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.