NCAA Finals always memorable

By Marc Katz

When she returned from an American troops visit in Korea during her 1954 Japanese honeymoon with retired baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe famously told her husband, “It was so wonderful Joe, you’ve never heard such cheering.”

DiMaggio immediately replied, “Oh yes I have.”

That’s the exchange that popped into my mind as Villanova ran over the rest of the field and clubbed Michigan in the NCAA basketball championship game, played in a football stadium where more than half the crowd couldn’t tell the players from Joe DiMaggio or Marilyn Monroe, but the noise volume was loud and clear.

Even I have heard cheering like that before, even though it certainly wasn’t for me.

In the merging fields of entertainment and sports, cheers (and jeers, if you’re not very good) begin just after the National Anthem.

So I’m watching this game, and other than gloating over the fact I had three Final Four teams on my one and only ballot (missed Chicago-Loyola, go figure), I’m thinking I’ve seen something like this before.

In 1985, the year after UD went to the Elite Eight, losing to eventual 1984 champion Georgetown in a Regional final, Villanova also went all the way.

It bothers me a little – but only a little – that I forgot Nova started its 1985 title run at UD Arena against hometown UD when the Flyers’ Cedric Toney’s 16-foot shot rolled around and out in a 51–49 Nova victory.

This was before the three-point shot, before the shot clock, before long, baggy shorts and the year the NCAA bumped tourney participation from 53 to 64 teams.

I usually don’t bore you with scores in this space, but Nova won five of the six games it played in that tournament by seven points or fewer, including two by two points. The only “blowout” was by 12 over North Carolina in the Regional final at Birmingham, AL.

I saw and helped cover all those games as Dayton Daily News columnist Gary Nuhn and I were at Dayton, Birmingham, and Lexington, KY, where Patrick Ewing-dominated Georgetown was supposed to be crowned a second straight season.

Villanova was just an 8 seed.

However, Nova coach Rollie Massimino was a veteran of six straight NCAA appearances and seven in all. He had never lost a first-round game.

In this tourney, he would be better-seeded Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, Memphis State, and Georgetown.

This year, of course, Villanova breezed by everybody by 12 or more.

I had to look up all that stuff. What I really remember is what you’re reading now for the first time.

For some reason, in Birmingham, Nuhn and I roomed together, a problem right off when we started arguing when unpacking and I pulled out the bottom dresser drawer and it fell on top of his foot.

I’d like to think that hotel has since gone out of business due to shoddy furniture, but I really couldn’t say for sure.

Not that we had any time to browse through downtown Birmingham, but it didn’t seem like a city you’d want to visit on vacation.

One of those days, we decided to go to a nice restaurant, except the line was out the door to get in. I never would have done this on my own, but Nuhn noticed a colleague of ours sitting alone with his meal.

We walked past everybody, sat down with our friend and quickly told the waiter he hadn’t yet taken our order.

I can’t remember what we ate, but I do remember Villanova won two games at that Birmingham regional, punching a ticket to the Final Four.

There, people seemed surprised Villanova was still playing in what has become known as one of the biggest championship game upsets of all time, but after seeing Villanova play five games prior to Georgetown, I thought that was a darn good team and didn’t win anything by fluke.

Georgetown used an aggressive style of play (the Flyers felt the brunt in the Elite Eight the year before) and sometimes challenged the rules trying to win.

With a two-point lead, time running out and the ball in the 1985 championship game, Villanova didn’t even have to put the ball in play to win. But a Georgetown player punched the ball into the stands with two seconds to go.

Instead of letting the clock run, the officials called time while the ball was retrieved. Nova had to (and did) in-bound the ball under its own basket to hang on to victory.

What else? Memphis State, the team Nova beat in the semifinal, later had its tournament run vacated due to using ineligible players under coach Dana Kirk.

And Villanova star guard Gary McLain later admitted in Sports Illustrated he played the championship game high on cocaine.

With the FBI looking in on NCAA infractions, this tournament, like in 1985, may yet have some unpleasant addendums.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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