The Partial Observer: A March Madness Memory for the Ages

The Partial Observer by Teresa Winchester

A March Madness Memory for the Ages

By Sunday of this past weekend, the 2023 NCAA basketball championship tournament—the month-long frenzy known as “March Madness”—was whittled down to four teams, having started at 68 on March 16. The mighty have fallen. Alabama, Houston, Kansas, Purdue—all number one seeds—are out, as are all of the two and three seeds. Come Saturday, two “Cinderella” teams playing like Hercules, Florida Atlantic and San Diego State, will face off against each other in the first championship semi-final. They will be followed by more likely candidates, Connecticut and Miami.

But, in this year’s championship run, time after time, the unlikely has prevailed, just as it did in 1983, when N.C. State, with a 17-10 regular season record, brokered one knuckle-biting victory after another to hold up the national championship trophy in Albuquerque on April 4 of that year.

Each year since, in remembrance of that victory, I go to YouTube and bring up “CBS NCAA 1983 ‘Pre’ One Shining Moment.”

To translate for the uninitiated, “One Shining Moment” is the traditional musical montage of tournament highlights played, since 1987, after crowning the new champion. Before 1987, ad hoc musical numbers were chosen. In 1983 it was Christopher Cross’ “All Right.”

Nineteen eighty-three was the year the North Carolina State Wolfpack, dubbed the “Cardiac Pack” for its last-minute wins during tournament time, miraculously beat the much-touted Houston Cougars. The action in the video is cleverly correlated with the lyrics, as when Cross sings, “It’s all right, think we’re gonna make it,” and a player, whose team appears to be winning, winks and gives the thumbs-up sign. It is hard to capture, in three minutes, 34 basketball games and all the accompanying hullabaloo, but the brevity of the video, packed with buzzer-beaters, acrobatic cheerleaders, exuberant fans, and mascots both real-life and costumed, reflects the frenzy of March Madness itself.

In the 1983 musical epilogue, there is much to savor: N.C. State’s Wolf prancing around and sliding on the floor; Georgia’s Bulldog panting heavily; Louisville’s Cardinal strutting past a weary reporter seated on the sidelines; the then-young faces of coaches who have since retired or passed on—Denny Crum (Louisville), Deane Smith (University of North Carolina). I love seeing coaches John Thompson (Georgetown), Guy Lewis (Houston) and Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV) sweat, the players wearing short pants, and all the agony and ecstasy of competition racing before me. And how satisfying to behold David beating Goliath: Lorenzo Charles’ game-winning “jam” against the seemingly invincible “Phi Slama Jama” team.

Most of all, I love seeing N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano—the guy who majored in English so as not to be labeled a “dumb jock”—at his highest moment, running around the court looking for someone to hug in the chaos of his team’s unlikely coup, cutting the strings to the basket in victory, smiling with unmitigated joy. Those were the halcyon days, before Valvano resigned as athletic director and then as coach due to accusations (ultimately unsubstantiated) of recruiting violations. Before he was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma, a type of glandular cancer. Before his iconic speech in 1993 at the first Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award ceremony, where Valvano received the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award.

Former disdainful rival and ultimately best friend, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, accompanied Valvano to the event. Valvano was so weak he was throwing up on the plane and in his wheelchair just before delivering his 10-minute speech.

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up!” Valvano urged that night.

Those words became the motto of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, whose formation Valvano announced at the awards ceremony. To date, the V Foundation has raised $310 million for cancer research.

Valvano’s ESPY appearance was on March 4, 1993. He died less than two months later on April 28, at age 47.

This year’s championship game will be played one day shy of the 40th anniversary of the Wolfpack’s miracle win. “Sports Illustrated” named the 1983 game the “greatest college basketball moment in the 20th century.” Who knows where the 2023 “Madness” will take us when play resumes on Saturday, who will win the championship, or what spots will appear in “One Shining Moment” after the final buzzer sounds. Time will tell whether this year’s legacy will be as lasting and as inspirational as 1983’s. This year’s tournament has had much to offer, but 1983 is a hard act to follow.

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