Football season starts tonight, but men’s hoops was in the news Wednesday as Hofstra announced it would participate in the Charleston Classic Nov. 14-16. The Flying Dutchmen will open the eight-team tourney by facing Clemson. It’ll be the first time the Dutchmen face Clemson since they really WERE the Dutchmen back in the 1989-1990 season, when the Tigers cruised to a 91-58 win in South Carolina.
The teams continued going in opposite directions that winter: Hofstra finished 13-15 while Clemson made the Sweet 16, where its season ended in stunning fashion thanks to one of the all-time great buzzer-beaters by—wait for it!!!—UCONN’S Tate George. Oh sweet bountiful sporting gods, thank you for bestowing upon me this awesomely obscure link to tonight’s football game.
More on that in a bit, after I wax nostalgic about “The Shot.” I remember being about the only person in Connecticut NOT thrilled about it. I was already a loyal fan of North Carolina—and, since the Tar Heels were getting smoked at that moment by Arkansas, an unhappy one—and tired of how UConn’s magical season had unearthed hundreds of thousands of frontrunners who couldn’t have picked Chuck Aleksinas, the pride of Connecticut's northwest corner, out of a police lineup.
After George’s shot went thru the hoop, I bolted out of my chair, kicked or threw something and cursed a blue streak. Between the Huskies’ miracle win and UNC’s loss, those damn frontrunners would be all over me tomorrow. And if you ever loved sports as a kid, you know there was nothing worse than trudging through the doors the day after your favorite team lost a big game. All those laughing faces and pointing fingers, reveling in your heartache. Bastards. Of course, I’m also the guy who once made a videotape mocking a Duke fan after the Tar Heels beat those rat finks in a regular season game, so I guess I had it coming.
My dad yelled down the stairs. “JER DID YOU SEE THAT? HOW GREAT WAS THAT?” I yelled something about how it sucked. I think he at that point considered putting me up for adoption.
Eighteen years later, “The Shot” gives me goosebumps instead of a stomach ache. My contempt of UConn disappeared well before I became forever indebted to Jim Calhoun & Co. for knocking off the afore-mentioned rat finks in the 1999 title game.
And it’s a lot more fun watching it now than it was then. How can you ever get tired of watching a 1-in-100 shot happen? (Dear sweet bountiful sporting gods: Do not make me regret writing that sentence) The Huskies had to go 94 feet in one second. They needed the perfect throw (it helped having Scott Burrell, a former first-round MLB pick as a high school pitcher, heaving the ball) to set up the shot. The throw wasn’t quite perfect, but George leaped, caught the ball, landed, turned around and shot it, all before the buzzer sounded.
The coolest thing: CBS stayed with the post-game reaction shots for three minutes. Today, someone nails a buzzer-beater and 20 seconds later it’s thrown back to Greg Gumbel in the studio. We probably would have seen the picture-tells-a-thousand words of Elden Campbell’s face, frozen in equal parts horror and disbelief. But we would have missed a youthful-looking Jim Calhoun running around the floor, a la Jim Valvano, as if he couldn’t figure out who to hug first.
Alas, it merely took two days for UConn to fall victim to another seemingly once-in-a-generation shot when all-time bad guy Christian Laettner drained a buzzer beater to send Duke to the Final Four. That was the first of his two I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw shots to put Duke into the Final Four. There has never been a better college basketball game than this. And I still loathe Laettner so very much.
Hmm. That went longer than anticipated. If you’ve read this far, I thank you. (Girthy won’t be happy with this encyclopedic-like post, nor will the Connecticut-hating Icepick) So my theory on how the win over Clemson was symbolic of how the 1989-90 season helped UConn leave the Hofstras of the world in its dust will have to wait.
As for tonight’s game, I’d love to see Hofstra win, but the odds are against it. If the Dutchmen can't pull off a mini-Appalachian State, I hope they at least keep it competitive…or at least closer than the 45-17 thrashing that Loyal Reader Jeff, a fellow Nutmeg native whom I met 15 years ago today at some goofy orientation exercise at Hofstra USA, predicts. Of course, if Hofstra manages to win somehow, Jeff will dig out his old Midnight Madness T-shirt, wear it to work Friday and tell everyone how he’s always loved Hofstra. Those damn Connecticut front-runners!