Friday, June 02, 2017

Song #22: "CBS Sports NCAA Basketball Theme" (1987-1992)

When the NCAA announced in 1981 that it was moving coverage of the NCAA Basketball Tournament from NBC to CBS, it was, for its time, huge media news.

The tournament had become to find its footing thanks to the classic 1979 championship game between Magic Johnson and Michigan State and Larry Bird and undefeated, unheralded Indiana State. I was captivated by that game, and the announcing team of Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire, the best three-man sports crew of all time (and it's not even close, sorry Monday Night Football and others...), who also brought us UCLA's return to the title game, falling to Louisville in 1980, then Indiana knocking off North Carolina in 1981 in a game almost postponed due to the shooting of President Reagan.

The biggest part of the aftermath of the CBS move was the end of the Enberg/Packer/McGuire team. Billy Packer, who those of us who grew up in the Mid-Atlantic knew for many years thanks to his work with the great Jim Thacker on ACC Basketball telecasts from C.D. Chesley, moved to CBS, while Enberg, who was the voice of NBC Sports at the time and McGuire continued to partner on regular season games for several years at NBC.

As CBS began its initial coverage for the 1982 Tournament, they utilized what would become the term "The Road To The Final Four" for the first time, in this case, using "The Road To New Orleans" as a theme for their three weeks of coverage. Back then it was SO different. Until 1982, you generally found out about the tournament field on Monday in your local newspaper. There was no "Selection Show" until CBS created it 35 years ago.

First round games were not live, unless you had cable and knew about ESPN in its early years. CBS would show a game at 11:30pm on Thursday and Friday nights, but nothing else until the weekend. Then, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, no primetime. The Final Four that year? Two afternoon games on Saturday that pushed up against the early evening, with Houston losing to North Carolina and Georgetown defeating Louisville.

CBS got lucky, too, in a sense, that their ride with the NCAA coincided with a string of several great NCAA Championship games, from Georgetown/UNC in 1982 to N.C. State's mammoth upset of Houston a year later, Villanova/Georgetown in '85, and Indiana/Syracuse in 1987, also in New Orleans.

Up until the '87 Tournament, CBS used this theme song:

But that's NOT today's song. That theme debuted in 1987 and lasted through the 1992 Tournament. And, in 1992, I was enjoying two things: my second year of taking vacation time to watch the tournament, and the impending birth of my first child.

I know this is a long post, but trust me, it's worth it to explain this song's significance to me.

I take you to 1990, when the NCAA Tournament made its first of two appearances in Richmond for first and second round play at the Coliseum. One of the stations I worked for at the time, WDYL-FM, was the flagship station for VCU Basketball, who hosted the event. The night before the tournament started in Richmond, I'm downtown helping produce VCU Sports Talk for our station, and afterwards thought, if we're the flagship station, we should be at the tournament.

Somehow, in the space of an hour or so, I got credentialed and got permission from my boss to get someone else on the air, then, the next day, left work at midday, went to the Coliseum, and produced live phone-in updates from the event. I saw Terry Holland's career at UVA end, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse with Derrick Coleman and company, Clem Haskins and Minnesota, and some guy named Digger Phelps and Notre Dame.

Brent Musburger, who would be unceremoniously fired by CBS on April Fools Day two weeks later, and Billy Packer were there for Sunday's second round. It was an incredible atmosphere. I was in love with the NCAA Tournament at a level I never thought imaginable.

So, in 1991, with CBS taking over the entire tournament, I starting taking precious vacation days in the middle of March so I could stay home and watch, and record, the tournament. I still have Richmond beating Syracuse in 1991 the night of the Goochland earthquake on VHS. Great times.

In 1992, with the tourney coming six weeks before Robbie's due date, I used the theme song as, well, psych up music for his impending arrival, much like baseball players pick songs to walk up to as they stride to the batter's box.

I recorded the song over and over (and over) until I had about a 20 minute or so montage, long enough to last the drive to and from work, and it was my jam until Robbie finally arrived, nine days late, on April 29, 1992.

So, imagine my stunned disappointment the following March, about to watch the Tournament for the first time in my new home, to hear a new theme! Ugh! Of course, that song is the one that's lasted to present day, with a change to orchestration back in 2004.

So, when I think of the day my son was born, and the ensuing 25 years with him, excuse me while this song comes into my head, and puts a definitive smile on my face.  :)

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