Great Championship Games of the Past
By TOM CUSHMAN
San Diego Tribune
We begin with marital trauma.
Having attended her first Final
Four in 1976 at Philadelphia,
where I then was employed, my wife, Lois,
was enchanted by the experience and in the
years since has attended whenever arrangements to purchase a ticket could be made.
Her streak was interrupted in 1985, at my
suggestion. For reasons that time has rendered obscure, I persuaded her that Lexington, Kentucky, — site of that spring's grand
climax — would hold little appeal to one of
her cosmopolitan bearing (although raised
on an Iowa farm, Lois has spent most of the
past three decades in areas where population is counted in millions).
An undersupply of shopping malls may
have been one of the hooks. I do remember
telling her that none of the teams in which
she had personal interest had a chance of
Former trainer Jake Nevin, flocked by Villanova and Kentucky trainers, provided inspiration for the Wildcats' 1985 title.
A View from the West
So, no ticket was sought. And, off I went
to a first round site, then to a regional, and
— as the panorama unfolded — to a developing sense of discomfort.
During 15 years as a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, I was
heavily involved with basketball in that city
— both at the high school level and, later,
the "Big Five."
The most extensive contact was with Villanova; for a time I also covered football at
that campus and — for all 15 years — the
late Jumbo Elliott's superb track teams. My
family became friendly with Villanova players, coaches, administrators and their families.
During a football road trip to William and
Mary, Jim Murray — then sports information director for the Wildcats, later general
manager of the Philadelphia Eagles — had a
birthday cake for my young son delivered to
our dinner table. That Scott's birthday had
been celebrated three months earlier was of
no consequence; what I assume would be a
lifelong attachment was fused on the spot.
Now, suddenly, unexpectedly, the 1985
Villanova basketball team was front and
center — nationally. Losers of 10 regular-
season games and a controversial addition
to the championship bracket, the Wildcats
upset Dayton first — then Michigan, Maryland and North Carolina.
Villanova was going to Lexington. Lois
was not. This was not a serene moment in
"But, you don't like seeing them lose to
Georgetown," I said, attempting to reason
while insulated by 2,000 miles. Georgetown
— meaner than an Arctic winter — also
would be at Lexington.
Perhaps I had a poor connection. The
conversation is remembered for its lengthy
My first Final Four predates Lois' by five
seasons. In 1971, I followed a Villanova
team that — like its counterpart 14 years
later — was very much the underdog as it
advanced to Houston through Raleigh,
North Carolina, stunning unbeaten (28-0)
"Big Five" rival, Pennsylvania, 90-47, in
the finals of the East regional.
Three of those Villanova starters (Chris
Ford, Howard Porter, Tom Ingelsby) would
Halftime: Villanova 29, Georgetown
cials: Clougherty, Dibler, Rutledge
spend time in the NBA and the others
(Hank Siemiontkowski and Clarence Smith)
had big league ability. Reserve strength was
so thin, however, coach Jack Kraft had to
commandeer a team manager and a reporter
from the school newspaper to have sufficient numbers for scrimmages in the Astrodome.
Still, the Wildcats defeated Western Kentucky in the semifinals and extended UCLA
— the rubber-stamp champion of those
years — before surrendering, 68-62.
That winter remains a bittersweet memory
on the Villanova campus. Heated competition for talent between the NBA and a newly-minted ABA had brought crawling from
the woodwork the first wave of intermediaries, now commonly known as agents.