I know I'm behind, missing a key date of March 26th, which I will come back soon and blog about, but I gotta, gotta do this one on time.
The whole story of the
run through the ACC Tournament
to win it, the only way for them to qualify back then for the NCAA Tournament,
then their whole tournament run, is a story unto itself, part of which I've
already documented. But you also need to remember the following: N.C. State
1) This was Ralph Sampson's senior season at the
. He came in as
heralded as any high school player ever when he moved from Harrisonburg High to
University of Virginia in the fall of 1979,
promptly leading a young UVA squad to an NIT title when it was much more
Sampson and the Cavs made the Final Four in '81 only to lose to an ACC nemesis,
, when Al Wood (one of the
more forgotten super players in Tar Heel history) poured 39 on them in the
national semis. TRIVIA NOTE: UVA would beat LSU the following Monday
afternoon in the last-ever "Third Place Game", which took place at
the same time President Reagan was being wheeled into surgery after his
assassination attempt. North Carolina
UVA's surprisingly quick exit to, of all teams, UAB, in the '82 Tournament helped pave the way for UNC to finally get Dean Smith his first title, albeit with some timely help from Freddy Brown and his errant pass of renown...
So, when N.C. State, losers of seven straight to Virginia, not only beat them in the ACC Tournament final, but again in the West Region Final to get to the Final Four ended what became an era of promise turned disappointment in C'Ville. No skin off my back; I couldn't stand
back then. I even
rooted for Virginia to beat them (and that's
saying something, as I can't stand Maryland , either...) Maryland
was the defending national
champions! They lost James Worthy, but returned Perkins and some guy
named Jordan, and several others and easily could have gone back-to-back.
North Carolina 's win over UNC in the East
Region Final allowed the Wolfpack to avoid the task of having to do to UNC what
they managed to do in March, 1983 to UVA. Georgia
3) Duke was a mess in 1983, its third under "Coach K", who back then was just another young coach, and one who heard the calls for his dismissal grow. The Blue Devils lost in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals that year by 46 points, but, as history would soon show, the freshmen who learned from that beating, Jay Bilas, Johnny Dawkins, et al, would learn quickly, and soon, Duke was back.
4) The first win in the run to the title was against a
team with good talent and
the same regular season record as the Wolfpack. Getting by them was no
picnic, though we'd beat them 130-89 the week before the ACC Tourney.
Back then it was different come tournament time. Truly, if you
lost, you were done. Wake Forest
All that to say, the story of the 1983 N.C. State team is made all the more surreal when looking around them in the ACC at everything they overcame, and the teams, all of which once, and some twice, stood in their way.
After an afternoon trip into Beaverdam via a nice walk along Route 715 to shoot hoops with Lyn Buchanan and Brian Luck, I returned home and nervously got ready to watch the game. A tip meant a longer wait.
We played an awesome first half, and had we been able to shoot the ball better the first ten minutes, our halftime lead could, could have been more significant than 33-25.
Then what I feared happened;
came out strong in the second half, went on a 17-2 run, and had a seven-point lead of their own.
I was just waiting for them to start breaking out the Phi Slamma Jamma
track shoes that walked all over Louisville two nights earlier, but, when Houston
head coach Guy Lewis (and his trademark towel) saw his big man, Akeem Olajuwon
(1983 spelling), grasping for air, coming to the bench for oxygen, he had to
start milking the clock. Houston
When he put on the brakes, in spite of Olajuwon needing rest and Drexler having four fouls due to incompetence, they had enough horses to push another three or four minutes, go PSJ on a Wolfpack team with little depth, build the lead, THEN hold on. Nine minutes, against an
team that lived by second
half comebacks the entire month of March, was TOO long. N.C. State
never got a big lead and
milked it to its conclusion during this magical time. They would hang
around, hang around, then seize the moment. N.C. State would score just 10 points
in the final 9 minutes. The great Phi Slamma Jamma, held to 10 points in
the most important 9 minutes of their basketball lives. Houston
got steals, seniors made
shots, and calculated risks of putting Cougars on the free throw line to choke
paid off handsomely, setting up the stage for "The Play". N.C. State
had full-court pressed Houston with 45 seconds left?
What if Lewis decided to go tit-for-tat and foul N.C. State to assure
they'd at least get the ball back to, at worst, try for a tie before the
buzzer, or, had a Pack player missed at the charity stripe, escape with the win
that 92 percent of America expected them to take. N.C. State
The Houston Cougars played like overwhelming favorites who didn't know how to act like overwhelming favorites. That was exactly what the
doctor ordered. N.C. State
Not that the Pack didn't almost squander the whole thing. Go back and watch the final 40 seconds and see bad pass after bad pass after bad pass. I remember standing up in my room now, no longer on my pull out chair bed on the floor, listening to the game loudly in stereo headphones (back in the days when our CBS TV affiliate's audio could be heard at 87.7 FM) because my folks were long asleep.
I remember these moments, these images, these reactions.....
---The pass into the corner to Thurl Bailey, who had no intention of shooting...
---His baseball pass out to Whittenburg, which almost went horribly awry...
---His desperation shot from
feet and me thinking, "overtime".....
---Out of nowhere, there's Lorenzo Charles on my
inch black and white television set, grabbing the ball out of the
air and slamming it home on Phi Slamma Jamma...
---I froze for about three seconds, watching the clock go from 02, to 01, to 00, wondering:
---Did it count?
---Did the clock really run out before
called a timeout? Houston
---And suddenly, one of the voices of my childhood, longtime ACC analyst Billy Packer, said in my speakers, "THEY WON IT!!!! ON THE DUNK!!!"
I threw my arms up in the air, watched Jimmy V look for a hug partner, stunned and amazed by what I saw.
The first words out of my mouth (in the most whispered yell I could muster) were, "LORENZO!!! LORENZO!!!"
And then the phone starting ringing. UT OH.
I ended up fielding two congratulatory calls from great friends, friends who knew how much this meant to me. I also had to hope and pray their good will gestures wouldn't ruin the night's sleep of my Dad and Stepmom....
In the end, all was well. I watched the interviews, the nets being cut down, then it was over.
I was in Beaverdam, so no early cable for me, no "flip it to SportsCenter". You watched the news that came on late due to the length of the game and waited for the sports segment to see the highlights one more time, all the while jamming loudly to my favorite tunes of the day on my stereo in surreal celebration.
So, while the team that EARNED this most improbable of titles celebrated in Albuquerque, one of their more die-hard fans partied alone in a small bedroom just west of Beaverdam, Virginia deep into the night, knowing these type of things usually only come along once in a lifetime.
I was blessed enough that mine came sorta early, on a high school spring break, and I had the boundless energy of a 15 year old to jump, dance, shout, and celebrate.
And, rolling all this back to present day, I think that's why I'm so apopletic about the latest version of
basketball, a team without
a lot of depth, but with lots of talent and lots of promise. But they
didn't have bedrock senior leadership, they certainly didn't have a
mental/emotional genius like Jim Valvano as coach, so, their quiet first game
exit in the tournament this year is simply emblematic of the Wolfpack program
since Valvano had to leave (and understandably so) as the 80s gave way to the
90s. N.C. State
Ever since, there's been no magic. I don't expect a title run as a six-seed every ten years, but I do expect a cohesive program that seems to have short and long-term vision. They've had neither in
since Fire and Ice
graduated in 1991..... Raleigh
No regular season titles, no ACC Tournament titles, multitudes of appearances in the "Thursday night play-in game" in March, and just enough Sweet Sixteen appearances (two) to briefly get one's hopes up, only to find them dashed with 12 months.
So, from the perspective of 45-year old Rob Witham looking back on one of the greatest nights in the life of then 15-year old Robbie Witham, I appreciate four weekends in March/April, 1983 even more now than ever, mindful that many people never get to see their beloved team have their "One Shining Moment".
Just ask any Cubs fan under the age of 112.......
P.S.---So it was poetic that, five years to the day later, on another Monday April 4th, I began my first full-time job ever in radio, my career dream, and in Christian radio in my hometown no less, Operations Manager for WDYL-FM/WGGM here in
And for my son to finally begin his first full-time job post high school exactly 25 years later, on this