Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Hardway Eight!

Hard to believe that it was only ONE YEAR AGO TODAY when 75-year-old Marilyn Devine stood inside of the National City Bank in the Century Square Shopping Center on Lebanon Church Road in West Mifflin, PA and, with a black & gold knit Pittsburgh Steelers cap (with eye holes cut out of it) pulled over her face (and with tufts of gray hair sticking out of the black & gold knit Pittsburgh Steelers cap), she pulled out a 9mm handgun, ordered two different tellers to fill her white garbage bag before walking out and getting into a tan Ford Escort and leading police on a 5.3-mile, 45 MPH pursuit through the streets of West Mifflin and neighboring Baldwin before she was apprehended.
Inside that tan Ford Escort, police recovered the garbage bag filled with $5,300, the 9mm handgun (which was unloaded) and the Steelers cap.

That was one year ago TO THE DAY ... and who amongst us knows how Marilyn Devine spent her 76th birthday?
It's sad to contemplate, mostly because it takes our focus away from the dead topless dancer/junkie as we prepare our hearts and minds for the ONE MONTH anniversary of her death (Thurs.) and the ONE WEEK anniversary of her funeral (Fri.).
Talk about March Sadness ...

Still, anniversaries are important ... in fact, they're one of America's last great natural resources.
For example, a lot of us congregated and acted very solemn only last week when we acknowledged the 10-year anniversary of the 44 minutes that Larry Phillips and Emil Matasereanu spent shooting at everything around or near the Bank of America in North Hollywood.
Yup ... that was the final day of Feb. '97 ... a time of innocence ... an event which was etched into our brains once we read a newspaper account of the shooting nearly one week later as the unfilled-in NCAA Tournament brackets lay on the motel bed, part of a two-night eviction because of the fumigation taking place inside the Pines Apartments.

A week later, Baskerville Holmes died ... not from the insecticide, but from a self-inflicted gunshot -- the same way that Larry Phillips died, albeit for different reasons.

Less than two weeks later, Baskerville Holmes was not available to hug the Pitchfork when he won the 12th annual version of the NCAA pool supervised (and lovingly nurtured) by czar Rick Chandler long before his Deadspin associate editor days.

So, these are the choices that America faces -- celebrating either the 10-year anniversary of the Pitchfork's victory or the Bank of America shootout.
Or paying tribute to a septagenarian named Marilyn Devine, her black & gold knit Steelers cap, the $5,300, the tan Ford Escort and the unloaded 9mm gun -- or rejoicing over the 1-year anniversary of the Pitchfork's victory in the 21st edition of the very same pool which is supervised and lovingly nurtured by the very same pool czar.

Now, if some people feel uncomfortable (or emasculated) calling them "anniversaries," then we can macho it up with the terms "milestones" or "landmarks."
And, right now, we're starin' straight down the barrel of previous March Madnicity which is madder than the sad outcomes for Marilyn and Baskerville which happened to coincide with the Pitchfork's windfall.

If you don't feel like dialing it all the way back to March of '67 when soph. Lew Alcindor led undefeated UCLA to the championship (one year after Texas Western's landmark championship), that's OK -- because many of us learned a long time ago that John Wooden didn't need to use a black-&-gold knit Steelers cap and an unloaded 9mm handgun to get Alcindor and Walton, et al. to come to Westwood.

No, the ol' fella had booster Sam Gilbert available to tuck hundreds of $$$ into the pockets of top recruits.
And, the "Wizard of Westwood" deftly looked away when The Big Redhead sparked up a J or when the bong fell outta his shorts during layup drills.

UCLA was UNLV before UNLV was UNLV.

It's an evolutionary process -- and, it was UNLV, not UCLA, which is the focus today, on this, the 30th anniversary of an era in which America re-fell in love with college hoops.
The '76-'77 season was the year in which the slam dunk (which Alcindor got outlawed ... thanks a lot, Kareem) returned to college b-ball.

While some may argue that the college game enjoyed some sort of renaissance one season earlier when Indiana went 32-0 -- and broke Wooden's stranglehold on championships for which Sam Gilbert paid so handsomely -- we tend to call those people "drunks" or "A-holes."
Or drunken A-holes.

'76-'77 was wayyyy better than '75-'76 because, for one thing, THE DUNK WAS BACK IN COLLEGE B-BALL.
Also, it had something to do with a super coach who never cheated named Jerry Tarkanian -- and his UNLV Runnin' Rebels, also known as "The Hardway Eight."

Back when we first caught a glimpse of those Runnin' Rebs, we were too young and too naive to know that a "hardway 8" was the craps-table name for when a shooter throws the dice and two fours are showing.
Of course, back when we first saw that UNLV team averaging 107 PPG, all we knew about dice was that you needed five of 'em to play Yahtzee.

Then again, THOSE Rebs were like five Yahtzee dice dancing on the hardwood.
None of us who saw it will ever forget UNLV's 121-95, opening-round, NCAA-tourney win over San Francisco ... only one week after we'd watched (on NBC, naturally) USF's 29-0 season shattered by a loss to Notre Dame in South Bend.

That UNLV team was complete chaos for opponents -- and most of us adopted several of those Rebs as our personal faves. When we played Nerf ball indoors, we were the Rebs ... when we played dunkball on the 8 1/2-foot baskets at Aspen Elementary, we were the Rebs ...
If one of us was brave enough to take on Chuck in one-on-one, Chuck had to brace himself for a flurry from this Caucasian version of the very slick Reggie Theus.

Usually, though, Chuck was portraying Freeman Williams as he'd bomb away from 16-22 feet, which made him difficult to defend as he'd stop n' pop and yell, "Freeeeee-minnnn Willl-yummmms!!!"
(Note: No one knows/understands what ever happened to Freeman Williams -- the Portland State phenom who could drop 60 on an opponent just as easy as you please. Our disappointment, though, was tempered when we learned a few days before this season began that Reggie Theus is the head coach at New Mexico State. Thus, we can fill THAT chapter of, "What Ever Happened To ... ?")

Anyway, our level of inner-conflict was intense when our UNLV b-ball rebels met Chuck's UNC squad in that Final Four game. When you get right down to it, that '77 postseason might've been Dean Smith's best-ever coaching job, considering that one of his best players, Tommy LaGarde (a '76 Olympic gold medalist w/ UNC teammate Walter Davis), was averaging 15 PPG and 7 RPG when he was lost for the remainder of the year when he suffered a knee injury in midseason.
Davis, meanwhile had three screws in the index finger of his shooting hand and Phil Ford hyperextended his right elbow in the waning moments of the Tar Heels' 79-77 win over Notre Dame (in which Ford scored 29 points) in the East Regional semifinals.

But, somehow ... Deano's "four corners" offense exposed UNLV's inability to play quality D (as well allowing America to see Tark as a coach who struggled mightily to make in-game adjustments).
Hence, freshman Mike O'Koren took a lot of passes from Ford and scored 31 points.

UNLV, which had taken 89, 87 and 90 shots while winning the West Regional (remember ... no shot clock back then, so, a team getting off more than 80 shots was completely run-n'-gun), led by 10 points in the first half, but came unraveled in the 84-83 loss.
The Rebs got their shots (80), but were outrebounded, 40-26, and out-free-throwed.
UNC was 18 of 28 from the line ... UNLV was 1 of 5.

None of us watched McGuire's Marquetteteers in that title game because we were all hoping for a matchup of UNLV's Eddie Owens (21.8 PPG), Glen Gondrezick (14.6 PPG), Larry Moffett (8.0 PPG), Sam Smith (14.8 PPG), Robert Smith (12.8 PPG), Theus (14.5 PPG), Lewis Brown (10.2 PPG) and Tony Smith (9.0 PPG) vs. North Carolina-Charlotte's Cornbread Maxwell, Lew "Machine Gun" Massey, Chad Kinch and Melvin Watkins.

Back in '77, you could call a guy "Machine Gun" without having protestors outside the arena carrying signs which read, "Down Wiff Gangstuhz" or "Guns & Step-Dads Are Killing Our Children."

A lot has changed since '77 -- and a lot remains unchanged. It was only last week when NBA color man Cornbread Maxwell was on the air mockingly telling NBA ref Violet Palmer to get back into the kitchen to make him some bacon and eggs.

Back then, we had Apollo Creed as the role model for all young black kids. And, white kids everywhere sang along to the hits of the Grass Roots (y'know, throwaway numbers like "Temptation Eyes," "Sooner or Later" and that other song ... and that other song ... and that other song ... ).

Nowadays, Creed Bratton, guitarist for the Grass Roots, is playin' that creepy old dude -- "Creed" -- on "The Office."

Probably what most of us miss most about 1977 is the national third-place game -- mainly becaue UNLV whomped UNCC, 106-94 (the Rebs took 95 shots as Eddie Owens scored 34 and Theus finished with 24 while Cornbread and Kinch each had 30 for UNCC and Machine Gun Massey had 22 and, jiminy Christmas ... y'don't even wanna think about what the score might've been with a 3-point stripe. 167-125 maybe? 188-151 perhaps?)

They outlawed the third-place game following the '78 tourney -- after Arkansas' Ron Brewer chucked in that buzzer-beater to beat Notre Shame, 71-69 ... because Digger don't like it when his brick-layin' backcourt of Duck Williams and Rich Branning is exposed as "the shits").

So, that's how the milepost/landmark system works.
30 Years Ago (1977) -- UNLV ...
25 Years Ago (1982) -- a freshman named "Jordan" -- and a Georgeclown coach who can't coach (see: '88 Olympics -- "we won the bronze! U-S-A! U-S-A!" -- and a roster w/ Rex Chapman and Bimbo Coles)
20 Years Ago (1987) -- Boeheim and his recruiting warlord Bernie Fine and those prized "recruits" (Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly) gettin' punked by Indiana in the title game ...
10 Years Ago (1997) -- 'Zona (5th place in the Pac-10, first-place in the nation -- which really didn't matter because the Pitchfork had the pool championship wrapped up before the title game ... )
5 Years Ago (2002) -- Two days after Shuhsheffsky handed over a "W," Indiana advanced to the Final Four by sinking 15 of 19 threes in a Regional final win over Kent State (nobody's sure which was more-amusing -- Dane Fife leading the 15-of-19 barrage or Kent State playing in a regional final ...)
1 Year Ago -- A black-&-gold knit Steelers cap, an unloaded 9mm and a tan Ford Escort providing the "divine"-intervention impetus that this Planet needed to select Florida vs. UCLA as his title-game combatants.

If only Marilyn Devine was available to toss out the cermeonial first pitch before Coach Theus' first-round game ...

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