Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Florida State-Alabama 1974: When the Worst almost beat the Best

Labor Day weekend Florida State and Alabama help kickoff the 2017 season as the two meet in Atlanta.Even though the schools are just three hundred miles apart, they have only played four times : 1965,1967,1974 and 2007.Regardless,the two have been two of the better programs for sometime.During the past six seasons Alabama has won three National Titles and Florida State has won one. In one of the years neither won it, they both participated in the inaugural College Football Playoff.Of course Alabama has been a powerhouse since the mid 1920's.There have been some bumps in the road,but the Tide has always recovered.

The Seminoles really became a powerhouse in the late 1980's.Florida State only began playing big time football in the mid 1950's.The origins of the university go back to various names until Florida State was established in 1905 as a college for women.Men were admitted under the GI Bill in 1946 as Florida's university enrollment exploded after World War II.Football wise the program had some good teams in the 1960's and secured its first final ranking in the major polls in 1967.Florida State would then participate in the inaugral Peach Bowl in 1968 and the inaugral Fiesta Bowl in 1971.But after rising as high as #13 in 1972,Florida State would meet #3 Alabama in October of 1974 in the midst of a 16 game losing streak having gone winless in 1973. But that 1974 game almost became college football's version of Virginia vs Chaminade.

The 1958 Seminoles won their first game vs an SEC team by downing Tennessee in Knoxville. One of the QBs was Joe Majors, brother of Johnny,Bill and Bobby

Still, the Seminoles did have some respectable history in their brief tenure as a Division 1 school prior to the 16 game losing skid going into Tuscaloosa that day.In an era without many bowls, Florida State did play in 6 bowls from 1958 through the winless '73 season.Alabama meanwhile led the nation in bowl appearances with 27 and had played in 15 straight going back to the 1959 season.Oddly enough the Tide was invited to a bowl in 1958 and turned it down. The ill-fated and once played Bluegrass Bowl in Louisville invited Alabama to play Florida State.Alabama had flirted with the bid for a week but really gave no specific reason.It would have been their first bowl outside of the 'Big Four' Rose,Cotton,Sugar and Orange.Oddly enough in 1959 and 1960 Alabama would play in inaugral bowls, the Liberty and Bluebonnet.Florida State had won its first game against an SEC opponent in school history with a 10-0 win in Knoxville over the Vols.One of the victorious 'Noles that afternoon at Neyland Stadium was Joe Majors, the brother of Johnny,Bill and Bobby.Florida State would go on to lose that Bluegrass Bowl to Oklahoma State,15-6 on ABC-TV in Howard Cosell's national debut.

      Hard to believe that a bowl sponsored by Jerry's Restaurants and played in   Louisville would last only one year 

1958 marked the return of Paul W. "Bear" Bryant to Alabama as "Mama called' after successful stints at Maryland,Kentucky and Texas A&M.Alabama had suffered its own winless season in 1955 and won only 8 games from 1954-1957.In Bryant's fourth year his 1961 squad wen 11-0 and won the National Title.From 1961 through 1966 Alabama won three National titles and won 60 games in six years. But the Tide briefly hit another detour starting in 1967 in their season opener vs Florida State.

    Florida State's bowl debut in the Bluegrass Bowl was also Howard Cosell's national debut

The 1966 Tide shutout six opponents and allowed only 37 points in the entire regular season.In the game at Legion Field vs the Seminoles, Alabama allowed a late touchdown and the two tied 37-37.That was actually Florida State's second game as they had opened with Houston.The Seminoles would lose the following week to NC State and then win the rest of their games before tying Penn State in the Gator Bowl earning the Seminoles their first final poll ranking.Florida State's first three opponents in the '67 season would be ranked either 2nd or 3rd in the polls at some point during the season.

        1967 game program for Florida State-Alabama's 37-37 tie in Birmingham

Tying Florida State in and of itself was no cause for alarm by Alabama. But the 37 points the Seminoles scored were. While Alabama would go on to an 8-2-1 mark and Cotton Bowl game, the defense the next two years wasn't as dominating as it had been and the offense became more of a passing team. 8 win seasons in 1967 and 1968 were followed with 6 win seasons in 1969 and 1970 which included a loss to Vanderbilt and blowout losses to Tennessee,Auburn and Southern California.

A change to the emerging Wishbone in 1971 returned Alabama to its dominate ways while rolling up huge point totals, yardage and a return to suffocating defenses.The 1970 Tide gave up 240 points while the '71 Tide only allowed 84.The 1967-1970 period was followed up by an 11-1 season, 10-2 in 1972 and 11-1 in 1973 and share of the National Title as well as three straight SEC Titles which the Tide had not won or shared since 1966.Suffice it to say starting with the Southern Cal game in Los Angeles in 1971 when Bear introduced his Wishbone, the Tide was back.

         Terry Davis helped get the Wishbone off on the right foot in Los Angeles

The 1967 Seminoles were led by Bill Peterson who led the program from 1960 through 1970.Under Peterson, the program moved from a "promising" program to a solid program that could compete and play with anyone.The '64 squad went 9-1-1 including a decisive win over Oklahoma in the Gator Bowl and finished 11th in the nation.After the brutal start to the '67 campaign including the tie with Alabama, the Seminoles went back to the Gator Bowl in a season where they won in Gainesville for the first time.The 1968 edition went 8-2 in the regular season and downed Houston, 40-20 the week after the Cougars had humiliated Tulsa,100-6. The season ended in Atlanta with a 31-27 loss to LSU in the inaugral Peach Bowl. Peterson faced his old fellow assistant Charlie McClendon when both were under Paul Dietzel during LSU's 1958 National title season.

A late touchdown gave LSU a 31-27 win over Florida State in the inaugral Peach Bowl in 1968. Starting with this one, 9 of the first 10 Peach Bowls were played in thunderstorms,snow or freezing temps.No dome until the mid 1990's

Peterson was a colorful coach and after 6 an 7 win seasons in '69 and '70 left Florida State for Rice in Houston as the Owls tried to recapture some of their glory from the 1940's and 1950's.Some of Peterson's quotes were legendary. "Just remember the words of Henry Patrick (sic) kill me or let me live."Once he started a team prayer with, "now I lay me down to sleep.."While inconceivable today, in 1971 Rice had had enough prior success and resources where Peterson felt he couldn't turn it down. Plus while Florida State's football team had started producing a quality program, the facilities were those of a team still getting started.

Future NFL Hall of Famer, Bill Parcells. Florida State LB Coach and Defensive Coordinator in 1971 and 1972 under Larry Jones

The Seminoles turned to Larry Jones, and up and coming assistant from Tennessee. In 1971 Florida State went 8-3 and was ranked two different weeks in the top 20.Helping Jones was the that two holdover assistants didn't follow Peterson to Houston--Steve Sloan and Bill Parcells.The Seminoles were selected to play in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl vs home standing Arizona State. In a wild shoot out, the Sun Devils held off the Seminoles, 45-38. The '72 Seminoles were ranked throughout the season and came to Auburn ranked 17th and were 6-1 to face the #12 Tigers on ABC regional television. Auburn roared out to a 27-0 lead. Two fourth quarter Florida State touchdowns made the final score a somewhat more respectable, 27-14 win in Auburn's favor.

Auburn had its way with Florida State in a regionally televised game in '72. The 1972 season ended with 3 losses in the Seminoles' final 4 games setting the stage for a disastrous 1973 season

But in 1973 Alabama and Florida State's programs went in completely opposite directions.The 1973 Tide went 11-0 in the regular season winning the SEC title and was crowned National Champion by UPI.Alabama rolled up 454 points while giving up only 89.The Tide had three games decided by 14 points while the rest were much more lopsided.Three times Alabama scored 35 points and then would put up 42,43,44,66 and a stunning 77 on Virginia Tech.The Tide rushed for 748 yards on 73 carries vs VPI finishing with 833 yards total .Four different Alabama quarterbacks rushed for over 100 yards each.

Florida State's woes go back to late in the '72 campaign.After a once promising season ended on a thud with only one win in their last four games, Coach Jones felt it was time to toughen the Seminoles up some.(Lack of depth had taken a toll on the Seminoles late in the '72 campaign as one defensive player after another missed time to injuries. Things were so bad in the lone November win against Tulsa, that scout team player Sam Cowart was summoned out of the student section to dress out for the game.)Some players felt the toughening went too far.The players were "encouraged" to take a PE class that started early every morning that was basically a brutal workout every day. A Sports Illustrated article later that summer reported that Florida State was hardly the only program that had a forced class assigned to conditioning.But what got Jones' program unwanted attention were the wrestling matches held with chicken wire hanging about 4 feet over the mat to simulate how the linemen needed to stay low at the line of scrimmage. Players complained that "PE-117" was dehumanizing.After the last game of the '72 season 30 players either quit or had their scholarships taken away prior to the start of the 1973 season. Only 6 seniors were on the 1973 team by the start of the system and it went bad in a hurry

In 1973 Florida State went 0-11-0.As in "zero" wins.None.Four of the eleven losses were somewhat respectable.Wake Forest edged the Seminoles, 9-7 to win its lone game that season.Baylor won,21-14 for one of its two wins.The highlight of the season was probably a 13-10 loss to 8-3 Memphis State.But the other losses were solid beatdowns by teams that were a far cry from what Florida State faces now in the ACC.

                    This handbook certainly needed some revisions or tweaking

Two weeks after suffering that humiliating 77-6 loss to Alabama,Virginia Tech defeated Florida State, 36-13. The ultimate indignity was in the season finale in Gainesville.Tangerine Bowl bound Florida pounded Florida State, 49-0 . The Gators' fans pelted the Seminoles players with tangerines and serenaded them with "oh, thank heaven for 0-11" and take off on the popular 7-11 convenience store jingle.

Gator fans serenaded the Seminoles with "Oh thank heaven for 0 and 11" as the clocked ticked away in the 49-0 season finale loss to Florida in 1973

Florida State and Jones soon parted ways. But now what? Florida State's athletic department was $700,000 in the red in '73. Football was a big part of it,but the facilities were terrible. There was no weight room and players were living wherever there was room all over campus. Some even kicked around the idea of dropping football.Florida State baseball was quite successful and the basketball team had played in the NCAA Championship game in 1972.

During UCLA's NCAA title run of 10 titles in 12 years from 1964-1975, their closest title game was vs Florida State, beating the Seminoles 81-76 in Los Angeles in '72

Of course, Florida State did not eliminate football. They hired a coach who had won at the small college level and big time. Darrell Mudra was hired away from Western Illinois to lead the Seminoles in 1974. In and ironic sort of way, Mudra played a part in Florida State playing in the Fiesta Bowl in 1971.Prior to going to Western Illinois, Mudra was Arizona's head coach in 1967 and 1968 while the Wildcats were members of the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC had no bowl tie-ins, so with few bowls at the time, a bowl opportunity was huge.

Going into the regular season finale of the 1968 season, Arizona was 8-1 and rival Arizona State was 7-2. The Sun Bowl had selected Auburn as one of its teams and had insinuated they won take the Sun Devil - Wildcat winner in Tuscon.Mudra, without the university's blessing, told the Sun "take us now, or we aren't coming."For whatever reason, the Sun agreed to Mudra's demands and took Arizona. Arizona State came to Tuscon and leveled Arizona, 30-7. Auburn then embarrassed the Wildcats, 34-10. In Arizona sports folklore, this became known as the "Ultimatum Bowl." 8-2 Arizona State stayed home as the 1967 8-2 Sun Devils had.

 Arizona State being left out of the 1968 Sun Bowl indirectly led to the acceleration of what became the Fiesta Bowl that Florida State helped christen in 1971

Phoenix area civic and business leaders--not to mention the Arizona State fanbase--were miffed that once again the Sun Devils had put together a fine team with no bowl to show for it. The idea had been kicked around for awhile to have a bowl in "The Valley of the Sun" and used the Sun's snub to jump start and put together a bowl bid that would provide for a deserving WAC team to have a bowl to go to.Three years later at Sun Devil Stadium in suburban Tempe, Arizona State faced off with Florida State in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl.

1974 rolled around and Alabama was the overwhelming favorite to win its 4th straight SEC title and was pre-season 4th in the nation. Florida State just wanted to win,period.But the Seminoles' schedule was brutal. It would have been challenging enough for most teams,but for a winless team it was almost criminal. There were games against six bowl teams from 1973 and another game against a Baylor team that would win the Southwest Conference in 1974 and go to the Cotton Bowl.

Alabama opened the '74 season at Maryland against one of Bryant's old players and assistants, Jerry Claiborne.

Alabama started off in College Park ,Maryland where Bear Bryant started his head coaching career at the University of Maryland. Maryland and Claiborne would be the first of four teams with head coaches that played for Bryant. Vanderbilt's Steve Sloan and Tennessee's Bill Battle played for Bryant at Alabama while LSU's Charlie McClendon played for Bryant at Kentucky as did Jerry Claiborne.

Two touchdown favorite Alabama held on and downed #14 Maryland, 21-16. The game shouldn't have been that close as the Tide almost doubled up the Terps in total offense,but  was sloppy with the football. Meanwhile Florida State gave #13 Pittsburgh everything it wanted before losing 9-6. The Seminoles did hold running back Tony Dorsett to 81 yards, well below his 142 yard average from 1973.

Alabama returned to dominance the following week pounding Southern Miss, 52-0 at Legion Field. Alabama rolled up 643 total yards with over 500 coming on the ground. Southern Miss' starting quarterback Jeff Bower, who would return to Legion Field in 2000 as USM's head coach in a stunning 21-0 win over the Tide, was injured early and the Golden Eagles couldn't do anything.In Tallahassee, Florida State fell to Colorado State, 14-7 in a game where the Seminoles figured they could end the streak.

An improving Vanderbilt squad came to Tuscaloosa for Alabama's first true home game.Through the 1987 season Legion Field held at least 12,000 more seats than Bryant-Denny Stadium so more times than not Alabama played its 'big games' in Birmingham.The Commodores under Bryant protégé' and former Florida State assistant Steve Sloan were blown out in Nashville the year before, 44-0 as Bryant took mercy on his former QB.But Vandy gave Alabama all they wanted in '74 losing, 23-10.

Bryant and Steve Sloan shake hands after the Tide's hard fought win over Vanderbilt. The Commodores would go on to their first bowl in 19 years and second ever that yr

At Lawrence,Kansas that day Kansas dominated Florida State ,40-9. KU seemed to be headed in the right direction at the time. The win gave the Jayhawks a 2-1 mark which would go to 4-1 and a ranking of #13. However, the following week #12 Nebraska downed the #13 Jayhawks, 56-0..in Lawrence. Kansas then lost its final 5 games and Don Fambrough "resigned" and was replaced by Bud Moore who had played and coached for Bear Bryant at Alabama.

The week before the Seminoles and Tide would meet, it looked like Florida State was finally going to win. The Seminoles led Baylor, 17-0 at halftime.But Baylor who would go on to win their first Southwest Conference title, stormed back and won 21-17 on a touchdown with less than seven minutes left. Florida State's losing streak was now 16.

Meanwhile in Jackson, Alabama came from behind to down Ole Miss, 35-21 on regional television. Once again Alabama piled up lots of yardage,but 8 fumbles losing 4 and sloppy tackling made the game closer than it should have. Also quarterback Richard Todd suffered an injury and having been battered all year looked doubtful for the Florida State game.

Alabama's win over Ole Miss in Jackson was the Tide's first against the Rebels in Mississippi Memorial Stadium in their last three tries having lost in 1968 and 1970

As Alabama and Florida State prepared for their October 12th tilt, Las Vegas established the Tide as a 34 point favorite.While the #3 team in the nation favored over a team that lost 16 straight wasn't unusual, the fact that Alabama was going to start its 3rd or 4th string QB made the point spread even more unusual. More times than not when a team gets to its third team QB the bookies will scrap that game. Gary Rutledge was hurt late in fall camp and Richard Todd was battered around by all four opponents that Bryant thought it wise to sit him vs the Seminoles.Todd actually suffered an embarrassing moment as well physical pain vs Ole Miss.While being treated on the sidelines for a hip and thigh bruise,ABC's camera's briefly caught him on the bench with his trousers and pads pulled down as he received treatment with a view of a lot of flesh in private areas.

Alabama would start either Robert Fraley or Jack O'Rear. Fraley was recruited to Alabama by Steve Sloan while Alabama assistant. When Sloan left for Florida State in '71 Fraley wanted to transfer to the Seminoles but Sloan talked him out of it.Both Fraley and O'Rear had been banged up to,but couldn't wait to face Florida State.

The Tide said all the right things about taking the winless, hapless Seminoles seriously.But Alabama had been sloppy at times all year and this team was 0-16.Even with back up quarterbacks, sloppy play and over confidence shouldn't impact a 34 point favorite.

Game program. Tide led by future Miss State coach, Sylvester Croom (59)

Well, for whatever reason the 1974 Florida State-Alabama game was the Tide's closest regular season game in 1973 or 1974. While notions of some 1973 scores like 66-0,44-0 and 77-6 came to Tide...and Seminole fans alike it didn't happen.And except for a questionable decision by the Seminoles' staff, this would have been Alabama's first loss in Tuscaloosa since 1963.

Florida State took the opening kickoff and promptly marched 78 yards in nine plays and scored on freshman Larry Keys' 6 yard touchdown run. Ahmet Askin,a soccer style kicker from Turkey made the conversion and Florida State led ,7-0. While surprising its not that unusual for big underdog to score first in a game. On this same field two years earlier Vandy led Alabama 7-6 after one period only to see Alabama score four touchdowns in the second quarter as the Tide won, 48-21.

Freshman Larry Keys rushed for 123 yards and scored the lone td in the 1974 game

Alabama didn't even get four first downs in the second quarter of this game as the halftime score stayed 7-0, visitors.Florida State had twice as many yards and first downs as Fraley,who started and O'Rear struggled against the upbeat Seminoles. The Tide finally got on the scoreboard after Bob Baumhower recovered a fumble on the Florida State 31.The Tide was prepared to go for a first on fourth and one,but center Sylvester Croom forgot to snap the ball. From the 27, Bucky Berrey made a 44 yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3. with three minutes left in the third.

The Seminoles came right back and had first and goal at the start of the fourth quarter. The drive stalled at the two and Florida State settled for a short 19 yard field goal, a yard shorter than an extra point. Askin hooked it and the game stayed 7-3.Mudra, who was one of the few if only head coaches who sat in the press box felt it was good,however his opinion didn't matter.Askin was far from automatic as this was the third field goal he missed.

Florida State's Darrell Mudra coached from the press box... and caused some damage to the visitor's coaching booth near the end of the '74 Florida State-Alabama game

After an exchange of punts, Florida State fumbled at its 29 with 6:28 to play. The Tide quickly got a first down and was at the 19.But after a short run and two O'Rear incompletions, Fraley threw incomplete on fourth down. Florida State had a 7-3 lead with only 3:22 left in the game.On third and 3, quarterback Coppess lunges for a first down which should run out the clock.However, the Seminoles were called for illegal motion setting up 3rd and 8. Coppess is sacked by future Alabama head coach Mike DuBose--still Dubose in the press-- and it was now 4th and long at the Seminole 5. Here's where Florida State fortunes turned--badly in the short term and very good in the long run.

On 4th down, Mudra was convinced the only way Alabama would score a touchdown was to block the punt and recover in the end zone. A safety would make it 7-5 and Florida State could kick off or punt from the 20. However ,both kickers had done poorly including punter Joe Downey who had four punts for a 27 yard average.The decision was made and Downey fielded the ball in the endzone and stepped out of bounds for a safety. The Seminoles led only 7-5 with just 1:27 left in the game.But now Alabama only need a field goal.

Florida State pressured Robert Fraley (12) and Jack O'Rear all day. The two combined for 4 of 10 passing and 72 yards,but they won. Sadly,Fraley was on the same plane in 1999 that crashed killing Payne Stewart and others

Downey's free kick punt only went to the Alabama 45 and it was returned to the Seminole 48. Up until now Fraley and O'Rear had completed only three passes for 40 yards.On first down O'Rear hit freshman Ozzie Newsome for 32 yards to the Florida State 16.The Tide lost three yards on its next three plays setting up optimum field position. On 4th A13 Florida State called time out to ice kicker Berrey. If he makes this 36 yarder, Alabama survives. If he misses, the Tide suffers its most embarrassing loss ever.Berrey drills it and Alabama wins,8-7 as Florida State throws two desperation passes to end the game.

After the game Bryant expressed frustration as an alumnus of the university about the poor coaching praising the Seminoles' valiant effort.Also as athletic director, he deducted $600 from Florida State's game check for damage done to the visitor's coaching box as head coach Mudra and others had kicked and punched holes in the wall as Berrey's game winner sailed through.

Florida State would finally win four weeks later vs rival Miami and finished 1-10.Mudra went 3-8 in '75 and was dismissed.Florida State then hired Bobby Bowden from West Virginia who after a 5-6 start in 1976 took the Seminoles to unprecedented heights. He won two national titles and took the Seminoles to a bowl every year from 1979 through retirement in 2009. Had Florida State held on to win that '74 game Mudra might have been given an extension or the team could have started producing modest results.

Alabama meanwhile, recovered nicely after some "attitude adjustments" by Bryant and won the SEC again and finished the regular season 11-0-0. They narrowly lost the Orange Bowl to Notre Dame in Ara Parhegian's final game 13-11 denying the Tide a share of the National Title.

But for :33 this was the "on any given Saturday."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nothing synthetic about this Tie

Georgia and Tennessee meet in Knoxville Saturday in a huge SEC East matchup. Since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, the two have played every year. Even though the two are two of the closest together in terms of geography, they were part of each other's 'rotating conference schedule' from 1972 to 1991. The two did play home and home in 1968 and 1969 with the '68 meeting being the first between the two since 1937.

Even though Knoxville and Athens are connected by US 441, the 1968 was the first game between the two since 1937

 The 1968 game had a little bit of everything.The reigning SEC champion vs the eventual SEC champion, National Television, two of the brightest and best head coaches, and an artificial surface, the first in the SEC and one that almost derailed the much anticipated season opener between these two for the first time in the "modern era."
Tennessee AD Bob Woodruff had become frustrated at how badly the playing surface at Neyland Stadium (Shields-Watkins Field) would be in November of each year.Having installed a 'Tartan' basketball court at Stokely Athletics Center and their outdoor track from 3M.A football surface was the next course of action.Tennessee paid a $1,000 in 1965 for a 'test strip' and conducted "exhaustive tests." And, in early June of 1968 the process began in ripping up the natural grass and installing Tartan Turf for the season opener vs Georgia and a nationally televised audience.(The joke around Knoxville was UT was changing its colors from orange and white to plaid.)
3M's competitor Monsanto, featured its 'Astro Turf' as a wave of the future in football stadiums.Several SEC teams would use Astroturf in time for years. Only in-state rival Vanderbilt actually used 'Tartan Turf' which was put down in 1970
The only problem was Woodruff nor anyone else from Tennessee let Georgia AD Joel Eaves know of UT's intentions at the SEC's Spring Meetings in May. In fact the Vols notified Georgia and Eaves of their intentions via telegram on June 17th. (Oddly enough, future UT coach Derek Dooley and Georgia head coach Vince's son was born the prior week.)
Having played Houston in the Astrodome the prior year and being an Auburn grad, Eaves was none to happy and hinted at a cancellation."This Tartan Turf may or may not be a grand product,"said Eaves."I just don't like the idea of our players being used as guinea pigs in such an important game.Tennessee has a good football team and it doesn't need any extra advantages."
Tennessee and Georgia both had good football teams. The Vols had won the SEC 1967 finishing 2nd in both polls while the Bulldogs had shared the SEC title with Alabama in 1966. Georgia had finished the 1967 season 7-3 with a Liberty Bowl loss to NC State, 14-7 who was led by future Georgia head coach Jim Donnan.
Georgia ended the 1967 with a loss to NC State and Jim Donnan in  the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
As for the Tartan surface itself,it was a rather quick process. The cost was $200,000 and required about two months to install. There were several steps involved.The first was to dig up everything and lay a foot of compacted soil.On top of that, six inches of gravel or four inches of crushed rock were added. Then 1-1/2" of asphaltic concrete binder were added as well as another inch of fine-texture asphalt. Finally, the inch thick Tartan was installed with the bottom half inch being rubber and plastic and the top half grasslike nylon fibers.
Georgia continued its protest and consideration of cancelling the game for a month but then relented.A statement signed by both Eaves and Vince Dooley said,"from a strictly legal standpoint, we know there are serious questions as to the validity of the contract. However we do not desire a legal controversy between the two institutions and have decided not to pursue the matter further."
Georgia played on actual 'Astro-Turf' the prior year in the Astrodome losing to Houston and Paul Gipson (46), the SEC's original "Sam Cunningham", 15-14.
So the game was on as scheduled. And that game was scheduled to 'kickoff' ABC's college football season.The game was to played on September 14th, a week before most college games as well as all other SEC games.(This caused a mini-ripple effect in the SEC with the Tennessee-Auburn game normally played in September moved to November and Auburn and Mississippi State playing in September instead of November.The Tigers didn't want to play a Vol team with a big game under its belt . Mississippi State,who had gone 1-9 and scoring 49 points all of 1967, said "we get it.")
The game would feature two of the game's brightest stars. Both Doug Dickey and Vince Dooley were hired at their respective schools in 1964 and had been stars at their SEC alma maters, Dickey at Florida and Dooley at Auburn in the early 1950's.
Dickey's start at UT was a little rocky and tragic. In 1964, Dickey junked the Vols' famed "Single Wing" which had become outdated and had cost Tennessee a key instate recruit, noneother than Steve Spurrier.After a 4-5-1 season which ended with a loss to Vanderbilt,the Vols got in high gear in 1965 with a top ten finish which included a 7-7 tie in Birmingham vs Alabama and a late season win over Pacific 8 champion and eventual Rose Bowl winner,UCLA. Sadly though, days after returning to Knoxville after the emotional Alabama game, three Tennessee assistant coaches were killed in a wreck at a train crossing on the way to work one morning.
Days after a thrilling 7-7 tie vs Alabama in Birmingham, three UT assistant coaches were killed in a wreck at a train crossing.One of the coaches was Bill Majors, one of Johnny's brothers of Tennessee's famed Majors family
1966 saw a consecutive bowl win and top ten finish. The Vols finished 8-3 with the three losses by 3 to top ten Georgia Tech, an 11-10 loss to unbeaten Alabama and a close loss to top 20 Ole Miss.The 1967 Vols finished 9-2 losing their season opener in Los Angeles to UCLA and eventual Heisman winner Gary Beban, 20-16 and to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 26-24. Along the way Tennessee won its first SEC title since 1956 and finished #2 in both polls.
Dooley's start was just as rocky losing his first game in 1964 soundly to Alabama, 31-3.After starting 2-2-1, Georgia went on to upset #9 Florida and Georgia Tech losing only to Dooley's old coach Shug Jordan and Auburn,14-7. The strong finish was enough to get the Bulldogs an invitation to the Sun Bowl.While one of the older bowls,the Sun was making a move to invite bigger schools to getting "Georgia" was a plum. Georgia downed Texas Tech and future Green Bay Packer bonus baby, Donny Anderson (the 'old yeller' to Paul Hornung's 'Golden Boy') 7-0. Interestingly as for the 1964 season and Green Bay Packers, in the '64 preseason Dooley had Georgia's block "G" on their helmets changed to the 'forward looking' "G" that the team still has as its logo. With its similar design to the Packers' "G", AD Eaves received permission and the rest is history.
Sporting the new "G" , Georgia won the 1964 Sun Bowl, 7-0 over Texas Tech and Donny Anderson (44) in Dooley's first year
The 1965 Georgia squad roared out to a 4-0 mark and #4 ranking with a controversial win over Alabama and a win in Ann Arbor vs defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan, 15-7. But Georgia lost its next two games to top 10 Florida State and Kentucky and finished 6-4 with a win in Atlanta vs Georgia Tech.
In 1966, Georgia put it all together going 9-1 with the lone loss a 7-6 loss to Miami (Fla) in a Friday night game in the Orange Bowl. In addition to sharing the SEC title with Alabama, the Bulldogs defeated the two participants that played in the Orange Bowl game, Florida and Georgia Tech-- both ranked in the top 10 win the Bulldogs downed them.Georgia then thumped SWC champion SMU, 24-9 in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Eve. As part of the 'Big Four' at the time, the Sugar,Cotton,Orange and Rose Bowls all played on New Year's Day --except win New Year's fell on Sunday as it did in 1967.Normally the bowl(s) would move to Monday.However in this case, not only was the Cotton Bowl the home of the SMU Mustangs,it was the home of the Dallas Cowboys who would host the Green Bay Packers the following day (New Year's) for the 1966 NFL Championship.

The Cotton Bowl with Georgia vs SMU was played on New Year's Eve giving way to the 1966 NFL Championship on the same field the following day. Green Bay downed Dallas, 34-27 for what would be the second of three consectutive NFL titles.
The 1967 Georgia edition was again rugged going 7-3. They rose to #3 in the polls before losing in Jackson to Ole Miss, 29-20.Two back to back one point losses, 15-14 at Houston and 17-16 in Jacksonville vs Florida knocked the Bulldogs out of the polls. But satisfying wins vs Auburn and Georgia Tech propelled Georgia to Memphis to face NC State. NC State had been one of 1967's big surprises rising as high as #3 in the nation before late losses brought them back to Earth.The Pack and future Georgia coach Jim Donnan won, 14-7.
The 1968 SEC season started with Florida as a slight favorite to win the SEC Title with Tennessee,Georgia,Alabama and LSU also receiving consideration. Tennessee started the season ranked #9 with Georgia in the "others receiving votes."Both the Vols and Bulldogs were led by strong defenses with All-SEC and All-Americans featured by both teams. For this Georgia-Tennessee matchup the Vols seemed to have a slight advantage at quarterback.Bubba Wyche, a senior from Atlanta, had started two games in 1967 when Dewey Warren was injured leading the Vols to wins over Alabama and Georgia Tech.Dooley waited until the week of the game to choose Donnie Hampton over Mike Cavan.
Atlanta native Bubba Wyche (Sam of Bengals fame's little brother) would direct the 1968 Tennessee Volunteers
After arriving in Knoxville the day before the game, as promised, the Bulldogs tried on the specially designed shoes for the new playing surface that Tennessee had provided for them free of charge.During a brief practice on the field that Friday, Dooley even joked "where are the ashtrays?" in reference to the 'carpet.' Actually,that was a valid question. On gameday Tennessee officials placed sandboxes along the field for anyone who smoked to extinguish their cigarettes and not cause burn marks on the playing surface.
Not only would the game have numerous All-Star players, the program featured Tennessee cheerleader Jeannie Gilbert,the 1968 "Miss Cheerleader"
Whether is was nerves, a record crowd of the new playing surface, the first half was anything but a classic. Tennessee recovered seven fumbles in the first half, four of Georgia's and three of their own. Team captain Dick Williams recovered a bad handoff exchange deep in Georgia territory in the second quarter. Five plays later Tennessee tailback Mike Jones dove over a pyramid of players and the Vols took a 7-0 lead into halftime.(Jones was playing offense for the first time after having played in the secondary his sophomore year.Richard Pickens,who had over 600 yards rushing in '67, was in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics and would join the squad later in the season.)
Georgia's Ronnie Huggins (43) and one of the more colorful names in SEC history, Happy Dicks (57) bring down Wyche during the classic 1968 Georgia-Tennessee game on Tartan Turf
While many dignitaries including Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, Tennessee senator Albert Gore Sr, various congressmen and even Goodyear chairman Russ De Young (the Goodyear blimp was at the game) were at the game as well as the 6,000 more from 1967 in the new East upper deck, ABC's television audience increased dramatically at halftime. NBC's 'Game of the Week ' concluded with Detroit's Denny McClain winning his remarkable 30th win of the season over Oakland moving Detroit closer to winning the American League pennant (1968 would be the last year without divisional play within each league.). McClain became the first MLB pitcher since Dizzy Dean to win 30 games in a season.Dean, who was on hand, last accomplished the feat in 1934.
The TV audience for the Georgia-Tennessee game increased after the conclusion of NBC's Oakland-Detroit game which saw Denny McClain win his 30th game. McClain would go 31-6 winning the AL Cy Young and MVP award
The game plodded along until middle of the third quarter .Then it got good until the end -- and then some.Georgia's Jim McCullough put Georgia on the board with a 40 yard field goal. After Tennessee's next possession Herman Weaver boomed a punt 57 yards through the air into the arms of Georgia safety Jake Scott. Scott ran around a little letting his blockers take out some potential tacklers and he was gone. 90 yards down the sidelines later Scott was in the endzone.After Scott caught his breath and held for McCullough's conversion,Georgia was ahead 10-7.
Jake Scott ,who would win two Super Bowls with Miami, flies 90 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put Georgia ahead
Tennessee's offense went cold and midway in the fourth, Weaver boomed another punt this time downed inside the 5. Having moved Georgia back to the one, Tennessee's Steve Kiner broke through and sacked Hampton attempting to pass in the end zone for a safety.Now Georgia led 10-9. After being unable to move the ball again against a tough Georgia defense led by Bill Stanfill, also a future Super Bowl Dolphin and Billy Payne, who spearheaded Atlanta's 1996 Olympic bid and now chairman of Augusta National, the Vols punted (13 times for the game as Weaver averaged 45 yards per punt) again giving Georgia a first down on their own 20.On first down Hampton handed off to Bruce Kemp on a basic off-tackle play. Kemp broke a tackle just past the line of scrimmage and was off to the races. Kemp's 80 yard run and McCullough's extra point gave Georgia a 17-9 lead with time winding down.
If this game didn't already have enough going for it, this game was legendary John Ward's first UT football game to broadcast via radio. Larry Munson, who still lived down I-40 in Nashville, was in his third year as Bulldog announcer.
Tennessee had 2:41 left to march 80 yards and hopefully tie the game at 17. Wyche was only 9 of 26 passing at that point but he showed resilience. But after a short run and two short completions, Tennessee faced fourth and three at the 27. With under 2:00 left UT had to go for it. Wyche found Lester McClain, a sophomore from Nashville, open for a huge 14 yard gain and first down.McClain wasn't the typical "sophomore from Nashville" playing for the big state university. McClain was Tennessee's first black football player (and first black athlete). As a sign of the times, his performance in the game in newspapers and Sports Illustrated referenced him being Tennessee's first 'Negro' athlete.However, when McClain secured the pass and was knocked out of bounds at the 41 with a first down Neyland exploded in excitement.At that time McClain was orange and that was all that mattered.
Lester McClain, Tennessee's first black athlete, made a huge fourth down catch on the Vols' tying drive vs Georgia
Now Wyche seemed to be in rhythm. He quickly completed three more passes and Tennessee was down to the Georgia four yard line. But then Georgia, behind Stanfill and Payne,rose up and in two plays had knocked Wyche and the Vols back to the 21. Only :04 was left in the game.Wyche called for a post-pattern pass for Split End Gary Kreis. While breaking the huddle, Wyche turned to Kreis and said,"Do or die.You better get it,Gary."
Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne was in on two sacks near the end of the game before Wyche found his own "Amen Corner."
Kreis, called "HighPockets" by his teammates,had dropped three passes earlier in the game.As he crossed over from the right side to left Wyche threw to the goal line. Kreis grabbed it at the one, was hit, bobbled it, fell backwards, landed in the end zone, bobbled and caught it once again. Touchdown, Tennessee. Georgia still led 17-15 with :00 on the clock.
Gary "High Pockets" Kreis caught the TD after time had expired to enable Tennessee to tie Georgia after the two point conversion
Again, Wyche went with a pass for the two. This time Ken DeLong caught a pass on the one,turned and fell into the end zone for the score as fans soon covered the field as if Tennessee had won. It was indeed a tie, 17-17.(After the game, replays the following day indicated that perhaps Kreis had indeed dropped the ball which should have nullified the touchdown and ended the game in a Georgia win.Still, there was nothing conclusive and replay was 37 years away.)
Georgia would go on to win the 1968 SEC title which included a 51-0 win over pre-season choice Florida in the rain.The Bulldogs' only other blemish was a 10-10 tie vs Houston in Athens.This time it was Georgia scoring at the end with McCullough kicking a 38 yard field goal with :12 left. (The same Cougars defeated Tulsa, 100-6 three weeks later.Larry Gatlin, better known as a country singer with his brothers, scored on a touchdown pass against coach's orders to go up 93-6.) While the Tennessee tie felt like a loss,this one felt like a win. The 8-0-2 Bulldogs lost to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
Tennessee finished 2nd in the SEC losing only to Auburn in Birmingham, 28-14 in a day night double header following the LSU-Alabama game.The night game vs Auburn was UT's second in 1968 after a 52-0 win vs Rice in Houston. Night games were rare for the Vols having only played 6 in their history and four having come in the 1967 and 1968 seasons. Neyland Stadium wouldn't install lights until the 1972 season. Tennessee took an 8-1-1 record to Dallas where they lost to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, 36-13.
But the season opener was a classic that is still recalled to this day.   


Friday, April 4, 2014

40 years ago had March Greatness as well as Madness

 There are few sporting events as exciting and dramatic as the NCAA's Men's Division I Basketball tournament. Now 68 teams play tournament games all over the country often several hundred if not thousand miles away from their campi. The goal is to advance to the Final Four played in a domed football stadium with seating for over 60,000 fans. Some of the seats are so bad the NCAA even stamps 'distant viewing' on the ticket yet few are deterred as all games are sold out within ours of when they go on sale. For the last few years all games have been available on television instead of the ones a CBS affiliate was assigned. With CBS' partnership with Turner Broadcasting fans can watch four games at one time during the opening rounds similar to New Year's Day when four different networks may show four different bowl games at one time. But it wasn't always like that.

40 years ago, the 1973-1974 college basketball season produced one of the most incredible,dramatic seasons the sport has ever had. Now, whereas this blog focuses on the SEC, the SEC was indeed a big part of the excitement and uniqueness of this season so this entry will include the entire season and tournament and not just what pertained to the Southeastern Conference. The most important aspect, now probably the most unusual in reflection now with the current format was the fact that only the conference champion (or conference's representative) could participate in the NCAA tournament. Also, there were an inordinate amount of "independents" as many conferences founded on basketball like the Big East and Conference USA had not been established yet.

No discussion of the 1974 NCAA Tournament can take place without mention of Lefty Dreisell, current CBS analyst Len Elmore and the Maryland Terrapins

The 1973-1974 season started out with UCLA and North Carolina State ranked number one and two. Both teams finished the 1972-1973 season unbeaten. UCLA won the national title in '73 making it the Bruins' seventh straight title. NC State went 27-0 in 1972-1973 including winning the ACC regular season title and tournament but was banned from post-season play for recruiting violations. The Bruins' title win over Memphis State was their 75th consectutive victory. UCLA had broken San Francisco's 60 game winning streak during the regular season in an 82-63 win at South Bend vs Notre Dame, where the streak began after a loss in 1971.If the Bruins were going to win their eighth straight title and continue their unbeaten streak, they would have to navigate a very rugged non-conference schedule in addition to a Pac -8 round robin schedule which included Oregon State and Oregon in addition to crosstown rival and Pac 8 bridesmaid Southern California. Among others UCLA would face Maryland, Notre Dame twice and a "made for tv" game in St Louis against NC State. The Terrapins, Irish and Wolfpack were preseason 4th, 8th and 2nd in the preseason polls.

After finishing 3rd in the NIT, preseason #5 North Carolina was ranked below two ACC rivals, NC State and Maryland. Winning the ACC was going to be as challenging as the entire tourney

The rest of the top twenty pre-season poll featured a who's who of solid teams at the time including the other 3 Final Four participants, Indiana (3), Providence (6) and Memphis State (20). The SEC was represented with 10th ranked Kentucky gunning for its 7th straight SEC and NCAA berth and Alabama was ranked 18th, fresh off of an NIT final four marking the Crimson Tide's first postseason berth.

Alabama would be attempting to win its first SEC title since 1956 while Tennessee and Vanderbilt would be chasing the Wildcats,too. The trio finished in a three way tie for second at 13-5 in 1973 one game behind 14-4 Kentucky.For Alabama, 1974 would be NCAA or bust. At the time teams could play in tournament games on their home courts. For the 1973-1974, Alabama was awarded the Mideast Regional.One of the stipulations was in order to host the NCAA regional the member institution could not participate in the NIT, regardless of record, nor could they play in the new Conference Commissioner's Association tournament, an attempt at a rival tourney for 'runner-ups' to the NIT.Fellow challenger Vanderbilt saw first hand how this works as the Commodores who won both regular season meetings vs champion Kentucky and were 20-6 overall, were hosts to the 1973 Mideast Regional tournament.At the time,under normal circumstances Vandy would have been a prime candidate for the NIT,but not in '73.

Even at 20-6 and 13-5 in the SEC including a sweep of Kevin Grevey (35) SEC champ Kentucky, Vandy had to sit at home in '73 with no trip to the NIT as the Commodores hosted the Mideast Regional and watched Bob Knight get his first Final Four trip in Indiana's 72-65 win over the Wildcats. Alabama would host the regional in 1974.

December 1973 included some fine non-conference games as UCLA held off Maryland 65-64 in Los Angeles and Notre Dame held off Indiana 73-67 in a Hoosier State top 10 battle in Bloomington with two of the brightest,youngest head coaches Digger Phelps and Bobby Knight going at it in their third season at their respective schools. The Irish' win served notice that their NIT runner up in '73 was no fluke and also showed how far they had come since their last trip to Bloomington in December 1971 which ended a  94-29 nightmarish loss. The big game was the 'dream game' between the best two teams in 1972-1973, a televison matchup in St Louis (the site of the 1973 Final Four) between UCLA and NC State.

As expected, Wolfpack coach Norm Sloan's gameplan centered around stopping Bruins' all-world center Bill Walton who had scored 44 points on this same court in the National Title game, a record which still stands in title games.But UCLA's John Wooden always had the program in mind and not the player. Whereas NC State goaded Walton into four first half fouls, Keith Wilkes rose to the occassion holding NC State All-American David Thompson to 17 points while scoring a career high 27 himself. State led 33-32 at halftime before 18,000 fans and a nationally televised audience. Walton finally came back in with 9:54 left in the game and UCLA up 54-52. After a quick State basket, UCLA went on a 19-2 run to put it out of reach and win going away, 84-66.

7'4" Tom Burleson scores over Bill Walton in NC State and UCLA's 'Game of the Century' in St Louis in Dec '73. But UCLA romped, 84-66.
Meanwhile, on the same day as the highly anticipated Wolfpack-Bruin tilt, Tennessee was playing in the championship game of their yearly Vol Classic. Tennessee , like many SEC teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt would host a four team tournament prior to Christmas with two Friday night games and a consolation game followed by the championship game. Typically,but not always, the field was chosen to include teams that the host school should win.The Vols scheduled DePaul, Temple and Utah State. Whereas each team historically had had their moments, the Vols were not expected to have much trouble. Tennessee was led by three upperclassmen, Len Kosmalski, Rodney Woods and John Snow as well as highly regarded freshman Ernie Grunfeld. The Vols' only loss was a 67-65 overtime loss to #7 Marquette.

In the Friday night doubleheader, Temple downed Utah State 70-61 and Tennessee blasted DePaul, 96-61.In Saturday's consolation game Utah State downed DePaul 103-93 in a shootout.While Tennessee was favored over the Owls, Temple was on the upswing in Philadelphia "Big Five" play challenging Villanova and Pennsylvania, who had met in the 1971 East Regional final.The Vols had solid scoring with young Grunfeld and senior John Snow, but Ray Mears' squads were built on zone defense. Ten years before variations of shot clocks were implemented,offensive teams could dribble and pass without retribution in an effort to draw a team out of a zone. And if a team had the lead and their opponent zoned them on defense, the offense could hold the ball as long as they wished. The Vols were known to slow down games and often won games in the 50's and low 60's.
Mears was concerned about Temple's team speed and went to a zone. Temple coach Don Casey was concerned about Tennessee's potential uptempo style and wanted to slow the game down. What happened was too stubborn coaches wouldn't change. After Tennessee went up 7-5 with 12:44 left in the first half, Temple stalled and turned the ball over trying to score near halftime. Not one field goal was made in the second half. Tennessee led 8-5 until the final minutes as Temple guards John Kneib and Rick Trudeaux exchanged passes. Tennessee finally won , 11-6. Tennessee fans and officials were livid with Temple as the crowd pelted the floor with ice. UT President Ed Boling asked Mears to bring the Vols back for an intrasquad scrimmage which he did. While fellow SEC coaches snickered at Mears of all coaches complaining about stalling,Mears did campaign for a shot clock which was finally put in place in 1984.
After the "Game of the Century" in St Louis, Tennessee downed Temple, 11-6

With only one team from a conference being able to participate in the NCAA tournament, conference games were at a premium. In the first weekend of SEC games, Alabama came to town to face Vanderbilt, with both squads ranked in the top 10. While not televised, Sports Illustrated did assign its college basketball beat writer, Barry McDermott, to cover the game.Once beaten Alabama was ranked #6 and unbeaten Vandy was # 10. The Tide led 30-19 before Vandy started lulling Alabama into charging fouls. The Commodores caught up at halftime as the two were tied 37-37.

Alabama controlled the second half and led 69-62 with under 3:00 left. But as McDermott's piece in SI stated, "Vandy made more comebacks than Sinatra." Vandy made its final comeback and had a chance to tie with :26 as Butch Feher, part of Vandy's sophomore class known as the "F-Troop" stepped to the foul line. Down 72-70 Feher made the first but missed the second. But teammate Terry Compton slapped the ball out of Alabama's Charles Russell's hands and Feher retrieved the loose ball. After a pass to Joe Ford, Feher was fed a pass from Ford and laid in a bankshot to give Vanderbilt a 73-72 lead with :13 left.Alabama came down and Ray Odums found Charles Cleveland open for a makable jumper for the win. It looked on target but hit the back of the rim and after a mad scramble for the loose ball, Vandy captain Jan van Breda Kolff slapped it towards midcourt as time expired and somehow Vanderbilt won 73-72 as a portion of the record 15,626 at Memorial Gym stormed the court.

That same evening, two of the three ACC powers met in Greensboro -- in a non-conference game. Third ranked NC State met fifth ranked North Carolina in the first round of the 'Big Four Tournament'. From 1971 through 1981 conference and state members North Carolina, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest all met in Greensboro for a 'pre-season' so to speak tournament. The games were official, but were not treated as conference games.But the Pack and Heels played this one as if was the Final Four,which would be played on the same court two months later. In a tremendous game which went back and forth, NC State over came a 3 pt half time deficit early in the second half on a 10-0 run to lead 54-47. With a little over one minute left, North Carolina's Ed Stahl who replaced All-American Bobby Jones after he fouled out, made a 15 foot jumper to give the Tar Heels their first lead since the start of the second half.

Down 75-74 State seemed in jeopardy of losing its second game of the season when they turned the ball over on a travel. But they showed a resolve lacking earlier in the UCLA game. With Carolina going to its famed 'four corners' JC transfer Moe Rivers stole a pass at midcourt and drove in for a layup. It was blocked but State got the rebound. David Thompson found Tom Burleson under the basket for a 76-75 lead. Carolina's Walter Davis missed a jumper and 5' 5" "mini-guard" Monte Towe made two free throws to give State a 78-75 lead. Stahl scored on a put back for the 'Heels to make it 78-77 with :09 left.Then North Carolina pressured NC State and got the ball back on a five second call as the Pack was unable to throw it in. Stahl, who scored North Carolina's last four points got the ball and a good look,but it fell short and after a scramble Rivers got the rebound as time expired and NC State had a hard fought 78-77 win.(Perhaps it was just a coincidence but the second half of the second game was delayed 20 minutes as a portion of the court at Greensboro Coliseum collapsed. Its not known if the floor just wore out after the incredible pace of game one.)

5' 5" Monte Towe's two ft's with :18 was the difference in NC State's 78-77 win over North Carolina in the 1974 'Big Four Tournament' in Greensboro

As predicted the ACC was indeed a three horse race with Maryland, North Carolina State and North Carolina all in the top five. The SEC became a two horse race quickly with Alabama and Vanderbilt who both "made the turn" the first half of the 18 game home and home round robin at 8-1 in league play. In the Big 10 defending champion Indiana was the runaway choice to repeat in 1974. The Hoosiers started the season #3 behind only UCLA and Indiana. But after a rugged non-conference schedule highlighted by wins over Kansas,Kentucky and South Carolina, they did suffer losses to then #6 Notre Dame and to Oregon State in the Far West Classic in Portland.They entered the Big 10 portion of the schedule 7-2 and ranked #8 and promptly lost their first conference game of the season to Michigan, 73-71 in Ann Arbor. The surprising Wolverines who had gone 13-11 the prior season were now 9-2 and ranked #18. Suddenly, the Big 10 was going to be contested as Indiana indeed had a challenger.

Behind Campy Russell, suprising Michigan pushed pre-season favorite Indiana all season long -- and then some

As conference play was going full speed ahead, the independents -- which was comprised of many outstanding teams that season were begining to play some of their fellow independents and other big names as well. The best independent, Notre Dame hosted the biggest name of all, top ranked UCLA . The Bruins were on an 88 game winning streak and were favored to continue on as they met the Irish on the same floor where their streak started following an 89-81 loss to Austin Carr and the Irish in 1971. Two seasons earlier UCLA had beaten Notre Dame 114-56 in Los Angeles and then 57-32 in South Bend in a game where the Irish tried to slow it down in Digger Phelps' first season which ended in a 6-20 record. While John Wooden and the Bruins cruised to a 30-0 mark in '72-'73 Notre Dame improved dramatically with an 18-12 mark and were runners-up to VPI in the NIT. While they were indeed losses, the two losses to UCLA were much more competitive with UCLA winning 82-56 in Los Angeles and 82-63 in South Bend. The win in South Bend was the Bruins' 61st straight surpassing Bill Russell and the San Francisco Dons' 60 game winning streak in 1956.

A full five years before the debut of ESPN, an independent network called TVS broadcast the game nationally. The game would be picked up by many of the major networks' local affiliates for a true national audience.Three weeks earlier the Notre Dame football team won the national title in an epic "Game of the Century" type matchup vs Alabama.Whereas this game wouldn't be for the National Title, a win by the Irish would elevate them from their current #2 ranking to #1. The game did not disappoint although in the first half it appeared UCLA would breeze to win number 89.

In Notre Dame's win in 1971 that started the streak the Irish jumped out to a 9-2 lead. In this one with 6:00 left in the first half, UCLA led 33-16.Notre Dame did cut it to 43-34 at the half, but the Bruins were on fire shooting 70% in the first half.The second half started with Notre Dame getting the hot hand with John Shumate and Gary Brokaw scoring all nine points in a 9-2 run to start the second half. Now up only 45-43, the Bruins got hot again and stretched their lead back to 54-43 near the midway point of the second half.Notre Dame fought back to cut it to 64-59 with 5:24 left but Brokaw was called for his fourth foul trying to guard Keith Wilkes, one of 8 players in this game who would go on to the NBA. Brokaw argued too much and received a technical. Today the technical would be counted as a personal foul and he would have fouled out, but not in 1974 so he stayed in the game.

Tommy Curtis hit a jumper with only 3:32 left to give UCLA a seemingly insurmountable 70-59 lead. In the ensuing timeout Phelps' strategy was to put quicker players in to pressure UCLA. While giving up height, this was a gamble he had to take. And,it worked. At the 3:00 mark the lead was down to 7. With no shot clock UCLA backed off and attempted to run off some clock, but freshman sensation Adrian Dantley stole a pass near midcourt and laid one in and now it was only 70-65 with 2:22 left and TVS announcer Dick Enberg proclaimed, "pandemonium now !"

Keith Wilkes attempting to break Notre Dame's press fired a deep pass to Tommy Curtis who had gotten by Ray Martin. Curtis went in for a lay-up but was called for travelling. Curtis did appear to bobble the pass but it was close and as Wooden said after the game "would have salted it away." Sandwiched around a Dave Meyers' miss, Brokaw scored two jumpers and with 1:17 left UCLA had only a one point lead. The Bruins were were white hot in the first half and shot well for most of the second half suddenly could not score.Walton looked to Wooden to see if he wanted a time out. Wooden, legs crossed and hands folded shook his head to indicate he did not.Afterwards Wooden would say,"I'm not a timeout fellow." While one may have worked here, its difficult to question the Wizard of Westwood's decisions.

UCLA worked the ball inside and found Wilkes on the baseline. After faking a drive along the baseline he drove towards the middle but was called for a foul for hooking Martin. The call was made by veteran official Richard Weiler who ironically had officiated the 1971 Notre Dame win over UCLA earning him the nickname "Bookend" by fellow officials. Any Bruin who felt there might be a conspiracy kept it to themselves. Weiler's full time job was with the Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff's department.

After scoring on two straight possesions Notre Dame looked to Brokaw again. With the ball in Brokaw's hands, Tommy Curtis came over to help Wilkes guard him. In doing so Brokaw noticed Dwight "Ice Man" Clay opened. Clay earned the nickname by the buzzer beaters he had made most notably over rival Marquette the prior year ending the Warriors' 81 home game winning streak scoring with :04 to upset the fourth ranked Warriors, 71-69. Brokaw fired the ball to Clay who then released a shot from the deep right corner as Curtis furiously came back to try to cover him. As Curtis' attempt at a block missed knocking Clay down as he released his shot, the ball fell in the basket. Notre Dame led, 71-70. This time Walton called timeout on his own.

There was still :21 left in the game. But twice the Irish had a chance themselves "to salt the game away" but turnovers by Shumate and Brokaw gave UCLA new life after two misses. Now just :06 remained. Curtis threw into Walton near the foul line and was guarded by Shumate. Walton, 12 of 13 from the field missed a ten footer,but with Shumate away from the basket UCLA was able to scoop it up. The Bruins' Pete Trgovich and Dave Meyers missed to attempts at a tap in and finally Shumate cradled the rebound. Game over, Notre Dame 71, UCLA 70. As Sports Illustrated's article on the game (not cover story as it was the swimsuit issue which grinded Phelps' gears) declared "After 88 comes Zero".

The "Ice Man" cometh, and "endeth" UCLA's winning streak. Clay (on the left behind Tommy Curtis of UCLA) made the winning basket in Notre Dame's 71-70 win in '74.

Notre Dame was indeed ranked #1 after this win. But the Irish stay as top ranked didn't last very long. The Irish and Bruins were in the midst of a home and home series generally spread out 3-5 weeks. This time there was just a one week turnaround. Like the game in South Bend, UCLA jumped out big, this time 9-0, with 64% field goal accuracy in the first half. This time, they kept it coming and coming. The Bruins led 43-30 at halftime as Wilkes and Walton combined for 32 of the 43.The Irish, a 14 point underdog--one of the largest point spreads for the top ranked team -- fell behind by 15 nine seconds into the second half and the rout was on.Walton fouled out with 32 points and UCLA ahead 82-56 with 5:39 left. The final score was a more respectable 94-75 but there was no doubt who #1 was.

While UCLA appeared to be back in form, the Irish shook off there first loss and returned home to face #5 and fellow 'major independent' Marquette. The third ranked Irish overcame a brief 45-43 deficit midway in the second half and won, 69-63. The Irish and Warriors were both well on their way to earning 'at large' bids for the upcoming NCAA tournament.Back in the major 'conferences' the teams that started out hot in January continued to distance themselves as Februrary rolled around. In the ACC, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Maryland stayed ranked anywhere from second to seventh as they blistered the rest of the conference. Indiana and Michigan began to separate from rugged Purdue. And in the Southeastern Conference top 10 Vanderbilt and Alabama completely ran away from the rest of the league.In a seven day span Vandy crushed Kentucky and Tennessee on the road oddly enough by the same score, 82-65. Realistically, Kentucky was all but out of the SEC race and the league would have a new champion and NCAA representative for the first time since 1967.

Marcus Washington (55) of Marquette looks for Maurice Lucas down low as Notre Dame's Adrian Dantley defends. Notre Dame downed Marquette, 69-63 in a battle of two "major independent" top five teams

While North Carolina State, North Carolina and Maryland all remained in the top ten and for several weeks in the top 5, in reality they were positioning themselves for the ACC Tournament.Only one team would emerge for the NCAA tournament and East Regional.But this was an era where the Regionals were truly "regional". The Mideast Regional to be held in Tuscaloosa was on course to have four heavyweights in that regional. Independents Notre Dame and Marquette were located to participate in the Mideast as were the Big 10 and SEC champion. Indiana, Vanderbilt and Alabama were all ranked in the top 10 at the time and hard charging Michigan was 15th.

In the SEC, Vanderbilt opened up basically a two game lead over Alabama in winning the season series with another stirring come from behind victory, this time a 67-65 squeaker in Tuscaloosa.Vandy scored the first basket fifteen second into the game and then wouldn't lead again until there were only :35 left when Terry Compton nailed two ft's for a 64-63 lead. Now ranked 5th ,Vanderbilt would have to lose twice and Alabama run the table for the 8th ranked Tide to win the SEC and play in the NCAA's at home. While the players for the ACC,Big 10 and SEC representatives were well established, suddenly another conference had a two horse race, something few saw coming. UCLA was being challenged for Pac 8 supremecy by crosstown rival Southern California.The 8 team conference had assigned 'travel partners' that would travel to the same two rival schools on the same weekend and consquently host the same two over a weekend. In mid-February #1 UCLA and now #12 Southern Cal traveled north to Oregon to face the Beavers and Ducks.The Trojans were 7-2 in league play with an early loss at Washington State and losing at Pauley Pavillion to UCLA who was 9-0 entering the trip to Oregon. Southern Cal won both games easily defeating Oregon 76-61 in Eugene and winning at Oregon State, 60-53.The Trojans returned to Los Angeles tied for first. UCLA went 0 for Oregon,losing 61-57 in Corvallis to Oregon State and then at Oregon, 56-51. All of the sudden UCLA ,so used to winning, had to turn things around and not only not lose again, but win their road game in the Sports Arena vs Southern Cal to even make the tournament.

UCLA's 'Lost Weekend' was USC's paradise. UCLA's losses to Oregon and Oregon State was the first time they had lost back to back games since 1966- the last time they didn't win the Pac 8

As March rolled around time was running out for some teams to make the NCAA tourney. Alabama got some help from Tennessee with the Vols upsetting then #4 Vanderbilt in Nashville,59-53. The Tide and Commodores were tied with Vandy having the tiebreaker on the first weekend in March with both squads having two games left. Alabama had to travel to Gainesville to play in dreaded "Alligator Alley" where many a top SEC team had left the arena with an upset loss in front of a rowdy crowd.The Tide had to win while hoping Vandy would lose at home to Kentucky, or the next week to these same Gators in Gainesville.The 7,000 someodd fans got more than they bargained for ,at least at halftime.The fledgling Florida gymnastics team gave the crowd an exhibition at halftime. But it was another 'exhibition' that most in attendance remembered as a lone "streaker" burst through a side door running the length of the court sans clothing to another door on the other end.When it was said and done, Florida had upset Alabama 64-61. An hour later in Nashville, Vanderbilt held off a valiant Kentucky effort. The Wildcats at 12-12 were in the midst of their worst season since 1967. But sixth ranked Vandy hung in and won, 71-69 but not before UK's Larry Johnson missed a shot at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.Vandy's win gave them a share of the SEC title regardless of the ensuing Florida game and trip to the NCAA's in Tuscaloosa.

The Commodores were one of the first teams from a major conference to clinch a bid to the NCAA. But by no means were they the first team to receive a bid. On Thursday, February 28 the NCAA selected 9 at large teams including highly ranked Notre Dame, Marquette, Pittsburgh and Providence -- all who had at least one regular season game to play.But while the Commodores were preparing for their first NCAA trip since 1965, North Carolina was having its senior day honoring All-American Bobby Jones (seemingly every top 15 team in 1974 had at least one 'All-American'). The opponent was Duke suffering its worst season in years. But the Tar Heels only won by two in Durham. Still, Carolina was ranked 6th, they were 20-4,heavy favorite, Duke coach probably getting fired.... With :17 left in the game Duke led North Carolina 86-78. No three point line ,just the friendly confines of Carmichael Auditorium.Well,sir, Carolina scores to make it 86-80. They steal the end bounds pass and score it its 86-82.Again, Duke struggles with the end bounds pass and is called for a five second count giving North Carolina the ball. Freshman Walter Davis scores and its 86-84 with :06 left. Duke finally gets the ball in and Pete Kramer is fouled. With the three point shot 13 years away, one free throw effectively ends the game.Miss.Ed Stahl rebounds and North Carolina calls time near midcourt. Mitch Kupchak throws the ball in to Davis who turns and releases before the buzzer sounds. From 35 feet, the ball hits the backboard and goes through. 86-86, overtime. Amazingly Duke recovers to lead in overtime by 4,but North Carolina wins, 96-92.

Down 86-78 with :17 North Carolina makes a 35 foot shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime

The second weekend in March was as frenetic and dramatic as any weekend during the tournament. For starters, while most major conference champions had not been crowned, all "at large teams (independents)" had been selected and would start round one against various "mid-major" champions. Midwest, but Mideast Regional heavyweights were sent to Terre Haute, Indiana. Marquette downed MAC champion Ohio U, 85-69. The second game was even uglier as Notre Dame pummelled Ohio Valley Champion and 1973 NCAA darling Austin Peay and its star Fly Williams, 108-66. They were both on to Tuscaloosa. Marquette would play Vanderbilt, while Notre Dame would play the Big 10 representative, who was 'yet to be determined'. Ohio State's 85-79 upset in Columbus over Indiana gave the Hoosiers their second conference loss tying them with Michigan 11-2 in league play. The two split their regular season meetings so their season finales were huge.Michigan leveled Michigan State 103-87. Indiana hung on for dear life vs Purdue and did win 80-79 as both the Wolverines and Hoosiers tied for the Big 10 title at 12-2.

Three and a half months earlier, Michigan's football team tied for the Big 10 title. The aftermath of the basketball team's Big 10 title tie worked out much better in Ann Arbor

Oddly enough, Michigan's football team tied for the Big 10 title just three and a half months earlier. Michigan and Ohio State's only blemish was the season finale 10-10 tie. Not only was college football's overtime 23 years away, the Big 10 had some unusual rules when it came to conference titles and bowl games.First and foremost, the only bowl that a Big 10 school could participate in was the Rose Bowl. Didn't matter what a team's ranking or record was, it was Rose Bowl or nothing. One true oddity had been eliminated in 1972. Prior to '72 there was a 'no-repeat' rule. Simply put, as in the case of Michigan State, the Spartans won the Big 10 in 1965 and went to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans repeated in 1966 as outright Big 10 champions. Second place Purdue played in the Rose Bowl. With the new wrinkle, even though Ohio State had been waxed in the '73 Rose Bowl by Southern Cal, they could go back in January of 1974. With no real mechanism for a tie-breaker, it was decided the Big 10 athletic directors would vote on the Big 10 representative. Ohio State was selected to go back to Pasadena (where they did indeed win over USC, 42-21) while Michigan and Bo Schembechler were livid.

As the Big 10 put together a one game playoff at Illinois in Champaign to decide the league's NCAA representative another bit of controversy popped up.Although the NCAA tournament had longed surpassed the NIT in terms of prestige, the NIT was a still highly regarded tournament with tremendous amounts of history of course being played at New York City's Madison Square Garden.However, prior to the start of play in 1973-1974, the Big 10 had agreed to send its second place team to the newly formed Collegiate Commissioners Association tournament to take place in St. Louis.Therefore, the NIT quickly picked up third place Purdue from the Big 10 for their tournament. As the Big 10 regular season began to wind down and it became apparent that there could be a tie, Indiana coach Bob Knight began to express doubts on his team playing in the CCA tourney.Now, that Purdue, IU's hated rival was headed to the much more prestigious NIT,Indiana began to make it loud and clear they just might not go to St Louis if they didn't go to the NCAA's.

But before Indiana would go to Champaign to see if they'd head to St Louis or Tuscaloosa, some other conferences had to settle who would represent them in the tourney.Lost in the shuffle was the play of the Kansas Jayhawks. The Big 8 champion had won their conference by two games. While thought of as a football conference first with Oklahoma and Nebraska rolling over foes, after a rugged non-conference schedule including road games to Kentucky, Indiana and Vanderbilt (all ranked when KU played them) and a home game against then number one Notre Dame, the Jayhawks were 21-5 and ranked 14th in the nation headed to the Midwest Regional.

While Vanderbilt did indeed lose to Florida giving Alabama a share of the SEC title, the ACC and shockingly the Pacific 8 were not decided. The ACC determined its representative by awarding it to their tournament champion so it was always the last to know who'd be dancing.The 1974 ACC Tournament featured three teams ranked in the nation's top 6, NC State, Maryland and North Carolina. The trio had been ranked as high as #1 which NC State was at the time and only has low as 7th after Maryland lost its second game to State.Meeting in the semifinals, #4 Maryland blew out #6 North Carolina, 105-85. After a win over Virginia, North Carolina State and Maryland were headed to the ACC tournament final for the second year in a row.

Maryland and NC State were in the midst of big ,albiet short lived, 'national rivalry'. It started the year before on Super Bowl Sunday where the nation was introduced to David Thompson and his amazing skills in another syndicated 'national' broadcast as Thompson tipped in the winning basket in an 87-85 Wolfpack win in College Park. But in 1972-1973 NC State was on probation and would be ineligible to participate in the NCAA tournament due to recruiting infractions involving Thompson, which snared Duke,of all teams,as well.But the Pack was eligible for ACC and ACC tourney play and downed the Terps, 76-74 in the title game.However, Maryland was the ACC's "representative" and lost in the East Regional final in Charlotte to Ernie DiGregorio and Marvin Barnes, 103-89.

Ernie 'D' and 'Bad News' Barnes cut down the nets in Charlotte in '73 as Providence advances to St Louis and the Final Four after beating Maryland. The Terrapins participated in the NCAA despite not having won the ACC Tournament

But no one was on probation in 1974 so the ACC final was winner take all. Maryland was #4 at 23-4 with losses to then #1 UCLA by one in Los Angeles, a loss at then # 4 North Carolina and two six point losses to NC State ranked #3 and #2 for both games.Four losses-- to teams ranked 1,2,3 and 4. Lefty Driesell, a Duke grad ,who had taken Davidson to the NCAA's three times coming up short of the Final Four twice by losses to North Carolina in the East Regional Final, had built a remarkable team for 1974.When he came to College Park he vowed to make Maryland "the UCLA of the East". That hadn't happened,but with future NBA stars John Lucas, Len Elmore and Tom McMillen along with other solid players, the Terps still could be the best of '74.

For a while it looked like the third time would be a charm. Playing in the Greensboro Coliseum, Maryland raced out to a 25-12 lead. But the Pack was #1 for a reason and behind Thompson and 7'4" Tommy Burleson came back and cut the lead to 41-35. Fatigue from having played an outstanding North Carolina team may have caught up with Maryland for a while as the Pack chipped the lead to one before Maryland took it back to 55-50 at halftime.

NC State was the hot team to start the second half. Behind little 5' 5" Monte Towe and Mo Rivers, State opened the half with a 10-2 run to lead 60-57.Then Maryland got going again taking the lead on a Moe Howard layup to lead 67-66. The Terps stretched the lead to 77-72. David Thompson made back to back jumpers to tie the game at 89 and then regulation ended with the game tied at 97-97. In 40 minutes of regulation there was not one turnover. Zero.

Maryland scored first in overtime on a Len Elmore free throw and then Burleson clanked a hook shot in off the rim and the Pack was up 99-98.Maryland's Lucas ,who would play all 45 minutes, missed the front end of a one and one with the Terps up 100-99. Patiently Towe found Phil Spence open for a layup for State to go ahead for good, 101-100. With :23 left down by one Maryland did indeed make a turnover as Lucas threw a bad pass to Elmore. Forced to foul, Towe sank two free throws and NC State won 103-100. State was now on to the East Regional which would be played at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, the home court of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. In the immediate aftermath it wasn't known what Maryland would do.Having won the NIT in 1972, the Terps had respect for that tourney but turned down the NIT bid shortly after it was extended. Conflicting stories over the years contradict whether Maryland called back and decided to attend but were told it was too late. One thing is certain is that until the 1992 East Regional between Duke and Kentucky,this was considered the best game in college basketball history. Some still consider it as such.

1974 ACC Tournament final. Maryland's Len Elmore (41) grabs a rebound as State's Tommy Burleson looks on. State went on to win, 103-100 in overtime

Now there was one berth for a conference champion left for the NCAA tournament: the Pacific 8. Ironically before the season started the experts felt this was the one bid that could be written in pen if not sandblasted,let alone chisled in. UCLA fresh off of two straight unbeaten season, seven straight NCAA and Pac 8 titles and an 88 game winning streak surely would win the conference title with ease. That was not the case. Quietly crosstown rival Southern Cal led by Bob Boyd had developed a solid program. Had they not shared a town,let alone conference with King UCLA, the Trojans would have been regarded as an excellent team. But here was their chance. In a similar, but more frustrating situation in 1971, Southern Cal finished the season 24-2 with both losses to UCLA. Not only was only one conference team allowed to advance to the NCAA's, the Pac 8 precluded its team from playing in the NIT. Ranked # 3 at the end of the regular season and 24-2, the Trojans stayed home and watched UCLA win the National Title.

But on March 9, UCLA was ranked #3 and Southern Cal was ranked #7. For both teams,the main thing was they were both 11-2 in league play. Even though UCLA had won 65-54 a month earlier, the winner of this game would advance to the NCAA's West Regional in Tuscon,AZ to face the winner of Dayton and of all teams, another school from LA, Los Angeles State.Once again a nationally televised syndicated audience would be on hand.

Unfortunately for Southern Cal fans, they quickly found out how UCLA football fans felt in 1967, 1969 and just the prior fall in Nov 1973 with the Rose Bowl on the line for the winner of the "Victory Bell" the name given to the football game. Wheres the Trojan football team won all three of these meetings the Bruins played them tough losing heartbreakers in '67 and '69.

UCLA destroyed Southern Cal, 82-52. Bill Walton played like Bill Walton scoring 20 points in the first half as the Bruins led, 47-13 at halftime. The Trojans made 4 of 30 shots in the first half for 13%. Anthony Davis would only be able to help the football team in 1974 with a seemingly insurmountable deficit to a huge rival. UCLA actually tapped the breaks in the second half with Walton and Keith Wilkes leaving the game with under 8:00 left and UCLA up, 68-33.UCLA would now go on to the West Regional to face Dayton,who had one their 'first round' or subround with Los Angeles State. USC who did play in the NIT in 1973, would go on to St Louis in the inaugral CCA tourney.

Unlike the 1971 24-2, #3 ranked Trojans with Paul Westphal (25) and coach Bob Boyd shown here, the '74 Trojans did get to play in the post-season. The '71 Trojans might also take exception with the 1974 Maryland Terrapins heralded as the best team to not get to play in postseason

Back home again in Indiana, Bloomington to be precise, the Hoosiers prepared for the one game playoff against Michigan Monday in Champaign. It was hard to consider a co-championship, #13 ranking and 20-4 record a disappointment, but this was not what Bob Knight and the Hoosiers had in mind on October 15th when practice started for the '73-'74 season. Ranked third in the nation to start the year behind UCLA and NC State, the Hoosiers lost at home to Notre Dame, 73-67. A win over Michigan would give Indiana one more crack at the Irish as they were matched up with the Big 10 winner in the Mideast Regional. A loss meant the CCA and not the NIT. Having started his coaching career at Army, his Cadets had made several trips to the NIT. In fact the 1968 Black Knights turned down an NCAA bid to play in the NIT . As the regular season wound down he expressed a desire to go to the NIT as opposed to the CCA if they didn't make the NCAA's. Nonetheless, the Big 10 was contractually obligated to send its runner-up to the new tournament. Besides, the NIT had already selected Purdue.

Evidently all of the angst about playing in the CCA proved valid. CJ Kupec, Wayman Britt and Campy Russell combined for 55 of Michigan's 75 points as the Wolverines downed the Hoosiers, 75-67. Michigan never trailed in the game, yet the game went to the final minutes. Leading only 38-36 at halftime, Michigan got its biggest lead at 58-48. But Indiana wasn't done and almost pulled it out. With 4:48 Indiana cut the lead to two after a 10-2 run after Russell fouled out. Indiana's leading scorer, 'super sub' John Laskowski made two of his game high 20 as the lead was cut to one at 64-63 with under two minutes left. Then Michigan scored 5 quick points to get it back to 69-63 to put it out of reach.

Afterwards, Michigan coach Johnny Orr was downright giddy. He gushed over his team saying 'we were underdogs in 23 of our 25 games.Indiana is a great team and Bobby Knight is a great coach.Beating them was really special.'Then there was high praise for Notre Dame.

Bobby Knight was ,well, Bobby Knight. He hinted that his team just might not show up in St. Louis for the CCA tourney afterall.Saying of his Hoosier squad,"this is not a runner-up team.We are co-champions and its up to the players to decide what they want to do." But Indiana AD Bill Orwig said the Hoosiers would go to St Louis. Big 10 commissioner Wayne Duke reiterated how the conference athletic directors and basketball coaches voted for conference participation and had met twice with IU representatives in the last two weeks and had received assurance they'd participate.

On the flight back home to Bloomington, Knight called Steve Green to the front and wanted him to get a team vote on "the loser's tournament" . Knight explained it wasn't his desire to participate. The next day Green reported back that the team voted not to go. After having given it some thought and realizing he had to go, he asked Green to explain to the team that the tourney would give young Kent Benson some more experience and to reconsider.Again, Green came back with the thumbs down saying the team said no. This time Knight said,"I appreciate that,but we're going."

  Like Lincoln told his cabinet after they unanimously voted 'nay' on one of his policies, "the ayes have it", Knight told his team they were going to the CCA tourney even after they voted twice not to go after he asked for a team vote.

Now the NCAA field, NIT and CCA fields were all set. The major conference champions would face the 'sub regional' winner they were paired with in the regional semifinal, all played on Thursday with the regional finals (and consolation games) to be played on Saturday. While Alabama did come up a game short in its quest to host a regional on their home court, two teams would indeed be 'hosts' of a regional and be a participant. Number 1 North Carolina State would be playing in and hosting the East Regional at their own Reynolds Coliseum.The other team? None other than Oral Roberts University hosting and participating in the Midwest Regional at the Mabee Center on the ORU campus in Tulsa,OK.Only in their 8th year of varsity play and fresh off two consectutive NIT bids, the Titans edged Syracuse in overtime in one of the Midwest 'first round' or subregionals and would play Louisville, the winner of the Missouri Valley Conference and just two years removed from the 1972 Final Four.

Kentucky would miss the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1967. Vanderbilt edged the Wildcats, 71-69 on Senior Night to secure the SEC's NCAA berth in the Mideast Regional to be played at Alabama's Memorial Coliseum.

The East Regional went as anticipated more than the three other regionals. 13th ranked Pittsburgh held off Furman, 81-78. In the night cap, #5 Providence trailed #1 NC State only 71-69 behind the Friars' All-American, Marvin Barnes. But the Pack pulled away late behind David Thompson's 40 points and Tom Burleson's 24 rebounds to win, 92-78.

Tuscaloosa's Mideast Regional featured the only regional where all four teams were ranked in the top 20 and in this case, they were all ranked in the top 12.Not only were these still true "regionals", seeding was still 5 years away. In today's format the teams in this regional would probably have been a one,two or three seed. Third ranked Notre Dame had been mentioned in the same breath for the last two months along with NC State and UCLA has teams favored to win the whole tournament. The Irish were big favorites to end #12 Michigan's Cinderella season.Only the clock hadn't struck midnight yet, at least in Ann Arbor or Tuscaloosa.

Behind Campy Russell's 36 points and 18 rebounds,Michigan upset Notre Dame, 77-68 . The Wolverines could do no wrong and the Irish couldn't do anything right in the first 12 minutes of the first half exploding to a 28-8 lead. But Notre Dame settled down and cut it to 34-29 at halftime.With under 10:00 left in the game, Notre Dame's Gary Novak made a layup to give the Irish a 54-52 lead.Yet despite John Shumate's 34 points went cold again and Michigan outscored Notre Dame the rest of the way 25-14 to win going away.Even with the Wolverines having three starters foul out, the Irish never could seem to get going. Irish freshman All-American Adrian Dantley was held to two points and said afterwards that his legs "felt like log cabins."

In Game two by the time Vanderbilt realized the WAC officials doing the game weren't going to call any fouls unless a bone or trail of blood was on the court, Marquette was ahead 40-30 at halftime.The Commodores caught the Warriors at 42 and then 51 with under 6:00 left. But an Ed Daniels long jumper put Marquette up 55-53 with under 5:00 left and the Warriors were on their way.While Vandy was still trying to get back in the game down 64-59 with :57 left,Marquette's Bo Ellis stole a pass near midcourt and went down for an uncontested dunk to put the game out of reach. The only problem was the dunk had been outlawed in 1967 and would not be reinstated until the 1976-1977 season. Instead of the goal being disallowed and the Commodores at the foul line for a technical and possession, the Warriors were up 66-59. Marquette went on to win, 69-61.

The Midwest Regional produced two thrillers. Hard charging #14 Kansas eked out a one point win over #19 Creighton coached by Eddie Sutton who was taking what turned out to be the first of four different schools to the NCAA.Earlier in the year Creighton had given then #5 Marquette their lone home loss of the year, 75-69. In the second game home standing Oral Roberts held on for a 96-93 win over #18 Louisville.

Besides Michigan's upset over Notre Dame, the biggest buzz of the evening came in the Dayton-UCLA game.Five days after routing Southern Cal to get into the tourney, UCLA got out to a 17 pt lead before Dayton closed to 48-36 at halftime.The Flyers, a 20 pt underdog would not go away and caught the Bruins at 80 at the end of regulation missing shot at the buzzer that would have won it. The two would go into three overtimes before UCLA behind Dave Meyers' 28 points would win 111-100.Mike Sylvester's 36 points for Dayton couldn't pull it out. In the second game San Francisco downed New Mexico 64-61 earning the Dons a second straight regional final against the Bruins.

The regional finals were all on Saturday to be televised by NBC.For the most of the country there would be a tripleheader with everyone getting the East and Mideast Regional finals with the West and Midwest going head to head and due to the interest generated by UCLA,most of the country would receive the West final.Prior to each regional final would be a 'consolation game' or 'regional third place game'. 1974 would be the penultimate year of the regional consolation game. The practice of a consolation game at the Final Four continued through the 1981 tournament.

1974 would be the next to last year of the regional consolation game. The NCAA continued the practice of the Final Four consolation game through the 1981 Virginia-LSU game.While this game was going on, John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Reagan.

Three of the four consolation games were competitive with only the Mideast third place game getting out of hand. Vanderbilt scored 44 points in each half vs Notre Dame. Unfortunately, Notre Dame scored 60 and then 58 in each half as they rolled, 118-88. The Irish won their two games by 42 points and 30 points scoring averaging 113 points in their two wins. However, they only scored 68 points in their loss to Michigan.

#1 NC State had a huge scare in the regional final win over #13 Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack walloped the Panthers, 100-72. But midway in the first half, All-American David Thompson basically flipped over a teammate during a fast break. Thompson,with an amazing ability to jump 44 inches high, appeared to catch his foot on a teammate's shoulder and took an ugly,scary spill when he landed on his head. Thompson lay unconscious for nearly four minutes. Many on the court, pressrow and in the stands feared the worst as he lay there motionless. Finally he came to and was carried off by stretcher to a nearby hospital. Sewn up with 15 stitches and diagnosed with a concussion, he returned to the game watched the end of the second half from the bench.

NC State coach Norm Sloan (l), NC State players and 12,600 at NC State's Reynolds Coliseum watch in silence as All-World David Thompson lay motionless after a fall

Marquette's colorful and demonstrative Al McGuire had taken five of his Warrior teams to the NCAA's before this season with only one team making the regional final.Once again he was one win away from his and Marquette's first Final Four. Michigan was as hot as any team in the country as their surprising win over Notre Dame proved.Michigan led 39-37 at halftime as the game was nip and tuck. McGuire either almost cost his team the game or fired them up depending on differing points of view with two technical fouls in the second half. With one minute left the game was tied at 70. While Marquette did not have the same talent that maybe UCLA, NC State and Notre Dame had, they were in the midst of a solid run with top ten teams and talent. The Warriors had Maurice Lucas, Lloyd Walton, Marcus Washington and Bo Ellis all big names in 1974. With :45 left Marquette went up for good on a basket by....Dave Delsman. Earlier in the season during a practice, Delsman took a swing at Washington, not that unusual at a Marquette practice.But McGuire, the quirky coach of the quirky team took exception and said to Delsman, "hey,Dels..if you want to hit somebody,hit me." Delsman obliged and decked McGuire. None the less Marquette held off Michigan 72-70 and was on to the Final Four.

In Tulsa at the Midwest Final, Kansas survived Oral Roberts. If Michigan in 1974 was Cinderella, Oral Roberts was Cinderella, 'David', and 'the little engine who could' all rolled in to one. But the clock did strike twelve on the Titans. Kansas trailed by nine points with a little more than four minutes to go in regulation. After shooting 59% in the first half, the Jayhawks went cold in the second but warmed back up to tie it up on super soph, Rick Suttle's basket to tie it at 81-81 to send it to overtime.

Oral Roberts then went cold in overtime.Kansas made two free throws to go up 89-86. With the home crowd behind them, the Titans kept rallying and cut it to one two more times, the final one at 91-90 with :28 left. But reserve KU guard Tommy Smith made his second basket in the final minute for the final score of 93-90. Kansas was off to the Final Four,their second in four year.Still it was a remarkable run for the Titans playing in the NCAA in only their third year of NCAA level competition, hosting a regional, defeating a perennial power in Louisville and falling valiantly in overtime to another perennial power,Kansas.

Before there were Gonzaga and Butler, there was Oral Roberts. Kansas needed overtime to edge the Titans on ORU's home court in the '74 MW Final

And then there was one. Perhaps mentally drained from the three overtime loss to UCLA on Thursday, Dayton fell to New Mexico in the West Regional consolation game.While the regionals were indeed 'regional' with conference champions bracketed in specific geographically aligned regions, sometimes the 'at large' teams from one region would need to fill a slot in another region. This is why Dayton (from Ohio) was in the West Regional -- and South Carolina (during their nomadic period between the ACC and SEC) was sent to the Midwest Regional in '73. But the King of the West was UCLA and they made sure not to get in a dogfight again.

Keith Wilkes scored 27 points and Walton had 17 has UCLA led 35-23 at halftime over San Francisco. Remembering they had a 12 pt halftime lead over Dayton two days earlier, the Bruins never gave the Dons any hope in the second half. Up 77-50 with under 4:15 left, John Wooden emptied his bench and the Bruins won, 83-60.

The Final Four was all set. Meantime, the CCA and NIT had started as well. CCA favorite Indiana survived a scare from Tennessee 73-71 and Toledo in overtime, 73-72. NIT favorite North Carolina lost its first game to Purdue, 82-71.But NC State, Marquette, Kansas and UCLA were moving on to Greensboro, N.C. While the tournament would start making more and more changes (to the good--for the most part) there was one change that had taken place the prior season that would have been nice if it it had waited two more years,too.Until the prior year's Final Four , the National Semfinals would consist of the East Region winner vs Mideast Region winner and then the Midwest Region winner vs the West Region winner. In 1973 the Mideast (Indiana) met the West winner (UCLA) and the East Winner (Providence) met the Midwest winner (Memphis State).Now the East would face the West and Mideast face the Midwest in '74 as the rotation continued. Instead of the title game, NC State and UCLA would meet in the Semifinals.

SI's cover said it best. While UCLA ran over NC State like a trolley when they met in St Louis, the game in Greensboro would probably decide the National Title.

As a surprise to no one, the national focus was on the UCLA-NC State rematch. To their credit, Marquette's Al McGuire and Kansas coach Ted Owens took this in stride and understood.However, UCLA's Wooden directed some bravado directed towards NC State, a little out of character for the legendary coach.He brought up the Bruins' surprisingly easy 84-66 win."I want them to remember we beat them by 18 points on a neutral court with Bll Walton only playing half of the game.I want them to dwell on that." NC State just said the right things and certainly relished the fact that after they played the East Regional on their home court, they would just have to bus over on I-40 80 miles back to Greensboro where they had won the ACC Tournament two weeks earlier.

If there was a big sporting even, Super Bowl, World Series, Rose Bowl, Final Four in the early to mid-1970's,NBC's Curt Gowdy probably broadcast it. Gowdy,shown here, played in the 1941 NCAA tourney for Wyoming would broadcast the '74 Final Four

The Marquette-Kansas game , or "Class B Championship" according to McGuire, or "preliminary game" according to Owens, was indeed played first.McGuire, who made reference to his team being 'dynamite' after the Michigan win, dealt with an explosion of sorts at halftime as Kansas led, 24-23. A halftime "talk" proved quite volatile, but it worked and in a way it was vintage Al McGuire's Marquette. McGuire's halftime harangue wound up getting his point across, but not before some tense moments.Lloyd Walton in particular took exception to McGuire telling the squad that anyone who didn't want to play in the second half to get dressed and go home. Marquette's Walton said, "we didn't get here because of you (McGuire),we got here on heart," and started to get dressed. McGuire proceeded to tackle him and then the proverbial cooler heads prevailed and the second half was all Warriors.

Early in the second half with Kansas leading, 29-26, the Warriors defense kicked into overdrive which in turn got their offense going. Marquette went on a 9-0 run high lighted by two fast break layups by none other than Lloyd Walton.The lead got to ten at 45-35 with 8:40 to go as Marquette continued to force Kansas turnovers who would have 19 for the game. The lead swelled to 15 before the Marquette won, 64-51. Maurice Lucas led the Warriors with 18 points and had 14 rebounds.Kansas' Rick Suttle was the game high scorer with 19.

After the game McGuire and the Warriors were all smiles."I'm just real pleased at winning the B championship," said the coach, and alluding to halftime added,"we went at each other pretty good at halftime--me and the players."Lucas said tongue in cheek, "we had a friendly discussion, as usual, at halftime."

After a "fireside chat" at halftime, Marquette won the 'Class B' title over Kansas

Now it was time for the main event. NC State had let UCLA do most of the talking during the week . Bruin guard Tommy Curtis referred to the St Louis meeting as "a real whippin'" and Andre McCarter couldn't imagine losing, "I won't believe it. It just doesn't fit into history." Only State forward Tim Stoddard mentioned Game One saying, "we know they aren't 18 points better than us, but what's more important is that they know it."

Even with State ranked first and playing in their home away from home in Greensboro, UCLA was a three point favorite.The game lived up to its hype. The two battled to a 35-35 tie at halftime, but like State's last game at Greensboro Coliseum, 40 minutes were not going to be enough.Still, midway in the second half it looked like UCLA was headed for another title game.

Early in the second half UCLA had climbed to a 49-38 lead. After rebounding a missed NC State shot, Walton held the ball over his head looking up court. 7'4" Burleson grabbed the ball out of Walton's grip for a layup. As the two lumbered back down court Walton swore at Burleson was his brazeness.With 11:00 left, UCLA was still up by 11 at 57-46 but NC State wasn't going away. State started chipping away and went on a 10-0 run to cut it to 57-56 as they began to force UCLA to start their offense further out and Thompson clamped down on Wilkes. State took the lead at 63-61 but now UCLA wasn't going away.

With the game tied at 65 with :51 left, Walton missed a hook and Burleson rebounded. Working the clock down Towe found Stoddard alone in the corner but he missed and the game went into overtime. Each team only scored one basket and again State missed a makable shot at the buzzer as the first overtime ended at 67-67.

But Walton and Wilkes seemed to take over the second overtime. With 3:27 left in the extra,extra, session, UCLA led 74-67.Now it was State's turn. They turned up their press on UCLA, caused turnovers and got offensive rebounds when they needed them and cut the lead to 75-74.After finally getting a defensive rebound, UCLA's Dave Meyers was fouled. Years before the 'double bonus', Meyers was at the free throw line where UCLA was 11 of 12 for the game. He missed and State got the rebound and went ahead on a Thompson jumper. Greg Lee missed a shot for the Bruins and Thompson made two free throws with :34 for a 78-75 lead. Another Bruin turnover and two Wolfpack free throws later it was 80-75. Walton scored one more basket and it was over. North Carolina State 80, UCLA 77.There would be a new NCAA champion for the first time since 1966.

Two of 1974's (and 1973's,for that matter) best Thompson and Walton go up for rebound in NC State's 80-77 win in the National Semifinal in Greensboro.

While there would still be two games Monday in Greensboro, Purdue became the first Big 10 institution to win the NIT. The Boilermakers downed Utah, 87-81. Indiana became the first Big 10 team,and first team,period to win the CCA in St. Louis popping Southern Cal, 83-60. (The CCA tourney would only be played one more year.) In a three month period, the state of Indiana had produced the college football champion,NIT winner and CCA winner. And,Marquette's Al McGuire continued to say the reason the Warriors were where they were was because "Johnny Orr beat Notre Dame," indicating the Irish were better than his Warriors.

One of the biggest questions going into Monday night was regarding the consolation game.After the loss to NC State, Walton hinted that he and his fellow seniors just might not play in the consolation game.UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan said the decision was up to John Wooden while the Wizzard of Westwood said it was up to the senior players.As rumors began to swirl that Walton was already back in Los Angeles, Wooden tried downplaying the situation by stating his policy has always been for seniors to decide whether they wanted to play in season ending consolation games or not.Kansas coach Ted Owens, who lost to the Bruins in the 1971 Final Four, told Wooden through the media that his squad hoped the Bruins would be at full strength.

All UCLA players did play in the consolation game. Senior Greg Lee said that Wooden had asked them to and also they had no intention of embarrassing Kansas. Lee maintained they wanted to motivate the NCAA to elminate consolation games.Still, the Bruins' hearts weren't in the game-- at least at first.Kansas,behind Dale Greenlee led at halftime, 38-31.

But the Bruins used a 26-3 run early in the second half and coasted to victory. Walton and Wilkes only played 20 minutes,though,but when each was pulled for the game, they received a standing ovation.Off an on Junior starter Pete Trgovich played the most minutes with 30 and scored the most points with 14 for UCLA who won, 78-61.

Kansas' Tom Kavisto and Bill Walton fight for a loose ball in Walton's last college game.Oddly enough both Kavisto and Walton's teammate Dave Meyers' fathers played for Marquette, another 1974 Final Four participant.

In the championship game before almost a home crowd screaming, "Go Pack Go" North Carolina State roared out to 10-2 lead. But over the next 8 minutes burly Maurice Lucas scored 11 of his team high 21 points as Marquette took a 19-18 lead. The game continued to go back and forth until a play where Marquette actually took its last lead turned the game around. Marcus Washington was called for a charge after scoring to make it 28-27, Warriors. McGuire was livid and received a technical. While this tactic worked 9 days earlier in Tuscaloosa vs Michigan, it took the wind out of Marquette's sails.Two minutes later after a goal tend call on Bo Ellis, McGuire received another technical. After leading minutes earlier 28-27, a 10-0 run gave State a 37-28. Each team scored once more and at halftime it was 39-30.

The second half was all NC State. The Wolfpack scored the first six points and in no time it was 45-30.The lead would eventually soar to 19 points before Sloan took his starters out to a thunderous applause. Thompson, who was named tournament MVP scored 21 points while Burleson added 14 points. NC State won, 76-64.

NC State's Sloan cuts the last snip after the National Title win over Marquette

An incredible season indeed. One NCAA participant per conference, Oral Roberts playing in a regional final on their home court, Alabama, SEC-co champ sitting home with no NIT as a regional final was on their home court, UCLA's winning streak over, the brilliance of the ACC that year,the ill-fated CCA tourney and a new champion NC State. Greatness.