Real-life ending beats Hollywood script
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.