Final Four Flashback

The 2009 NCAA Final Four swings into high gear today in Detroit with all four teams having a one hour public practice at Ford Field. For some, this kicks off a weekend in Motown they will long remember, especially if their team wins the title.  For me, it brings back memories of the three NCAA Championship games I broadcast as the Voice of Michigan Basketball.

20 years ago at this time, I was in Seattle as Michigan prepared to take on Illinois in one national semi-final game.  The Wolverines, with interim coach Steve Fisher, were a surprise to be there, and were also facing an Illinois team that had throttled them in the season-ender at Crisler Arena just a couple of weeks earlier.

I wish I could remember every minute of that game, but I don’t.  I do remember as time was running down Terry Mills shooting a long shot from the right corner baseline that clanked off the rim and right into the hands of Sean Higgins who put the rebound into the basket giving the Wolverines victory and a ticket to the National Championship Game.  I also remember interviewing Loy Vaught after the game IN THE SHOWER!  It was probably not one of my more journalistic moments, but I did get his comments.

Monday rolled around for the title game against Seton Hall.  Because we were staying outside of Seattle, the team bus driver said the team should leave early because of the congested traffic that is rush hour in Seattle.  I followed the bus in my rental car as we headed to the Kingdome about 4 hours before tipoff.  Of course we ran into no traffic and got there with a ton of time to kill.

Now here’s the thing.  The NCAA sets absolute rules on when teams can take the court to warm-up, allowing the same allotted time for both.  That meant Michigan couldn’t go out and just shoot some to kill time.  Head coach Steve Fisher told the team to find something to do in the locker-room.  Well, Glen Rice, who had become the MVP of the tournament to this point found his own “something to do.”  He climbed up on the training table..and WENT TO SLEEP!  That’s right, a couple of hours before the biggest game in his life, Glen was sleeping!

Once the game started, Glen was far from asleep.  He wound up with 31 but it was Rumeal Robinson, who hit two free throws in overtime that gave Michigan the 80-79 victory and the National Championship over Seton Hall.

I got back to the team hotel and of course a huge party was underway with boosters in a banquet room. I remember having three adult beverages in hand at once and Steve Fisher coming up to me about 2 in the morning and asking if I wanted to fly back with the team on their plane.  I did, and after about an hour of sleep, I was off to the airport and on the plane.

Landing at Metro Airport, the team plane was met by the media.  We climbed on busses and headed out I-94 to a celebration at Crisler Arena.  That was one of the things I remember most, because the road was lined by fans pulled off to the side and waving signs and cheering as our busses passed.  It was just incredible as was the reception at Crisler.

I sometimes go back and relive that historic run, as no coach has ever won his first six career games as a head coach of a Division I school and won the national title as Steve Fisher did.  If you’d like to remember those moments, here’s a link to a special we put together at WJR Radio back then called the “Dream Team.”

Then in 1992, the Fab Five burst onto the scene.  It was like travelling with the Beatles.  Students at opposing colleges on the road would hang around after games to try and get autographs.  I remember barricades having to be put up at some sites.

Somehow this group did what they shouldn’t have done, make it all the way to the NCAA Championship game as a freshmen starting five.  Unfortunately the run that Juwann Howard had called “Shock the World” ended to a veteran Duke team in that title game in Minneapolis 71-51.

The next year, they were back in the title game, but not without surviving a game with UCLA the Fab Five refused to lose.  Playing at the University of Arizona, Michigan found themselves 19 down to the Bruins in the first half and 13 at halftime.  They clawed and scratched their way back, forcing the game into overtime.  It was there that Jimmy King got a put back that gave the Wolverines the 86-94 win. That allowed them to move on and take on first George Washington and then Temple, both they defeated to reach the Final Four in New Orleans.

At the Superdome, Michigan faced Kentucky in their semi-final game, and I’ve got to say, this game was unbelievable. It was a battle with the Wolverines finally pulling it out in overtime by 3.  That set up a matchup with North Carolina.

That game too went back and forth, but a late run had the Tar Heels in control, before Michigan cut the lead to one.  Then, needing UNC to miss a free throw, it happened, Chris Webber got the rebound.  I have to admit, right then, I KNEW Michigan would win because I had seen it before.  However, we all know what took place.

Chris couldn’t pass the ball, came up court, and called timeout.  Michigan though didn’t have a timeout meaning it was a technical.  I knew it immediately the situation but thought for a second my stat sheet was wrong, it wasn’t, and North Carolina easily won the game.

All I can say is that after the game, it turned into a very long night on Bourbon Street.  Still, I was there for a part of history, but not the kind I really had hoped for.

So, as the Final Four starts in Detroit, I say to all those involved, enjoy every minute.  Document it if you can with your cell phone camera or video camera.  Realize you are privileged to be involved in what most will never have a chance to do.  I’m thankful for the three “Shining Moments” in my career and I cherish them as hopefully everyone this weekend will too.

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~ by detroitvoice on April 3, 2009.

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