Monday, February 07, 2005

Illness and 1974: Tales From My Dad

During my recent illness, I awoke one morning at 3:30am and was unable to get back to sleep. Rather than anger myself more by trying to force sleep, I decided to turn on the TV and see what could possibly be on at that hour. Thankfully, the cable box had been left on ESPN Classic, and I was greeted with the 1974 ACC championship game between Maryland an N.C. State, a game that took place roughly 4 years before I was even born. The game included such greats as Len Elmore, Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Tom Burleson and, of course, David Thompson. the game also made me think of my dad, but before I get to that, five quick points about the game:

1) I love ESPN Classic, but do they have any other game footage from this era? If we're talking early to mid 1970s, I don't think I've seen any other teams than Maryland and N.C. State. No UCLA. No North Carolina. Nothing. It's not always the same game, but it's always Maryland and N.C. State squaring off. I'm starting to wonder anyone else actually played basketball in this era, or if it's all just a hoax.

2) Along that same line, there were a couple of minutes left in the game when the clock in my room hit 3:54am. At 3:56am, the game went into overtime. I began pondering how they would fit an entire overtime period into 4 minutes of TV time when still shots began appearing on the television, and the announcers began summarizing the overtime period? What!?! I understand that you might have to trim some of the game for time constraints, but isn't cutting the climax of the game the worst way to go? This could be fixed so many ways--cut other, less key points of the game; add historical features on the players in the game. Anything other than showing the bulk of the game and then getting to the last five minutes and having an announcer tell us "And then N.C. State won. Goodnight." Inexcusable.

3) Each team had a guy named "Mo" on the floor for most of the game. Is this the 1970s vewrsion of the current, seemingly over-popular monosylabic sports nickname "Boo?"

4) ESPN Classic has been doing "Turn Back the Clock" nights this year where they broadcase current live games using retro graphics anc conventions. It's a fun idea, but I think it would be even more fun to re-cut old broadcasts like the Maryland-N.C. State game and have current announcers call the games. How balistic would Dick Vitale go on camera over David Thompson in his prime? Would anyone not tune in to see Len Elmore giving color commentary on himself, or Vitale makeing one of his lame "I've only got one eye!" jokes as he's forced to look at guys in 1970s style shorts. I really think this idea is a winner. If anyone knows who to contact, let me know.

5) Game pace has definitely changed since this game. These guys were running like it was an NBA game. I guess without a shot clock and three point line suggesting when to shoot and where to be on the floor, respectively, flow was a bit easier to come by. Well, that and the fact that defense has improved a lot in the past 30 years (assuming this game is representative, which it may not be).

Anyway, how does this relate to my father? Well, you see, my dad's sort of an ACC man, having started law school at North Carolina before finishing up at Maryland. I believe he would have been either at Marlyand, or just a year away when this game was played. So, he had ties with both states, and consequently, stories about players from each of these 2 great teams. And much like myself, my father is quite prone to forgetting that he's told me these fun little tidbits before. Some of them I've heard 20 times, and thus, they're burned into my memory. So now you get to hear them. Here are my dad's past remarks aon some of the key figures of these two great teams:

David Thompson & Monty Towe: First off, Thompson was apparently one of the best college basketball players ever. There's nothing original about that assertion, since many seem to think this, and a review of any game I've ever seen him in confirms his super-human athletic ability. My dad's go-to 1970s basketball story deals with Thompson, a superstar, and his buddy and teammate, 5'6" point guard Monty Towe. My dad apparently had an acquaintance who had dated Towe, and told the story of his forray, along with Thompson, into pro ball. After college, both ended up with the Denver Nuggets. Thompson was a huge acquisition, and correspondingly, received what at the time was one of the largest signing bonuses ever. He and Towe prompty found places to live, and realized that they needed to furnish their homes. If you've just received one of the biggest signing bonuses in the history of pro sports, where are you going to outfit your home? Well, our boys Thompson and Towe headed strait to K-Mart to check out the home furnishing department. Neither had ever had money before, and therefore, didn't know where to go. Ah, to be 22 and have no idea where to drop a couple hundred thousand...

Tom Burleson: Sadly for Burleson, he was a shockingly tall man in an era of tiny shorts that drew emphasis to tall-man legs. Of course, according to my father, he also had another difficulty with his legs, as he owned a smaller car and had to remove the front seat in order to be able to drive. Where did Burleson drive this beat-up, front-seatless car, you ask? Well, as the story goes, Burleson was from a real rural area and was a bit of a hick. He visited his family back home on a regular basis on the weekends. These were not simply pleasure visits to see his folks, and maybe have his mom do his laundry, though. Burleson was working. His father produced moonshine, and had Tom running it out to customers on his drives back to campus. Yeah, a 7'2" guy in a car with no front seat running moonshine throughout the South--that's not conspicuous. Whether or not this was just a rumor, I can see why my dad likes telling this story.

Lefty Driesell: Upon mentioning to my dad that I had seen the game this weekend and noting some of the players in the game, probably the first thing out of his mouth was "That's exactly why I never thought Lefty Driesell was as great a coach as everybody thought. With McMillen, Elmore and Lucas, he should have been able to win a bunch of games, but even with all the talent that he had over the years, he never won big."

John Lucas: If Lucas's name ever comes up around my dad, you will undoubtedly hear him say "He was also an unbelievable tennis player when he was at Maryland. Definitely as good as he was at basketball--maybe better." This was particularly challenging, as I heard it a lot when Lucas played for the Bucks when I was a kid. My dad always has been a tennis fan, though, so I understand his excitement at this point.

Tom McMillen: There aren't really any McMillen stories coming from my dad, which is odd, given his fascination with athletes who are successful outside of basketball, such as McMillen, a U.S. Congressman. A couple years ago, though, when I visited a buddy who was studying at Oxford, I got to hear plenty about how Bill Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar. Then on the trip I hung around with a bunch of Rhodes Scholars who kicked my ass at Trivial Pursuit, and told me that Bradley's degree at Oxford was the lowest level possible and was essentially be the equivalent of getting all "C"s at a U.S. university. Well, if the scolarship alone didn't tell me that Bradley was a brilliant man, that little tidbit sealed it. So few of those highly motivated students realize that once they get the title of Rhodes Scholar, their ticket is already stamped--Bradley knew he could take a bit of a rest before making his mark on the world. You've got to respect that. Wait, was I talking about Tom McMillen?

Len Elmore: No stories from my dad on this guy either, though to be fair to Lenny, he's a pretty bright guy as well, having graduated from Harvard Law School. Lacking any stories from my dad, I'll tell my own favorite Elmore story, since someday I'll probably be telling similarly mildly amusing stories about basketball players to kids. I was in my last year of having student tickets at Wisconsin when Elmore was in town calling a game for ESPN. I was sitting in my second row seats as he walked right in front of the section during a dead moment at halftime. No one else in the section really looked up, but almost instinctually, I yelled out "Go Terps!" Most of the people around me had no idea what I had said, but Elmore had a small grin as he walked down the rest of the baseline. And that's the only time I've ever brought a smile to the face of an ESPN basketball commentator.

So those are my thoughts on the only 1974 teams that ESPN Classic ever shows. Sure, I'd like to see a few more teams, but at least with the ones that are on, I can look to my dad for a wealth of periphery info. This one's for you, dad.

Oh, and this Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game (featuring John Lucas Jr. for OSU) is everything that I thought it would be, as was UConn-Syracuse. I love rivalry week.


At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Thompson was the 'real deal'.He could jump through the roof. As a high school basketball coach,I am still surprised at how few know of his abilities.The last that I heard of David was that he is now a 'Born Again Christian'.Praise the Lord!

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