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Title-game flop doesn't have to be a disappointment

by | Special to

This was the game that millions of fans waited for an entire year to see, and yet it wasn't much of a game at all.

Last year, when Butler played Duke, even though man for man Duke was probably a better team, Butler hung in there and almost won. This year, UConn was the better team and ... well, they played like it.

Butler shot a pathetic 18.8 percent. You want it to sound worse? OK, they missed 81.2 percent of their shots. More than eight out of 10! I can miss eight out of 10 shots, and I haven't been practicing for four hours a day for eight months. UConn didn't shoot all that well, either, but at least their game didn't make you wince.

Obviously, when you watch a big game like this and it turns out to be a dud, you're more disappointed than if it were merely a regular-season game. Our expectations were too high. We were waiting and waiting for a fantastic game, and then when it didn't come ... well, it was a little depressing for all but the UConn fans.

And if we felt bad because it was such a crummy game, imagine how Butler's players felt. For some of them, this was the last game of organized basketball they'll ever play. I mean, how many of them are going to play in the NBA? And even for those who will still be at Butler next year, don't count on them being in the championship game again. The basketball gods might give you two chances in a row, but not three.

I wonder about the impact this game will have on their lives. Actually, I wonder about the impact on the UConn players' lives, too. Often, we'll hear that a night like this -- playing for the national championship -- will be the biggest event in these kids' lives. And if you perform so dismally in the most important thing in your life, that's got to be depressing.

Of course, not every athlete holds onto his sports days as the best possible days ever. Some find other things that are fulfilling. But some don't. And it's no wonder. It's doubtful any of these kids will ever hear 70,000 people cheer for them while millions more watch them on TV -- unless they find a cure for some horrible disease or figure out how mattress stores make money.

Some on Connecticut might very well turn out to be those guys who are still bragging about the big game long after it's an emotionally healthy thing to do. Whenever there's a lull in a conversation, they'll bring out that game DVD they always carry with them. And what about those guys on Butler? Will they still be haunted by missing shot after shot when they're grandfathers?

Most of us know deep down that continuing to obsess about their sports careers for the rest of their lives indicates that their personal growth stopped the night of the big game. We know that being a good person, falling in love, or becoming a parent "should be" the most important thing in one's life, not the score of some game. It's somewhat pathetic for someone 10 or 20 years after a game to still feel it was the most important thing they were ever involved in. Those of us with families, friends, and real adult lives know what's really important.

Despite knowing all these wise things about life, how many of us wouldn't change places with these athletes just to play in that one game? Even with the guys on Butler.


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