When Duke returned from the Final Four this time, there were no unspoken apologies and no held-back tears. But there was a trophy.
Seniors Greg Koubek and Clay Buckley held it aloft so 10,000 fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium could see a prize they'd chased through nine Final Four appearances and 53 years."We did it!" Koubek shouted at Duke's homecoming celebration Tuesday. "Who believed we would win the tournament? We believed it. And you believed it. You guys are incredible."
Buckley, during the team's arrival at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, said the victory over Kansas meant a lot to everyone, including the fans.
"I know that they've been dealing with it the same as we have," he said.
And Koubek said it meant a lot to coach Mike Krzyzewski, who engineered four straight Final Four appearances.
"No one deserves it more than Coach K," he said.
The trophy all but eliminated the bittersweet nature of earlier homecomings, where Krzyzewski recalled fighting back tears while confronting the Duke faithful.
"Excuse me, but I can't stop smiling," he told the crowd. "It feels damn good, doesn't it?"
Fans roared their approval.
Krzyzewski said the fans deserved a lot of credit for Duke's streak of home victories.
"As happy as we are about winning, this makes it complete, sharing it with our sixth man," he said.
Krzyzewski reminisced about the contributions of each member of the team, how guard Bobby Hurley brought them back from a five-point deficit against UNLV; how freshman Grant Hill drove for key buckets; how Koubek scored Duke's first five points and Christian Laettner, "looking so nervous on the line," hit all 12 of his free throws in the final.
"My best memory, though, is of all these guys playing as tough a game of basketball for 80 minutes as any team has ever played to win a national championship," he said.
Krzyzewski and Duke players were generous with their time from the moment they returned to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, signing hundreds of autographs, slapping high fives and talking freely with fans. The return was greeted with giant cakes in the shape of basketball courts and full page ads in local newspapers, including an adidas ad that played on the spelling of Krzyzewski's name.
"Kongraczyulations, Mike," the ad said. "Now that Coach Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils have just won the 1991 NCAA Championship, perhaps it's time we all did a little czelebrating."