Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The power of that game back in 1957

I must be getting too old for this. It was hard to roll out of the rack this morning, much harder than I remember after the last four times the Tar Heels won the NCAA basketball championship. It's the toll of the years, no doubt, creaky joints and sore muscles from working in the yard, and staying up past bedtime again. And this time I didn't even spend much time celebrating. It's the memory of a game more than half a century ago that keeps me watching.

I keep remembering that night back in 1957 when I was 10, going on 11 years old and Carolina was playing Kansas in the first televised game I ever saw. Well, saw it through sleepy eyes, anyway. I kept falling asleep; Dad kept shaking me awake to catch the action, and telling me I'd be glad the rest of my life to stay up late and see a treat like this. I'd never forget it, he said.

He was right, though the picture sometimes was hard to make out. We hadn't had a television very long -- a Motorola, black and white, our course, and even on good nights our reception was awful, somewhere between a blizzard and a white out.

My father had rolled the set's rabbit-ear antenna with tin foil in hopes of improving the picture as we watched Tar Heel guard Tommy Kearns jump against Kansas' giant Wilt Chamberlain. The games that year were terrific, and the final featured a triple-overtime win by the Tar Heels and set off the Betts version of a wild celebration that must have lasted 10 minutes or so -- big doings in that staid household on Cornwallis Drive in Greensboro. We probably toasted the victory by splitting a 6 1/2 ounce Coke, or some such.

I wouldn't take anything for that memory now. My father watched two other UNC national championships -- 1982 and 1993 -- before he died, but we only saw the one together. In 2005 and again last night in the 2009 championship game I watched every move on a 32-inch TV my father would have been drop-jawed to see, these 52 years after that first snowy championship game, but today's screen doesn't even count as a big one today.

Last night's picture was clear as a bell and the only snow was some stuff swirling outside Ford Field, and as I watched the Tar Heels dominate Michigan State I was just a little sad to see a blowout instead of a closer contest that showed the best of both teams. But that's not a complaint. This is basketball country, and we like to win our games any way we can, especially when it means a fifth national championship -- and a chance to relive a special evening long ago watching the Heels work their magic and hooking a kid on ACC basketball forever.

14 comments:

meckdeck said...

Thanks Jack. Makes me wonder what my boys will think of the 50-inch screen they watched the Heels on last night when the 2057 title game rolls around.

They gonna have life-size holograms whizzing by?

Anonymous said...

It wasn't just that one game. It was TWO triple overtimes, two nights in a row. The Tar Heels beat Michigan State in the semi-finals.

David McKnight said...

Remember that great play Pete Brennan made against Michigan State in the '57 semifinals when he took the ball up the court and went one-on-two to score and send the game into another overtime? Just prior to that play, with Michigan State at the foul line leading by two points, one Spartans player reportedly taunted the Tar Heels with the comment, "30-and-1," in regard to the 30-0 record UNC took into that Final Four.

Then how about Tommy Kearns jumping for the tip-off against Wilt Chamberlain to open the championship game against Kansas the very next night! Don't forget, Kansas and North Carolina fans, former Tar Heels Coach Frank McGuire was coaching the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA when Wilt had his 100-point game a few years later, so Coach McGuire and the former Jayhawks star were able to team up quite effectively in the pro ranks.

It was quite exciting to see that telecast back in the '50s. We were living on Truman Road in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, as the street had been named for President Harry Truman, and the Final Four of March 1957 was being played out there in Kansas City in the same county (Jackson County, Mo.,) as Truman's hometown in Independence, Mo. I always wondered if the former President took some time that weekend to look in on the games being played there in his home county in the Show-Me State. With Ike in the White House, Truman may as well have taken a break to watch some basketball.

It was pretty exciting Tuesday afternoon in Chapel Hill when the UNC team bus came rolling up Franklin Street into the central downtown district on the way to the Smith Center for the celebration activies. But that was quite an exciting welcome-home event back in '57 when the victorious Carolina team of the Rosenbluth-Brennan-Quigg era touched down on the runway at Raleigh-Durham Airport.

ACC fans should also bear in mind that back in those early years, you had to win the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA field because the tourney champion received the league's one and only bid for post-season play. This year's Tar Heels were able to recover from a semifinal loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament in Atlanta and still go on to win the NCAA title in Detroit.

Yes, "on the one hand," as Randy Travis's song goes, it might make you feel a bit older when you consider the 1957 and 2009 title runs as bookends on a lifetime of following one or more college basketball teams. But my view is that after a certain point in time, the expanse of years experienced actually can make you feel younger and help you to regain the vigor and zest for life of days gone by.

Anonymous said...

Jack, you can evoke memories better than anyone I know. Though I am four years older than you, I did not get to see the game on television. I was stuck outside listening to it on my father's car radio (1947 Ford), but well remember the excitement of the triple overtime. We were visiting my aunt in S.C., and they didn't have a television that carried the game. Thus, sitting in the darkened Ford listening to the end of the Heels perfect 32-0 season.

When I entered Carolina in 1960, I had high hopes of seeing some great basketball. It was not to be. My first year was Frank McGuire's last, and although he had good players like York Larese (fastest free-thrower in the league), there was a little gambling scandal underway that caused Dean Smith's first season to be limited to 17 games, and his only losing season, 8 wins and 9 losses. My son still doesn't believe me when I tell him I saw Dean hung in effigy.

People thought there would never be players like Rosenbluth, Kearns and Brennan, but remember 1982 and Jordan, Worthy, and Perkins. Now, in 2009, a new generation will be calling the names of Hansbrough Lawson and Ellington. Who knows how long it will take for other UNC players to enter the pantheon of legends. But, we'll always have '57 to rekindle past memoies to and '09 to provide fresh ones.

BethK said...

I almost hesitate to say this to all you Tarheels, but....I experienced the "power of that game" back in 1974, watching NC State defeat Maryland for the ACC championship. That was the game that hooked this kid on ACC basketball forever! It is a glorious obsession....

Anonymous said...

Basketball is soooooooo boring.

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