Best: Danowskis, father and son, rejoice in Duke victory
"Surreal,'' Matt Danowski said Monday from behind a pair of sunglasses.
He was standing on the field at M&T Bank Stadium, bathed in perspiration and emotion.
Why the shades? His father, the Duke lacrosse coach, explained later.
"Everyone was in sunglasses; everyone was in tears,'' John Danowski said. "They just really care. It all meant so much to me; I was really touched by their sincerity.''
It would have been easy, he said, for recent alumni such as Zack Greer, Tony McDevitt, Bo Carrington, Brad Ross and his son to envy their successors for winning Duke's first NCAA men's lacrosse title.
Instead, they were there for the party, survivors of the scandal that rocked the program in 2006 and now witnesses to the closure after four consecutive Final Four berths at last yielded a championship.
Every year, the events of '06 - in which three players were falsely accused of sexual assault in a saga that rocked the team and the university - recede further into history.
But nothing mutes talk of the past more effectively than a new narrative. And now Duke has one after patiently slogging its way to a 6-5 overtime victory over a Notre Dame team that fashioned a glacial pace.
So are we done talking about 2006 now? "That's the hope,'' Danowski said, "but it always balances me to know that if that didn't happen, I wouldn't have had the opportunity.
"But maybe. Maybe now we all can carry on with the business of going forward.''
Danowski, who coached at Hofstra for 21 years, was summoned to rescue Duke in the summer of '06 after the departure of Mike Pressler, and he proved to be the right man for a trying time.
"There was so much emotion those first two years,'' said Danowski, who led Duke to the national final in his first season. "People have no idea. These are young men who were trying to act like everything's OK, but they were hurting.''
Matt, who starred at Farmingdale High before going to Duke, said he is not surprised by his father's success.
"He's the best coach in the country,'' he said. "He has been since he was at Hofstra in 1986. He always has been the best coach in the country. Now he's got the hardware to prove it.''
His father insisted "there are a lot of guys who would have been great at it; I was just the one who was chosen, that's it.''
He said he would not have applied for the job had Matt not been at Duke. "I just knew too much,'' he said. "I knew the families involved.''
The circle closed, for the program and the Danowski family, when C.J. Costabile's goal five seconds into overtime won the lowest-scoring final in Division I lacrosse history.
A few minutes after John and Matt embraced, I asked Matt if the victory made up for past frustrations, including a one-goal loss to Johns Hopkins on the same field in the '07 final.
"A little bit, absolutely,'' he said. "It's in the family. My dad has one. Good enough for me.''
Said John: "When I first came to Duke, it was Matt's school and this was his experience, not mine. I came to work there just because of these unique circumstances.
"To see him so happy for me, for the program, for his former teammates, I'm just very proud of my son for caring about the right things.''