It was 1983 in Albuquerque and I was scared to death. It was my first Big Event — I was working for the Lexington Herald-Leader — and I got to The Pit on Final Four Saturday convinced I was the worst writer in the building if not in history. And then the man sitting next to me on the seventh level of press row said, as a team nicknamed the Bulldogs was about to face N.C. State in the first semi, “Georgia — they’re from the SEC, aren’t they?”
And I thought to myself: “OK, second-worst.”
The Final Four, as you might know, is my favorite thing to cover, but not being there – I haven’t been to one since Memphis blew the title in San Antonio in 2008 — doesn’t bother me as much as I’d have thought. I’ve done 20 of them. If I never do another, that’s enough for anyone. And my first few pretty much spoiled me.
1983: The Jim Valvano/Lorenzo Charles/Phil Slamma Jamma title game, preceded by the only slightly less great Houston-Louisville dunkathon semifinal.
1985: Villanova makes 78.6 percent of its shots in the final — and wins by two. It’s my belief that Villanova’s performance was the greatest in championship game history; it’s also my belief that Georgetown’s was the second best.
1986: Louisville trails the whole game but runs down Duke at the end. Pervis Ellison of Savannah is the MVP.
1987: Derrick Coleman misses a free throw; Keith Smart hits a jumper from the left wing; Indiana wins.
The total margin of victory in the first four NCAA championship games I witnessed firsthand was nine points. (Louisville blew out Duke by three in ‘86.) I saw some great ones after that — North Carolina-Michigan in 1993; Arkansas-Duke in 1994, Arizona-Kentucky in 1997; Kentucky-Utah in 1998; UConn-Duke in 1999; Syracuse-Kansas in 2003; North Carolina-Illinois in 2005; the aforementioned Kansas-Memphis in 2008 — but my first four Final Fours remain my favorites. Because I was younger and less jaded.
About tonight’s title tilt: I like both teams. A lot of writers who cover him on a daily basis don’t care for Jim Calhoun, but I’ve always admired his program. (I admire it a bit less after it got caught cheating, but I’m not quite as judgmental as in my youth.) And Butler …
Admit it. When Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt banker kicked away last year, you thought, “That’s as close as that program will ever come to a national title.” Lo and behold, Butler is back. And I kind of think it’ll win tonight. Which means it won’t. So there.
And with that, I’ll open the figurative floor for questions, comments and predictions as to what scripted utterance Jim Nantz will uncork if the underdog should prevail. Surely “The Butler did it!” is too obvious. My nomination:
“One Butler wins the Grammy, and now another Butler is national champ!”
See, Win Butler is the main mover in Arcade Fire, which won Album of the Year for “The Suburbs.” Too obscure? Probably. How about this?
“Frankly, UConn, this Butler doesn’t give a darn!”
Rhett Butler. “Gone With The Wind.” Ask your mom. It’s her favorite movie. (I know it’s my mom’s favorite.)
OK, enough. Join me as we await the newest from the Nantzman. As we choke up in spite of ourselves over “One Shining Moment.” As yet another champion is crowned. I might not be the best at this live-chat thing, but at least I know Georgia’s conference affiliation.
By Mark Bradley