I have a weakness for creations like this that bring different worlds together unexpectedly. That's one of the Sports Guy's great gifts - seeing sports through the lens of unexpected pop culture references instead of the same old tired cliches. (Are there lively cliches?) So, before I discover that Jeremy Denk has also written a poem in the manner of "Casey at the Bat" to commemorate Jason Williams' famous choke job in the 2002 NCAA tournament, I'm going to get my own version out there. This is definitely one of the odder things I've created, but I've always been proud of how many things came together in this poem and its recorded version (which actually played once on a national sports radio station). I've also always felt a little guilty about immortalizing Williams' missed free throw in this way, especially since his career was subsequently cut short by a horrible motorcycle accident. Still, it manages to tell the story of that game quite well while also paying tribute to Ernest Thayer's great poem AND paying tribute to not one, but two overrated songs: the March Madness anthem One Shining Moment and the earnestly folksy Ashokan Farewell that never stopped playing during Ken Burns' Civil War shows on PBS. Bringing those two songs together was particularly inspired, in my humble opinion, because they're each examples of one-hit wonders for their creators and the Civil War Era associations of the latter ties the March Madness story in with the late 19th-century tone of Thayer's poem. We're talking deep layers of interconnectedness and subtle meaning - all in the service of something completely trivial. What could be more satisfying?
So, here's the poem, but you really have to hear it. (Props to my sister on violin, my wife on cello, and my brother-in-law for his perfectly delivered narration. Jim Nantz couldn't have sold it better.)
JASON AT THE LINE
They trailed by four with little more than 10 tics left to play.
And as freshman Daniel Ewing missed a desperation heave,
The Duke fans knew the time had come for their dear team to leave.
No doubt some turned their sets off in frustration then; The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Jason could for one more moment shine –
They’d put up even money if he made it to the line.
But Indiana had a two-possession lead, you see.
And the Hoosiers surely knew they’d best not foul a try for three.
So as Devils scrambled for the ball, they knew they’d need divine
intervention to allow their man to tie it from the line.
But then a strange thing happened , to the wonderment of all,
For Jason Williams got the ball and then he got the call;
And when his 3-point shot had left his hands and then gone in,
the official gave the sign that he had drawn a Hoosier sin.
A four-point lead had now been shaved to one and better still,
the player of the year would now his destiny fulfill.
A miracle, a four-point play, this surely was a sign
That Jason soon would lead his team to vict’ry from the line.
And then they’d win the next game, and then they’d win two more,
with Jason on their side, they’d surely own the Final Four.
And then we’d all forget the Birds and Jordans and the rest,
for this miracle four-point man soon would prove to be the best.
There was ease in Jason's manner as he stepped into his place,
There was pride in Jason's bearing and a smile on Jason's face.
For he knew the time had come to show how champions are made.
He dribbled once and dribbled twice, then shot it, unafraid.
Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Durham – mighty Jason’s shot bricked out.