a really good team....and this has been a fun experience) to really thinking Duke was going to win it all. It is hard to describe, but it all seemed to happen in the matter of seconds. I nervously watched the final few plays (the Tyus Jones missed layup and then the free throws) before celebrating the final few seconds counting down till Duke's 5th National Title.
This might all seem a little bit silly, but for those of who know me it isn't. I watched 97% of the minutes played by Duke this year in basketball, and actually attended three games. I normally like Duke, but this year's Duke team just seemed different. I loved watching how they played, and will likely be complaining in future's years about how future Duke teams don't have the post player of Okafor, the defense of Winslow or the leadership of Cook or the overall brilliance in the biggest moment of Tyus Jones. Regardless of what happens after this (and almost definitely all four of those players will gone from next year's team) it was an amazing team, and I am beyond thrilled to have been in attendance when they won the title.
After attending the game, I finally got on twitter to see what people were saying as we drove back from Indy. I didn't get to sleep until around 4am, which gave me a whole 1.5 hours of sleep before waking up and rushing to the airport. I have probably never been more happy/tired (most of the times for me tired does not equal anything close to happy) in my life. I was actually able to make it till 10pm on Tuesday, which put my awake hours at 30 out 32 hours. It was worth it. The whole thing was worth it. Monday night was one of the reasons why I became a sports fan.