The Final Four weekend provided a number of great games, as the best of the best hoped to move one step closer to becoming national champions. Just as in the Saints Madness event at Crux, where saint superstars St. Peter and St. Francis squared off in the final, a number of heavyweights met in the national basketball semifinals.
Notre Dame remains alive in the women’s tournament, and will play for the championship on Tuesday night. With their win on Easter Sunday, the Irish move on to play Connecticut in a rematch of last year’s final.
There is little doubt that Notre Dame’s women’s team is the most successful Catholic entry in either the men’s or women’s fields this year, and with some good fortune and some divine intervention, the Irish could upset Connecticut in the championship.
The men’s final was determined on Saturday night. In the first semifinal, Duke beat Michigan State, advancing them to the championship game and continuing the great string of performances by the Blue Devils and their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who, by the way, is Catholic.
In the second game, the Wisconsin Badgers handed Kentucky its first loss of the year, ending the historic run by the Wildcats after 38 consecutive wins. Clutch shooting and great defense gave the Badgers the victory and the opportunity to win their first national championship since 1941.
Although it is a difficult to choose sides for Monday’s final, I think a case can be made for Wisconsin receiving the majority of Catholic support. It is certainly difficult to imagine supporting devils, blue or not, from a Christian perspective. There are, however, some other reasons why Wisconsin might be the choice for Catholics.
One reason, obviously, comes from 6th-century Ireland and the work of one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, St. Ciaran of Saighir. Among St. Ciaran’s miraculous abilities was his skill in taming wild animals. In fact, animals are regularly included among Ciaran’s early converts.
On one disturbing occasion, a wily fox that was under Ciaran’s custody strayed from his leadership and stole the abbot’s shoes in order to eat the leather in the woods. Wisconsin fans will be happy to know that it was indeed a badger that Ciaran sent to subdue the wicked fox. The badger bit the fox on the ear and brought him back to Ciaran, who chastised the fox for his ill deeds and forced him to endure penance and fasting.
The badger is thus a trustworthy and cunning animal with a noble Catholic history, so it is crucial to consider other ways in which Wisconsin might be aided by the Catholic tradition.
A change in dress might be good place to start. Wearing a St. Benedict Medal would clearly be a uniform violation for the Wisconsin team, but this simple addition to their regular attire just might be worth the technical foul it would almost certainly provoke. Among other inscriptions, the medal contains the chilling instruction “be gone Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities.” In addition to repelling their opponent, the medal might also cause Wisconsin players to take pause before taking a selfish shot or grandstanding to the adoring fans. Discipline, of course, is paramount in games of this magnitude.
Also, one can only imagine the scene in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium should Wisconsin fans incorporate the medal’s message into their cheering. When Duke players hear “Get Back Satan … clap, clap, clap-clap-clap … Get Back Satan …” they won’t possibly be able to keep their heads in the game. Although it may be difficult to come up with the requisite number of medals before tonight’s final, I would suggest Wisconsin pulls out all the stops in order to make this happen.
Finally, if religious medals and historic badgers don’t help Wisconsin, they might want to look to other sources of support that correspond to local interests. The first important saint for Wisconsin would be the medieval St. Uguzo of Carvagna, the patron saint of cheesemakers. Another is St. Arnulf of Metz, the patron of brewers. While on pilgrimage to his grave in the 7th century, St. Arnulf’s followers had their supply of beer restored miraculously when it was running low — surely an exemplary intervention that most university students would find helpful.
Although the school that calls on him in celebration and the school that calls on him in despair will be determined tonight, the safest bet for the final might be that St. Arnulf will be an overused intercessor for Wisconsin and Duke fans alike.
Daniel MacLeod is an assistant professor of Catholic studies and history at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. As an exercise in his courses, he runs a bracket game called Catholic Madness that includes some non-saints. “Tolkien usually does pretty well,” he reports, “and last semester Joseph of Cupertino took home the championship in one of my classes.”