The night began to fall apart for evan berg at about 6:30. He stood in front of the Holiday Inn at the Indianapolis airport and realized that the bus was not going to come. The bus was not going to come and the suit was on the bus. The Blue Devil suit.
"Uh-oh," he said. "I think I may have made a mistake."
In less than two hours, the Duke basketball team was going to play its game of games, looking for the mother of all upsets against UNLV on Saturday night in the NCAA tournament semifinals at the Hoosier Dome. The oddsmakers now had another reason to make the underdog the underdog: The Blue Devils might be playing without the Blue Devil.
"Why am I so lazy?" Berg said.
He is 19 years old, a sophomore, and this was his first season as the body inside the suit of the Duke mascot. He had shared the job with a young woman, Lisa Weistart, alternating games. In a postseason deal, he made a fine show of optimism. He agreed to let Weistart travel to the first two rounds of the tournament, betting that Duke would progress to the final two rounds, which would be his. He won his bet. Here he was at the Final Four. But without the suit.
"Where is that bus?" he said.
There had been a pep rally during the afternoon at the Indianapolis Zoo. He had been as exotic as any of the animals. His head was inside that large foam-rubber head of the devil. There had been times, early in his mascot career, when he'd had trouble seeing through the peephole in the devil's mouth. He would step on objects directly in front of him. Many times those objects were small children. He had overcome that failing by now. He was a vision in dark blue. He did his mascot routines, shaking his mascot pitchfork at the mere mention of the behemoths from UNLV, wiggling his mascot horns with menace. He wore football shoulder pads for muscle, pads across his chest for bulk, kneepads so he could slide across unpleasant terrain.
The trouble started after the pep rally, when he took off the costume and stashed it in the storage compartment of the bus for the return trip to the hotel. He figured the same bus would take the cheerleaders and him to the game that night. Why shouldn't he leave his stuff in the bus? Lazy. The bus had disappeared.
"We're taking a van," one of the cheerleaders said at the hotel. "You'd better come. It's getting late."
He went with them to the Hoosier Dome and asked for directions to the bus parking lot. The lot was a quarter mile from the arena. It was filled with buses, but none of them was the right bus. He returned to the arena. The worst thing that had happened to him before as the Blue Devil was when the fans were passing him through the stands at a football game and they dropped him, and he landed in a crowd of drinking men. The drinking men captured him. They said they would release him only if he drank a shot of whatever inflammable liquid they were sharing. He said he was the mascot and could not drink. He said he was 19 years old. They said he could not leave. He drank the shot. That was bad, but this was much worse. He did not even have a ticket for the game.
"I'm the Blue Devil mascot, but my suit is on the bus and I cannot find the bus," he told the officials at the pass gate.
"Uh-huh," the officials said. "We have heard this Blue Devil mascot story about the bus many times already tonight."
"No. Really. I am the mascot...."
He finally convinced the guards to let him in by describing in detail what the entry to the arena looked like. He worked his way to courtside and sat next to the cheerleaders in a sweat. Had the Blue Devils ever played without the Blue Devil? He went back to the parking lot five times before the game and during the first half. No bus. No mascot. For the second half of the most wondrous game his school ever played, a 79-77 upset of an unbeaten Goliath, he sat and cheered as a common student. He saw all the chances he would have had to chase that floppy UNLV shark mascot around the floor. He had bought green slime to squirt in the shark's open mouth. Nothing. Zilch. He could only cheer like everyone else.
"After the game we went out to find the bus," he said. "Of course, there it was. Waiting. The suit was ready to go. The driver had gone out to dinner. He hadn't known he was supposed to pick us up at the hotel."
During the next two days, there were more than a few jokes, more than a few suggestions that maybe the Blue Devil should not show up for the final on Monday night since the Blue Devils had done so well without him. Where were you, Evan? The kid had to tell his story again and again. He said the upset might have been easier with the Blue Devil. He was good luck. Really. He would not make the same mistake twice.
The suit was safe. He had returned to the hotel after the game and stayed awake until six in the morning, celebrating with everyone else. When he slept, there had been 10 kids from school sleeping on the floor of his room. He told them all to stay away from the suit, which he now kept in the corner.
"That suit isn't going anywhere without me," the Blue Devil said. "I'm not going anywhere without that suit."
Just to make sure, the repentant bus company sent a limousine on Monday night. Evan Berg and four senior cheerleaders rode to the Hoosier Dome in style, and Duke won its first NCAA basketball championship, and the mascot did not lose his head. That is a fact.