It’s the first Monday of March, so we are once again nearing the time of “Madness” where 68 of the best college basketball teams in Division I converge to compete in the annual tournament to crown the NCAA champion.
One of my favorite moments of the tournament takes me back to when I was a fifth grader, back when NBC still had the rights to televise the tourney. The year was 1981 – Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in as President, and the Louisville Cardinals had won the tournament the year before against the UCLA Bruins. UCLA was the dominant force in college basketball at that time, not too far removed from the days of John Wooden and seemingly winning the championship year after year. The tournaments were smaller in that era, with only 48 teams making the cut, divided into four regions of 12 teams apiece.
On this day, they played Arkansas in a game in the round of 32. Louisville had just taken the lead with five seconds remaining by one point. Arkansas had to go the length of the court in that time, getting possession underneath their own basket.
Ulysses “U.S.” Reed was the ball handler who turned a moment of sheer panic into a moment Razorback hoops fans would never forget, and probably still haven’t forgotten.
Even the legendary Marv Albert had to raise his voice an octave or two to relay his surprise at the mid-court desperation shot finding nothing but the net. Basket good, game over, Arkansas wins by one point. (The three-point line wouldn’t be used in the tournament until 1987, six years later.)
The fifth-grade version of myself (no wait, I was in the fourth grade when this happened) was astonished, watching that moment of the game off of WFLA in Tampa. I had to think for a moment – did that shot go in? When I realized it had, I sat there bewildered. I was neither an Arkansas or a Louisville fan, but that was a considerable scene to digest.
Quite a moment. An “old school” moment for sure, but when I think of March Madness, that’s one of the first few things that pop into my mind.