What’s your favorite March Madness memory?
Maybe it was the time you witnessed your team’s first NCAA Tournament win. Or it could be the time your hated rival got run off the court. Heck, it might just be a time you got to watch some really, really good basketball.
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That’s the beauty of March Madness: A moment that seems trivial to one fan can make a lasting impression on another. There’s no telling what small detail makes it stand out. So it is with members of Sporting News’ staff, who have had the privilege to witness some truly outstanding games from over the years.
Here are some of SN’s favorite NCAA Tournament memories:
Gators chomp at the buzzer: Florida (2017)
“The best moments in the NCAA Tournament are often, actually, expected. We expect buzzer-beaters and tight games. We expect all-time great performances. It doesn’t take away the surprise or the intrigue or the headline-making material. Fans love March Madness for the very name: Madness. Chaos. Anarchy.
Well, I love it for something different.
It was the first time I’d ever covered an NCAA Tournament game. The Sweet 16 matchups (Wisconsin vs. Florida, South Carolina vs. Baylor) weren’t sexy or exciting on paper, but that’s another part of the beauty of March Madness — its uncertainty. Often, its games are more than the names of the teams on the bracket.
So when Florida’s Chris Chiozza streaked down the floor, floated and drained a 3-ball up from just beyond the arc, downing Nigel Hayes and Wisconsin at the buzzer, well, that’s run-of-the-mill for March. Being there live, hearing half of Madison Square Garden erupt in pure elation while another half gasped and cussed in despair, that’s the stuff you’d expect to make the highlights.
Often, it’s what you don’t see in highlight packages that leaves a better image of what March is about — like taking a Northeast Corridor train home.
There was something particularly telling about the train ride home: seeing the faces of Badger fans, drenched in disappointment, exhaustion, anger and quiet pain. It really couldn’t have painted a better picture of the tourney. One fan clutched his Wisconsin hat so tight, it almost disintegrated in his hands. Another pulled his shirt above his head, trying to hide from the loss by shielding himself with an image of Bucky Badger.
The electronic voice of the train calling out stops cut the tension, turning an uncomfortable quiet into horror-movie, creaky-door tension.
Sure, the wins and unexpected outcomes are surreal, as is the atmosphere. But the pain? The anguish? Coming this close to tasting ultimate glory and failing on a miracle shot? Hiding inside a T-shirt on your way home on an NJ Transit train, because you live and die with your team?
That’s March.” — Joe Rivera
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Up late for State: N.C. State (1983)
“Despite being born and bred in North Carolina, I’ve never been a big college basketball fan. Sure, I’ll watch a Duke-Carolina game if there’s nothing else on, and I’ll pay attention during March Madness, but I’ve never had any real loyalty in college hoops.
Still, there’s one NCAA tourney memory that always comes to mind each March: N.C. State’s NCAA championship in 1983. I’ll never forget it.
I wasn’t even 7 years old at the time, but I can still picture my surroundings as Lorenzo Charles’ buzzer-beating dunk off a ‘pass’ from Dereck Whittenburg gave the Wolfpack a 54-52 upset over Houston.
I remember sitting on the floor of our den as the game ended. I remember my mom, whose brother is an N.C. State graduate, exclaiming from a chair to my left, ‘They did it! They did it!’ (FYI: She’s not a hoops fan either, but I assume the familial connection likely had her interested).
I wish I could say I remember seeing Jim Valvano’s legendary scramble to find someone to hug live as it happened. But it’s unfortunately not part of my memory. Maybe I was distracted by my mom’s in-chair celebration.
I do, however, remember the local news led with a live shot of NCSU students celebrating on campus. They were going crazy. I recall a bonfire.
‘Look at Raleigh!’ my mom said.
The experience is as vivid now as it was 36 years ago. Related: It’s also the first time I remember hearing the word ‘Albuquerque.’
But it’s interesting: The game ended well past my bedtime. I have no idea why I was allowed to stay up. But thanks, Mom. I’m glad I have the memory.” — Jason Foster
MORE: DeCourcy ranks best games from 30 years of NCAA coverage
Just in time for Laettner: Duke (1992)
“I owe my favorite NCAA Tournament memory to Sean Miller, even though he was 300 miles away when it happened.
In March 1992, I was the beat writer covering Pitt basketball for The Pittsburgh Press. The NCAA Tournament East Region was scheduled for Philadelphia, and I was assigned, but the Panthers were involved in the NIT. They played a home game against Florida on the Monday before Thursday’s Sweet 16 in Philly, and if they won that game they were headed to Purdue to play Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
If Pitt were to beat Florida, the odds of me making it from West Lafayette to Philly in time to cover the NCAAs were not good.
Pitt played well, but the Gators played better. They were ahead, 77-74, when Pitt took possession with just enough time for Miller to advance the ball to midcourt and launch a 3-pointer that was directly online and … caught the back rim and bounced away. Miller deserved a better ending to his tremendous playing career, but it worked out for me.
I was in the company K-car on the way to Philly inside 24 hours. And, for Saturday’s East Region final, I was seated at the press table directly behind the Kentucky bench when Sean Woods drove from the left side across the lane to bank in a running hook over Duke’s Christian Laettner and put the Wildcats ahead, 103-102.
And I thought to myself, ‘What a great way to end such an amazing game.’
Then Laettner happened.
I understand I will never see a better basketball game than this, and I’m totally OK with it.” — Mike DeCourcy
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Ohio’s (first) win of a lifetime (2010)
“Tournament wins mean more when you go to a smaller school. My alma mater, Ohio, had won tournament games before I was born and had made the tournament in 1985 and ’94 — with Gary Trent, who you remember as ‘The Shaq of the MAC.’ All I wanted through four years of school there was one tournament berth, but we had to watch Trevor Huffman take Kent State to the Elite Eight instead. The 2005 appearance when I was out of school was nice, but there’s nothing like watching your alma mater win its first tournament game in your lifetime.
That happened against Georgetown in 2010 in the greatest 3-14 upset ever. The Bobcats dominated the Hoyas 97-83. I watched the game at a Charlotte establishment with my wife, a Kent State grad who wore a pink Ohio shirt to ‘support the MAC.’ She had to be so proud of the only Ohio grad in the bar — ‘Yeah, I went there.’ — who was screaming for two hours at the TV after each one of the 13 3-pointers Ohio knocked down. I remember high-fiving some dude in an East Carolina T-shirt walking out of the bar while the rest of the patrons lamented their busted bracket. That ECU fan told me, ‘We’re all in this together.’ That always stuck. The Pirates have yet to win a tournament game, but I’ll be rooting for them because of that guy. There is no feeling quite like it. That’s March Madness to me.” — Bill Bender
Terps’ cathartic title : Maryland (2002)
“It was April 1, 2002, when Juan Dixon flung the ball in the air as the final seconds ticked off, when Gary Williams cut down the nets, when the fight song I’d heard all my life blasted in the background, and I jumped up and down in my Bay Area apartment over and over as Maryland won its first (and still only) national championship.
But it still felt as if June 19, 1986 had only been yesterday, and I know that every Maryland alum, student and fan, in person in the Georgia Dome and everywhere else watching, felt the same way.
That day, when Len Bias was pronounced dead of a cocaine-induced heart attack, something like a national championship seemed as plausible as landing on Pluto. Just not having the school and the program synonymous with death, drugs, corruption, fraud and NCAA exile for the few years that it had in the years leading up to 2002, was a giant exhale of relief.
Yes, Maryland had slowly rebuilt itself into a university the state could be proud of, held in high regard nationally and locally more than it ever had been before Bias’s death. The athletic department, and the basketball program in particular, dragging itself out of the depths and back to respectability was a bonus, as was being able to beat the Dukes and North Carolinas and making relatively deep runs in the tournament again.
Winning a national championship — something the Lefty Driesell-era Terps teams had only teased — was a fantasy. It wasn’t quite vindication: The cloud was never going to truly clear, nor were the grief, pain and shame of being associated with such a colossal systematic failure. But seeing my alma mater do right, do well and see a reward like this … it’s as if we all had climbed that ladder and held a piece of that net and waved it to the crowd below.
(Postscript: Since Jordan McNair’s death has shown that Maryland apparently hasn’t learned the lesson from 1986, maybe I’ll have a similar fond memory of the Terps winning the college football championship someday. They have a blueprint. It’s awful that they ever put themselves in position to have to use it).” — David Steele
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A Splash Brother is born: Davidson (2008)
“The 2008 NCAA Tournament was an introduction for myself and the rest of the country to one 6-2, 185-pound Stephen Curry and the Davidson Wildcats. It’s cliche, but a skinny, unathletic 12-year-old version of myself really was inspired to watch a kid who didn’t look like he should be good at basketball consistently drop 20 and 30 points on some of the best teams in the country.
For some reason at the time I had an inordinate level of hate for Gonzaga, so I knew I was going to like Curry as soon as he dropped 40 points on the Zags to open the tournament. My heart was broken once Kansas finally stopped the Cinderella run in the Elite Eight, after Curry hung 30 on 2-seed Georgetown and 33 on 3-seed Wisconsin. But I found solace in the fact Kansas ultimately went on to win the national championship.
Eleven years later, Curry no longer holds the same place in my heart — I’m tired of Golden State — but there was nothing better than watching a real-life Cinderella on a fairytale team.” — Thomas Schlarp
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