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The Jeff Falconio Blog

Duke University Owes Me $1,000,000.00

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I don't care much for Duke's basketball program and it's not because of the bandwagon fans, the we're-smarter-than-you attitude of the players or the perennial deep run in the NCAA Tournament.  It's because at this moment I should be rich and the reason I'm not is because of the Duke Blue Devils.


I was in my junior year at Marquette when the NCAA Tournament rolled around in March of 1998.  I've never needed a reason to watch the tourney, it has always been, in my mind, the most exciting sporting event of the year but '98 was different.  That year Mountain Dew had a twist-the-cap contest.  Every 20 ounce bottle of Mountain Dew had the name of a school printed on the bottom of the cap.  If the school won the NCAA Tournament you would have a chance to win one million dollars.  Being a fan of the Dew, I loaded up. Throughout the first two weeks of March I drank as much Mountain Dew as possible.  I wanted that money.  But I was dismayed every time I opened a bottle.  I was getting the likes of Centenary, UT-San Antonio, Rider and Canisius with every cap.  I mean, forget about winning the NCAA Tournament, these small schools weren't even in  the NCAA Tournament.


Then came the day before the tourney and on my way back home from class I stopped by the campus convenience store to grab a Dew.  I twist the cap and see college basketball's favorite four letter word: Duke.  And they just happened to be the number one seed in the South Region.  Duke had gone through a rough stretch in the mid-90's after  an incredible run from 1986 to 1994.  They appeared in seven Final Fours in that stretch and won the title twice.  But in the '94-'95 season Duke lost coach Mike Krzyzewski for most of the year due to a back injury.  The Blue Devils went 13-18 that year but quickly rebounded in '95-'96 with Coach K back in control.  In 1997 Duke entered the tourney as a two seed but were upset by Providence in the second round.  Now Duke was back to old form.


The 1998 NCAA Tournament was one of the most exciting ever held but to this day leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Cinderellas were the story of the first two rounds as three 10s, two 11s and a 12, 13 and 14 seed advanced to the second round.  Double digit seeds Valparaiso, West Virginia and Washington kept dancing right into the Sweet 16.  Despite the chaos of the first two rounds, luck was on my side.  Duke pummeled Radford and held off Oklahoma State to move on to the regional semifinals.  Meanwhile Rhode Island, the eight seed in the Midwest, knocked out #1 Kansas and West Virginia upset Cincinnati, the #2 in the West Region.


My luck continued the next week as Duke moved to the regional finals by knocking off Syracuse 80-67.  The next day Utah shocked West #1  and defending champion Arizona.  Two one seeds were now gone as Duke prepared to face Kentucky in the South Regional final.  Halfway home to a cool million.  It seemed like destiny was once again shining brightly on the Blue Devils as Duke dominated the Wildcats throughout the first half, building an 18 point lead.  Easy money.  The winner of the South would meet Stanford in the Final Four and there was no way Duke was losing to Stanford.  Sure, there was a potential rematch with North Carolina in the championship game but the Tar Heels had already beaten Duke twice during the regular season.  There was no chance it would happen a third time.  So here I was about to become a 21-year-old millionaire just as the dot com craze was getting going.  I would invest for a year then become the first person in history to retire on the same day as graduation.  I knew for sure the first thing I was going to do was buy a round of drinks for the entire Marquette campus.


Ten minutes to play, Duke up by 17.  Duke is too good to lose this lead and Coach K is too brilliant to let it slip away.  Money in the bank.  Then, all at once, it happened.  Kentucky's offense, bottled up in the first 30 minutes, suddenly couldn't miss.  The Wildcats hit a three, then another and then another.  Suddenly that Duke defense, which is always supposed to be tenacious, completely wilted.  Suddenly those smart Duke players looked like complete buffoons as Roshown McLeod called Duke's last timeout...with 5:47 to play.  Suddenly the great Krzyzewski was being outcoached by Kentucky's Tubby Smith.  When Scott Padgett buried a three with 39 seconds left I knew my million was gone.  Kentucky 86, Duke 84.  It was revenge for 1992 when Christian Laettner's famous buzzer beater ended Kentucky's dream season in the Elite 8.


So Duke is back in the Final Four but you can bet I'll be rooting against them.  Throughout the upcoming week when the front running Blue Devils fans (and unless they were rooting for Duke prior to 1985 they are front runners) start talking up how great Duke's system is and how tough their defense is and how brilliant their coach is I'll respond in a simple manner: I want my money.

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