There's an old saying in the creative writing profession, one followed especially closely by the people who brought you "Braveheart" and "Valkyrie."
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
It means just what it says: sometimes, when dealing with actual events, it is necessary to embellish in order to achieve the most interesting retelling, the one that would appeal to the widest variety of possible readers or viewers.
Now, without further ado, I will attempt to do just that.
It was a cold, blustery day in Detroit, Michigan, one not uncommon for early April. I was sitting in my seat in sold-out Ford Field, site of this year's NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Final Fourr, awaiting the tip of a much-anticipated match-up between the beloved Michigan State Spartans, friends to the depressed state of Michigan and the entire United States, and the hated UNC Tar Heels, enemies to all that is good and right with the world.
The weekend had started out well enough. Saturday night's first semifinal game was a hard-fought, physical battle between State and UConn, two teams with current or future Hall of Fame coaches. After a back-and-forth game, Michigan State's David knocked off its second Goliath of the tournament, outplaying a second consecutive more talented Big East team to reach the National Championship game. In so doing, Sparty succeeded in lifting the spirits of almost all the 72,456 fans in attendance as well as the entire city of Detroit.
Saturday's second game was, well, a little less memorable. In a contest that was never close, the University of North Carolina used a combination of pure shooting and unmatched athleticism to knock off the lowest remaining seed, No. 3 Villanova. Boring, right?
I know. I'm about to get to the good part.
The stage was set. The fate of the United States, nay, the free world rested on this Monday night.
Think Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago. In one corner, the populist, underdog, hometown team from a state in turmoil, carrying with it the hopes and dreams of thousands of workers in a rapidly failing economy; in the other, the established, foreign champion, heavily favored, seemingly unbeatable, but without a heart inside its well-developed frame.
From the opening tip, all those in attendance knew it would be a dogfight. Drago, I mean UNC, jumped out to an early 20-5 lead behind a series of open three-pointers from Danny Green and a flurry of phantom fouls on anyone guarding Tyler Hansbrough.
The future looked grim. By halftime, UNC had built a commanding 48-33 lead.
Just then, something happened.
In the aftermath of the ensuing extraordinary events, countless historians and analysts have debated just what sparked the turnaround. Some believe it was Coach Tom Izzo's fiery words in the locker room; others, the collective unconscious of 70,000 screaming fans willing Michigan State onto victory. Whatever the reason for the Spartans' rally, it could not have come at a better time.
Right out of the gate, everyone in attendance could tell this half was different. Izzo's team was playing with a drive and passion unparalleled since Duke's 2001 National Title team rallied from 20 down to beat Maryland in the semifinals. Soon, thanks to the timely shooting of Kalin Lucas and lockdown defense of Travis Walton, State was knocking on the door: down 2 with 36 seconds left.
Roy Williams called timeout.
Never in the history of organized sport had so many spectators been so singularly focused. Even some UNC fans were starting to feel the buzz of inevitability surrounding the upstart Spartan team, and had begun to root for an upset.
Out of the timeout, the atmosphere was electric. The entire crowd was on its feet, each tracing with his eyes an unlikely inbounds to Deon Thompson, forced by the MSU press. Thompson then threw the ball ahead to a waiting Hansbrough under the State basket, guarded only by Suton. Using his physical advantage, Hansbrough put up a leaner off glass.
The ball deflected off the rim and bounced around to Michigan State. The crowd went wilder than ever before in anticipation of the final possession. Shot clock off. 25 seconds left. Walton brings the ball up for the Spartans. 16 left. He passes off to the wing. Morgan tries a drive and is stopped. 7 left. He has one pass: Kalin Lucas at the top of the key. Lucas receives the ball. 3 left. He lets fly, down two, with the fate of a country on his shooting hand.
Time expires. Detroit comes alive as it has not done since Henry Ford's time and the waiting fans storm the court to mob their local boys who just made good. All is right with the world, and another story only sports can bring us comes full circle.
If only the truth could have been this good.
Brett Aresco is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday.
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