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One day later, Butler celebrates like champions

by Michael Marot
| April 7, 2010 9:00 PM

INDIANAPOLIS - The only thing missing was a championship trophy.

Less than 24 hours after Gordon Hayward's buzzer-beating shot bounced off the rim, Butler and its fans - new and old - partied inside Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday as if the Bulldogs had won the national title.

They didn't win the final against Duke, but the Bulldogs won the hearts of this basketball-crazy state and captured the imagination of a nation that won't soon forget Butler's journey.

It certainly felt like a victory party. Roughly 4,000 fans came to Hinkle and provided an atmosphere that was as festive as it was a week ago when the Bulldogs were still celebrating their first Final Four appearance.

T-shirts at the bookstore were selling so fast that athletic department officials put up poles to organize the checkout line. Fans from West Virginia and Chicago, who had barely heard of Butler until two weeks ago, stopped by the fieldhouse one last time to take a couple of more snapshots. Coach Brad Stevens taped an appearance for the "Late Show with David Letterman" from the free-throw line, and the Bulldogs even got a not-so-customary phone call from President Barack Obama.

"I think his message was that he wasn't just going to call the team that won today because of the way both teams played," Stevens said.

The President later said he had told the Bulldogs they "played a great game, showed tremendous heart, and he hopes to get a chance to play with them."

Tuesday afternoon's rally began with a prolonged standing ovation, which continued until guards Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant did cartwheels, the Bulldogs traditional celebration of choice. Fans were still cheering when Stevens and 6-foot-9 Emerson Kampen did a back bump at midcourt.

Even Peyton Manning wore Butler's navy blue Final Four shirt in a video message.

"I can't say how proud the Colts are of you," Manning said. "That's all we've talked about the last couple of weeks."

It was so much fun everyone wanted a piece of the story - Letterman included.

"Ah, you know, you got to stop worrying about that (the score) because what you did for your team, for your university and for your community and the nation at large is a victory and just don't ever forget that, by God," Letterman said.

Letterman finished the interview by joking about Stevens' baby-faced look: "OK. Well, my best to your team, to the University and to your family. Go get yourself some chocolate milk, coach."

No, they didn't win Monday night's game or the national title. So what?

Butler still won over fans with a run that will live on long after the memories of that loss dissipate.

"Forget the score," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in a video message. "America knows the true champions of 2010 are the Butler Bulldogs."

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