INDIANAPOLIS -- That deafening quake emanating from Moe & Johnny's Bar and Grill early Saturday evening was the sound of the wildest of dreams coming true. The tavern, located two miles northeast of Butler University, was the epicenter of a party that began when the Bulldogs' Ronald Nored made a game-clinching steal with 23 seconds remaining in Butler's 63-56 upset of Kansas State in the West Regional final. It is a party that will continue at least through next Saturday night.
"This win isn't just great for Butler, it's great for America," said Mitch Daniels, a fan in his early sixties who enjoys catching games at Moe & Johnny's due to its proximity to his home. "It's about a bunch of young men who work hard and will be back taking real classes on Monday morning -- the team's GPA is above 3.0, you know. I'm not a Butler alum, but I am a Butler fan."
Daniels, it should be noted, also happens to be the governor of Indiana.
That was Moe & Johnny's on Saturday afternoon, a welcoming congregation of students, alums and other Hoosiers who exchanged high-fives without discrimination of generation or gender. If you were there -- and this saloon is as inviting and homey as the school's famed Hinkle Fieldhouse -- you were rooting for Butler.
"It's called Moe & Johnny's but every Butler student knows it as 'The Bulldog'," declared Colleen Galamb, '07, who had ventured in with five of her former Delta Gamma sisters to watch the game. "The only better place to be today would be at the game itself. Then again, this may be better."
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For Marty Hawkins, an Indiana alum who appeared as an extra in Breaking Away and can recall a time in Bloomington when the letters "JCPS" on a marquee in Bloomington alerted those in the know to a "John Cougar Private Show," the moment was one to be savored. "If you live in Indianapolis, it doesn't matter where you graduated from, you cheer for Butler," said Hawkins. "As long as you hate Purdue."
The fandemonium, if you will, actually began as soon as Willie Veasley buried a three-pointer nearly two minutes into the game to give Butler a 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs outplayed Kansas State nearly the entire game, only trailing once, 52-51, and even then only for a matter of 38 seconds.
"Thank you for noticing that," said Governor Daniels, when a visitor observed that this Bulldog victory -- the team's 24th in a row -- was no fluke. "If you're a discerning fan, and Indiana people are nothing if not discerning basketball fans, you understand that the Bulldogs are a terrific team. They deserve to be going to the Final Four."
Ah, that. Ordinarily the locals must wait until Memorial Day weekend to listen to strains of "Back Home Again in Indiana", but this year the state's unofficial anthem will receive an early test-drive. Not only are the Bulldogs advancing to the first Final Four in school history, but they will do so just six miles south of campus at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"If the Final Four were being played in Finland," Butler's boyish coach Brad Stephens had said on Friday, "my guys would be plenty motivated."
Still, at Butler, a private institution of some 4,500 students, this week will be like no other. Every camera crew and digital-tape recorder-toting journalist will make their way to the charming campus off Sunset Avenue. They will bask in the aura of Hinkle, make the allusions to a certain film that are by now so obvious as to not even be worth noting. They will learn of Bobby Fong, the beloved school president who lives on campus and is known to many students as "BoFo." They may follow Blue II, the English Bulldog mascot who regularly sits in on classes and is as much a fixture on campus as Hinkle itself.
"I look around this bar," shouted Galamb over the second-half din and through the second-hand smoke, "and I can almost point out everyone that I know, or at least I know someone who knows them. I never had a class at Butler with more than thirty students. If I missed a class I'd see the professor at lunch in the cafeteria and he'd ask, 'Where were you today?'"
Watching the fans bleed out of Moe & Johnny's on Saturday night, most of them headed a mile north to the feast of night spots that await in Broad Ripple (one of them, Plump's Last Shot, takes its name from the real-life Jimmy Chitwood, former Milan High School star Bobby Plump), you get the sense that more than a few classes may be missed at Butler this week. That Saturday's euphoric moment could have a Broad Ripple Effect on this town. That the temptation to treat Stephens and his magical team like conquering heroes -- and, yes, having taken down the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in their region this past weekend, they already are to a degree -- may mitigate the fact that there is a greater prize that awaits.
"This is the biggest sports moment of my life," said Galamb as she and her sisters lined up for some celebratory shots.
Until next week, perhaps. To paraphrase a well-known mantra around these parts, "Gentlemen, pace yourselves."