April 5, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Thousands of Butler basketball fans rallied in downtown Indianapolis on Monday, hours before their beloved hometown Bulldogs faced Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
The pep rally was held at Monument Circle, the same location where fans converged after the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl in 2007. Fans in T-shirts, some blue, some white, some gray, stood next to men in suits who came out during their lunch breaks to soak in the experience.
“Did I think they’d make a good run? Yes,” said Dave Inman, a 2007 Butler graduate. “Sweet 16 for sure, Elite Eight maybe. National championship? No way.”
A few miles away, the normally quiet campus was swamped by fans enchanted by the team’s surprising run to the title game.
“We’re not really used to it,” sophomore Melissa Florit said while standing among the masses at the campus bookstore. “The 4,500 of us aren’t used to having 4,500 more of us here. Some don’t like the publicity, with us being a small family oriented campus. Everyone’s here, cameras are everywhere. But it’s good that people don’t have to ask me, ‘What’s Butler?”‘
The Bulldogs got to the championship by putting together a 25-game winning streak that captured the nation’s attention. With two-thirds of the roster coming from Indiana, many likened them to the high school team from tiny Milan that won the Indiana state basketball championship in 1954 against a much bigger school.
That game, won by Milan on Bobby Plump’s buzzer-beating shot, happened at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler’s home court. The fieldhouse’s Spirit Shop had a steady stream of patrons Monday and visitors continued to tour the historic building that opened in 1928.
“In the story of David and Goliath, David can take down Goliath,” said Bob Rodgers, 56, of Shelbyville, Ind. “It takes a stone well-cast, though.”
Moe and Johnny’s, a Butler-themed sports bar near campus, had more than four times its usual traffic in the early afternoon. Hak Cho, the general manager, put up a large tent in his parking lot with extra seating and two large televisions.
The tent came in handy as rain arrived in late afternoon and the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for the area until midnight EDT.
A mile away, Plump, perhaps the most famous Butler alum, talked Bulldog basketball with fans at the family restaurant, Plump’s Last Shot.
“When you step on that floor, all that matters is what you do for 40 minutes between those lines,” he said. “I believe they can win if they do what they’ve done in the past.”
Plump, who planned to attend the game with Gov. Mitch Daniels, as he did Saturday night, said the Bulldogs already have made themselves Hoosier legends.
“It’s historic,” he said. “To go from Christmas to Easter and not lose is historic in itself. They’ll talk about this forever, win or lose. They’ll talk about it a lot more if they win.”
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who wore a gray T-shirt over a light blue buttoned-up dress shirt, urged the crowd to attend the game or a viewing party at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“Butler’s gonna do it tonight!” he shouted, later sharing a flying hip bump with Butler’s athletic director.
Butler president Bobby Fong provided the highlight of the rally when he said there would be no school on Tuesday.
“We’re not crazy,” he said.
Florit, who planned to attend the game, had perspective on what is happening to the first team since 1972 to play for a championship in its hometown city (UCLA).
“In their hometown, while I’m still in school?” she asked. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Associated Press Writer Carly Everson contributed to this report.