NCAA Courtside Memories, No. 1: Butler, Duke, and the Missed Shot Heard 'Round the World
The star of my No. 1 favorite NCAA tournament memory grabbed the rebound in the final five seconds, got to mid-court cut as the clock neared zero, lifted into the air off one foot, let loose with the shot that...
I know it seems odd to tout so highly a "failure," sort of like naming your favorite NFL playoff moment that time Dwight Clark dropped a pass thrown by Joe Montana.
"It almost went in!" cannot rank with "Do you believe in miracles" as a historical talking point, but to be honest I've never seen a more spectacular miss than the one Butler star Gordon Hayward put forth that night, April 5, in Indianapolis, 2010, in the year of Good Lord.
In the end, though, not even the fairy tale makers were buying an ending in which hometown Butler, which plays in Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the final scenes of "Hoosiers" was filmed, was going to win the national title on a last-second, half-court shot to beat the most monstrous hoops power (Duke) since John Wooden's UCLA Bruins.
No way, not going to happen, no way, no how.
It was too much to expect, deserve, or maybe even handle.
As I wrote that night for electronic delivery to the Los Angeles Times: "That only works, most times, in your dreams, in your driveway."
But I can tell you this, looking back exactly 10 seasons ago: sitting courtside, maybe 15 feet from where Hayward put up his shot, I thought it was going in. I still think it's going in.
Mike Lupica, the famed New York Daily News columnist, was my seatmate that night. We both stood up as the shot went up and final horn sounded.
Lupica literally hugged me as the shot arced toward the rim and screamed "It's good! It's good!"
Oh, my god, what if it was. Can you imagine writing that story on a hard deadline?
A missed shot is as close as I can get to my Christian Laettner moment, once again, involving Duke.
I didn't get to the courtside party until three years after Laettner's famous turnaround shot to beat Kentucky in 1992.
I'll accept that moment to be the greatest in NCAA history (even if it wasn't the title game).
But, you know what, I'll put down Hayward's heave as the greatest missed shot in the history of sports.
Hayward's shot rattled the rim: Yep, "It almost went In!"