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Real-life ending beats Hollywood script

When Hopkins goalie Jesse Schwartzman flung his left leg out to stop the shot that sealed a 12-11 victory over Duke and brought a ninth NCAA championship back to Homewood, one could almost hear the television executives at ESPN groaning.

Oh, how they wanted Duke to win this thing. After all, if you're sitting in ESPN's world, what could have been a better story? The script already had been prepared. Program on the edge of winning a title two years ago is shamed into canceling the following season under grimy circumstances. Team hires an African-American exotic dancer to perform at party, and the good times go awry, after dancer accuses three players of rape. Booze, sex, race, the privileged white guys at the prestigious school gone bad. Juicy stuff.

Then, justice gradually prevails, the players are declared innocent, the dancer is deemed a liar, and the team rebounds with a fury under a new coach and kicks butt all the way to the championship game. Redemption is at hand.

And suddenly, the national media, the engine that drove home the theory that these rich, coddled boys must have done something really bad, reverses course. Now, Duke is their best friend, bringing a great comeback story into America's living rooms. Go Blue Devils.

Too bad for the men in the nice suits with the blow-dried hair and the makeup and the microphones.

Boring old Johns Hopkins, the school sitting four miles north of M&T Bank Stadium next to US Lacrosse and the sport's national museum, the school that's seemingly been playing lacrosse since the middle ages, had kicked in the studio doors and messed up the stage.

To print reporters like me, Hopkins' 12-11 victory over Duke not only produced a worthy and appealing champion, it created the best story, the story that most reflects real life.

Real life is all about the gray area, not the black and white world so embraced and promoted by the media, especially the talking heads. In the gray area, these Duke players are not the evil men they were portrayed to be last year, and they're not the angels trying to right a wrong in 2007. They were a group of jocks earning degrees at a great institution who put themselves in a terrible and embarrassing situation with poor judgment. Then, they were prosecuted and convicted unfairly in the court of public opinion, with a huge assist from the media.

In the gray area, even if Duke had won the championship, none of those scars would just disappear. That's Hollywood formula. Boy meets girl, falls in love, and they live happily ever after.

The best story unfolded on Monday in a way that championed the gray. Hopkins, suddenly the black hat guy in this drama, was a decided underdog before nearly 50,000 fans. ESPN might have been cheering louder for the Blue Devils than anyone. And the Blue Jays, with admirable tenacity and skill and great coaching that went largely unmentioned, showed their mettle in a way that deserved to be celebrated.

Duke was valiant, exhausted and extremely emotional in defeat. In my opinion, the Blue Devils emerged as more sympathetic characters, more human, as they digested one more hard lesson. In the grand scheme of things, Duke lost a lacrosse game, which is nothing compared to the hell they partly inflicted on themselves, however unjust it proved to be.

And the Blue Jays are to be commended. Not only did they scratch and claw their way to a very sweet title, after overcoming their own, on-the-field problems that could have ruined their season weeks ago. But by knocking off the opponent that was supposed to win it all and achieve a Hollywood-generated redemption in the process, Hopkins injected some refreshingly gray, real life into the picture.
Posted by Gary Lambrecht at 12:52 PM | | Comments (7)


I'm glad someone finally mentions this. Why are people feeling sorry for these guys. Whatever happed to taking responsibility. The truth this they had a party and a good fraction of the team was unruly and the head coach rarely took responsibility for his team. In fact he never suspended anyone from that party in the first place. I feel bad that they were unfairly accused but lets not even think for a minute these guy are saints.

Last I checked, getting a stripper was not against the law. How do you know they were 'unruly'? You don't. Suspend them for having a party? Ever been to a batchelor party? Ever gone to a 'team' party for any sport? If getting a stripper was against the law, then you have a point, but since its not, your point is null and void.

And Bill, one more thing. In the 16 years Pressler coached at Duke, he had a 100% graduation rate. So when you tell everyone they aren't "saints", I choose to tell people important things like, graduation rate.

Well said Gary! That's why they play the game. Despite all of the Duke media hype, it afterall was a lacrosse game between two excellent teams. And Bill, you don't have a clue what happened at that party because you weren't there. Just like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson weren't there. Just like the members of the African American community in Durham that were banging pots and pans outside the team house weren't at the party either. Where are all of these people now that the facts have been revealed? Oh yeah, the facts. Good for the Duke players to pull it back together and have a fantastic season despite being jobbed by their own school, and congratulations to Hopkins for another national championship.

Hey Mason,
Have you heard of underage drinking? That's why a majority of those Duke players should have been suspended for the games following the party, it's a coaches job to enforce good (and legal) values on his players. I am a Hopkins athlete and our coach does just that, if we get caught drinking, we are suspended for a length at his discretion.
And thanks Gary for writing this article, it made me sick listening to the ESPN commentators during the game, i dont think they mentioned Hopkins at all at the start of the game.Their bias made me want to mute the tv. And to add to that, one of the commentators played for Hopkins! So I was shocked listening to him praise Duke and give Hopkins no regard. I am so proud of those boys, no one mentioned our tumultous season, I saw it first hand at Homewood and it was ugly, but we rose up and showed the nation what we're made off. They definitely deserved it. Watch out '08!

Bill and Mason,
It's true that none of us know everything that transpired that night. What could be confirmed by different sources are that racial slurs and derogatory comments about women were shouted out. Oh yeah ESPN didn't mentioned that did they. I was at the game and I was cheering my hearts out for Hopkins.

May I commend for your reading pleasure Mike Wise's "Introducing the Program That Needs No Introduction," which appeared in the Washington Post on Tuesday, May 29. It was an article that, like Gary's comments, needed to say what it said. Yeah, the Duke team had it tough, but some of that was brought on by the poor judgment the captains displayed in throwing the party and hiring the strippers. But even more of the team's tribulations was caused by the actions of the University in panicking and throwing the team under the bus. Neither the University Administration nor the faculty "Gang of 88" have apologized for their actions. And the team gets another year of eligibility? Baloney! Compare the reality at Duke with JHU and the portrait laid out in Wise's article, and tell me what y'all think.

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Faceoff is The Baltimore Sun's blog devoted to college and high school lacrosse. Faceoff contributors include Sun reporters Edward Lee, Mike Preston and Katherine Dunn.

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