Game 017: at Villanova 68, Fordham 47Tuesday, December 14, 2004
The Pavilion - Villanova, PA
Do you remember where you were on April Fool's Day of 1985?
I do. My little 12-year-old self was at my parents' house in southern New Hampshire. My mother had dinner guests that evening, but I had snuck upstairs to listen to my little black Sanyo transistor radio. There was a game on.
I was transfixed by the broadcast. "They can't miss," the announcer was screaming. "The Wildcats just can't seem to miss!"
Corinne, the daughter of my mom's friend, came to the door of my room. "What're you doing?"
"I'm listening to a basketball game," I responded sheepishly. "It's the national championship."
"Oh," she said, and turned to leave.
I never heard the last ten minutes of the game, didn't experience the see-sawing final moments, didn't hear the call of Villanova benchwarmer Harold Jensen's shot that ended up felling mighty Georgetown
. No, I switched off the radio and went back downstairs to play with Corinne. Why? Blame it on puppy love.
Corinne was my first major crush. She was a younger version of Molly Ringwald, with shoulder-length strawberry hair and laughing eyes and immaculately clean porcelain skin. We played together and went to the beach together and were even confirmed into the United Church of Christ together, but I never did get up the nerve to tell her that I wanted to be more than friends. I did, however, do stupid things just to have excuses to talk to her more, like buy a Psychedelic Furs tape because they were her favorite band. God, I never could stand the Psychedelic Furs.
I'm a happily married man now, but it's next to impossible to eradicate those first-crush feelings. Just the mention of her name brings back memories of the twinge in my chest, the halted breath, the tightening of every muscle in my body that happened every time I saw Corinne. I even named an iPod after her, the highest digital-age honor you can bestow on any girl.
But I'm realistic, I've moved on. For the most part, anyway. Any fool, April or otherwise, can see how pathetic it is to live in the old days, clinging to past glories and clutching at faded youth and obsessing over missed chances. People who do so are insufferable bores, like Al Bundy with his high school football stories. Time keeps marching on, doesn't it? Sic transit gloria,
basketball program apparently hasn't received that particular memo. The first thing you see when you enter The Pavilion is a big blue billboard-sized collage celebrating the 1985 national championship squad. There's Dwayne McClain, and big Ed Pinckney, and Harold Pressley... oh look, there's President Reagan welcoming the team to the White House. And good old Rollie, he looked so young then.
And enclosed with your ducats in your will-call Ticketmaster envelope is an invitation to the 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Philadelphia Hilton in January - it promises to be "a special event designed to honor the amazing accomplishments of the 1985 Villanova Men's Basketball Team." I'd imagine that this will not be too different than the 15th Anniversary Celebration or the 10th or the 18th, but if you want to go, tickets are $250 (which is probably about $150 in 1985 dollars).
Yes, Villanova has squeezed more mileage out of one magical Tournament run and one improbable 79% shooting night than would seem logically plausible. The Wildcat fan's chosen response to any Temple
fan who points out the Owls' historic superiority over the Big Five is, "Well, how many national championships you got?" And a huge reason why the proud city league spent a decade in slumber is because Villanova felt they had outgrown the other four and needed to schedule more Dukes
Villanova basketball's refusal to enter the 21st Century, or even the Nineties, makes them a bit too easy to dislike for anyone who's not remotely affiliated with the school. But the national powers and national television have long since forgotten them, and one entire generation has passed since the glory days... most kids on the west coast probably don't even know what metro area it's in. These days, the Wildcats are cursed to spend their Decembers artifically inflating their record by paying second-division schools from small conferences to come n' get their whuppin's.
On this night, it was Fordham
on the firing line. The charter Patriot Leaguers have had an extremely hard knock life in the Atlantic 10 - according to the Blue Ribbon annual, they have a 31-113 record since joining the league. Since Bob Hill was jettisoned two years ago, they've been in a weird in-between period in which the proteges of the old coach have transferred away and an odd blend of recruits who were drugged/brainwashed/otherwise convinced that Fordham was on the way up are coming in. Freshman Bryant Dunston is a 6-8 greyhound, and he was easily the most impressive player on the floor for the Rams. By the time he's a senior, he might lead this team somewhere - that is, if he doesn't transfer out first.
I saw Fordham a few times last year, and grew to be a fan of now-sophomore big guy Mushon Ya'Akosi. He's shaved off the crazy wild hair he was sporting last season, but he still has a way of getting under his opponents' collective skin. He's incredibly irritating to the other team's fans as well, but highly entertaining to impartial observers. Two minutes into the game, he complained to the refs that the ball was underinflated and delayed the game for several minutes while the officials and each of the five Wildcat players tested the bounciness of the game ball. Comedy gold.
In all, the Wildcats played just well enough to blow the Rams out - no more, no less - and played uninspired ball all game. Point guard Mike Nardi would walk the ball up, they'd throw it around a bit, use up most of the 35-second clock, then someone would lay a move on a bewildered Ram and score a bucket. Even the beat writers weren't impressed
with the performance.
Villanova's fans weren't either, and the barn was surprisingly quiet for much of the game. The mass exodus began with ten minutes remaining, as folks started saying goodbye to their friends and heading out into the frigid night. Quite a few took the opportunity to stand in line near the concession stand and have their kids' pictures taken with Santa Cat before leaving. Even the referees were bored half to death: the three-second rule was temporarily abolished on both ends for the entirety of the second half, as players on offense were allowed to spend as much time in the paint as they pleased. The last few minutes saw a lifting of the bothersome traveling restriction.
It's probably a good thing that the game was not televised, because the camera might have picked up a lanky gentleman in the south stands twitching and convulsing, rivulets of tears cutting through caked soft pretzel bits and mustard on his cheeks. "Please hoop gods, no more Villanova guarantee games," his lips might have read. "I'll be good from now on. I'm begging you, both the flesh and spirit are weak here. Please don't make me have to show up here next Wednesday to see these guys play Albany
. I want to make it to a hundred, but not that much. I don't think I can take it anymore."
I remember when I first moved to Philadelphia seven years ago, and acclimated myself to the area by listening to the local sports talk station, rabble-rousing WIP 610. One cold December morning, the main topic was Big Five basketball, and specifically how Villanova was ruining it.
"Look buddy," one caller said, defending his school's honor. "'Nova is in the Big East. If it wasn't for us, this would be nothing but an Atlantic 10 town. And, hello, 1985? If it weren't for the Wildcats, Philly wouldn't even be on the college basketball map.
You jerks should be thanking us."
"Well then," the host answered. "Why don't you actually win
a few games and make us all proud?"
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