A few years ago, getting my home office together, I dove into a closet filled with 20-some years of sportswriting junk — notebooks, bobbleheads, press passes, various pieces of useless or mostly useless swag, DVDs, media guides, baseballs, hats … junk, I’m telling you — and finally picked out a few things to hang my wall.
It’s kind of a sports scribe thing to do, I guess. I had a friend in Cincinnati who kept every one of his press passes pinned to a corkboard in his house. He had hundreds. I’ve had other scribe friends frame pictures of themselves at big events. Selfies, of course, are a big thing now.
Me, I waded through my closet looking for memorable events and whatever I had from them. I framed a few and stuck them up. The photo above is of one, which hangs over a pic of me and my hacker brothers at a golf course. (OK, technically, it’s not a Scene From My Bulletin Board. It’s Right Next To My Bulletin Board. It counts.)
The year, as you can see from the photo, was 1992. The event was an NCAA Tournament game — the final in the East Regional at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. It was Kentucky vs. Duke.
It remains to many, 24 years later, the greatest college basketball game ever played.
I was a still-youngish hack in Cincinnati in 1992. During the fall and winter, I was the backup on the Bengals beat, and in later winter/early spring, I covered the Kentucky basketball team. The two seasons overlapped a little, but by January, I was into UK pretty much full-time, when I wasn’t working on the desk.
Lexington is about an hour and half south of Cincinnati — normally outside our coverage area — but because Northern Kentucky is just across the river from the Queen City, and because Kentucky basketball was and still is religion all over the Bluegrass State, we covered the Wildcats. Home and away. When my desk work didn’t get in the way.
Anyone who knows college basketball at all knows this game. Christian Laettner and Duke. Upstart UK, a team that came to be known as The Unforgettables.
If you don’t know college basketball, well, believe me. It was a big deal then, and it’s a big deal now. You can watch the whole game below, if you want.
I won’t rehash it. There’s plenty been written about it. This, from last year. This book.
It was, and is, a perfect example of why we watch sports. Because these moments, these games, however rare, do happen. And if you stick with sports long enough, you’ll see one or two. And you won’t forget it.
In that frame on my office wall sits the gamebook. Inside it, the box score and the play-by-play and other statistics. A copy of the first few grafs of my game story is in the bottom right. In the upper left corner is my press pass. They didn’t make it all that fancy back then.
The scribbling underneath is my game notes. For basketball, I used to take notes on a legal pad. Drew a line down the middle. A side for each team. (UK was on the right here.) A running score was kept in the middle.
What’s immediately noticeable, next to the second graf of my story, is this:
103 Woods drive RH bank
Kentucky point guard Sean Woods puts up a running hook, just over Laettner’s outstretched arms. The score, UK 103, Duke 102.
Duke to 2.1 [ in a box ]
Duke calls a timeout as Woods’ shot falls.
Richie, Feld, Pel, Brown, Woods [ in a circle ]
The UK defenders on the floor readying for the last play; Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, Dale Brown and Woods.
Farmer to Woods on IB [ in another circle ]
A late notation on the previous play, which might well have been a winning play. IB means inbound. Farmer passed it in to Woods.
33 IB Laet at FT line [ underlined twice ]
No. 33 is Grant Hill, who threw the long pass to Laettner at the free-throw line that led to The Shot. Interestingly, to me at least, was that I didn’t note the defender on Hill. I think, in that last frantic rush, I missed the fact that no one was on him. I was a youngish hack. Sue me.
That was enough to spur my memory, I guess, when I sat down to write. Woods immediately collapsed to the Spectrum floor when Laettner’s shot dropped through.
104-103 [ in a circle ]
The final score.
Laettner sprint then back
One of the more famous celebrations in sport. After hitting the shot — on my right, as I remember it — Laettner ran, arms up, mouth open as the crowd erupted. He doubled back and headed in the other direction before his teammates caught up and piled on. At least that’s how I remember it.
(I’d love to get all CSI with the broadcast of the game, sharpen up the image and blow it up, to see where I am on press row. Back then, they put you on or near the floor. They put you up in the bowl now. But, as I recall, I was a row or two up, there was an aisle to my right, and on the last play, Hill was on my left. So, maybe, I’m right underneath the play arrow in the above still, just above Hill’s left elbow somewhere, as he’s inbounding the ball.)
I remember lots more from that game — Rick Pitino walking by me seconds later (up that aisle), stunned, head down; Woods, sitting, with his arm around Travis Ford, the incoming point guard, in the locker room afterward; Pelphrey’s face, as red as his hair, in the locker room; Mike Krzyzewski immediately grasping the enormity of the event in his post-game comments.
It was a heck of a game from start to finish, a nearly unfathomable upset in a game with huge ramifications — the winner went to the Final Four, the loser headed home — averted by the country’s best player at the last second. Funny, too; everybody knew it at the time. As it was going into overtime, there was talk on press row that it was the greatest game ever.
The game was played on Saturday, and what was weird (for me) is that The Cincinnati Post did not publish on Sundays. I don’t remember whether I wrote that night (probably) or the next day (probably not, ’cause I was flying home, though I could’ve finished it back home in my townhouse in Northern Kentucky), but my story on the greatest game ever didn’t even appear until two days later, on Monday.
Whatever, it remains one of the highlights of my career, as far as an “I was there” moment.
The highlight? It might be. But I have a few other things on my wall, too. Next to my bulletin board. For later posts.
Here’s the game: