“Seashells and balloons.” That’s what Al called it.

In the inimitable lexicon of Al McGuire, seashells and balloons meant victory and happiness. Mike Krzyzewski knows the meaning and, once again, the feeling. So do his kids from Duke, if not the heartbreak kids from the heartland, the valiant Butler Bulldogs.

And so does Jason Heyward, a 20-year-old kid from Stockbridge, Ga., who, in his first at-bat as an Atlanta Brave, indeed in his first swing as a major-leaguer, crushed a home run that traveled nearly 450 feet. A Turner Field crowd of 53,081, already chanting “Let’s go Heyward!…Let’s go Heyward!” as he came to bat, then unleashed the
loudest roar I’ve ever heard in that ballpark.

Just imagine the decibel level in Indianapolis Monday night, in Lucas Oil Stadium, had Gordon Hayward’s last prayer been answered.  Just imagine if he’d banked in a last-gasp shot from just beyond midcourt. With most of the crowd of 70,930 boisterously behind the Butler homeboys, why, they’d have raised the dome roof if Hayward’s banker hadn’t bounced off the backboard, then caromed off the front rim and finally fell to the floor.

With that, seashells and balloons for Duke, a 61-59 winner. For Krzyzewski, his fourth national championship ties him with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for second most. John Wooden’s 10 NCAA titles? Fuhgedaboutit.

And for Butler, after the most captivating run to the final, and the most riveting championship game since Villanova-Georgetown in 1985?

Well, the White House called Tuesday, and President Barack Obama, who shoots a left-handed jumper much better than he throws a baseball, wants to shoot some hoops with the Hoosiers from Indy. Has a sports
runnerup ever been invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Nope. Has there ever been a more deserving No. 2? Nope. Butler’s not No. 2. More like 1A.

Yet for the Bulldogs, as Al would say, “The carnival gates are closed.” Translation: Game’s over. It was a “white knuckler” (close game). A “sand fight” (hard-fought game). Bottom line, though, it’s “tap city” (game’s over).

Yet even in defeat — close, last-minute, agonizing defeat — Butler’s still “Park Avenue” (anything first class).
For Duke, as for Jason Heyward, it’s, well, let’s let Al tell us. “I like seashells and balloons, ribbons and medals, bare feet and wet grass.

“Seashells and balloons is bare feet and wet grass. It means a light breeze. You know, a light breeze that would maybe move a girl’s skirt a little. It’s sweater weather. A malted, you know, a shake. The gentleness of it. The wholesomeness of it. It’s tender. That type of thing.

“I don’t know where the devil I came up with it. People, when they hear it, if they are of that certain type of quality, they understand what a seashell is and what a balloon is.”

Jack Wilkinson

Jack Wilkinson

Jack Wilkinson has written about sports professionally for 37 years, but his career began in his hometown of Lynbrook, N.Y., on Long Island. His elementary school paper, the Marion Street Chatterbox, is the coolest-named paper he's ever worked for. Thank you, Mrs. Roseanne Waldstein, the school librarian and Chatterbox advisor. Jack worked at Newsday while a senior at Hofstra University, and later for the Miami News, Chicago Daily News, New York Daily News and, after moving to Atlanta in 1983, the local rag. A three-time Georgia Sportswriter of the Year, he gleefully took a buyout in June, 2007. Jack's written six books. The latest, "Of Mikes and Men -- A Lifetime of Braves Baseball," is the recently-released autobiography of co-author Pete Van Wieren. Published by Triumph Books of Chicago, "Of Mikes and Men" is now available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Manuel's Tavern and other fine book outlets everywhere.