Monday, April 6, 2015
As published in The County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
April 1 – no fooling – will be the 30th anniversary. Unbelievable. John Thompson has long since left the Georgetown bench. Well…sort of. His son – John Thompson III - is coaching the Hoyas now. Then Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, now 80, is still tormenting referees and probably pulling upsets as head coach of Northwood University in Florida – a long way from Villanova, Philadelphia and the Big East. Patrick Ewing, the most athletic seven-footer my eyes have ever seen, is coaching too. He’s an assistant for the Charlotte Hornets. Much has changed, but some things remain the same.
April Fools’ Day 1985 is significant because the underdog Villanova Wildcats, an eight-seed in the NCAA tournament, defeated Georgetown, the heavy favorite to win it all, 66-64. It was the second biggest upset of my lifetime, supplanted only by the greatest upset of all time: the U.S. Hockey Team’s defeat of the Soviets in the 1980 Olympics.
Entering the game, Georgetown had dropped only two games all year: a one-point loss to St. John’s (another Final Four team in 1985) and a two-point defeat on the road to nationally ranked Syracuse. Straight from the “it was just their day” file, Villanova shot 78.6% from the field, missing just six shots. Six! You don’t do that in the backyard with phantom defenders and loose accounting, much less in the national championship game. But Villanova did…and that’s what it took to beat Georgetown.
I found myself reflecting on those ’85 Hoyas, rivalries and bitter losses while sitting in the stands at St. Mary’s College a few weeks ago. The College was hosting an event for area parochial school basketball teams and cheerleading squads. What triggered my 30-year-old memory was the sight of kids wearing jerseys from Archbishop Neale School. A…N…S…three letters that will incite angst and furrow my brow apparently until I am no more. Why? Glad you asked.
It was 1986. I played guard for a Father Andrew White basketball team staffed heavily with eighth graders determined to win a championship. After taking our lumps the year before, this was our season, our moment. ANS was our primary obstacle.
We lost a close game to them in the regular season. The defeat didn’t demoralize, it confirmed that we were close and could beat them. Entering the single-elimination playoffs late that winter, a FAW-ANS championship game, a final epic battle for basketball supremacy, was assumed.
Ah, but assumptions and reality don’t always agree. We lost to Holy Angels in the semifinal. We played sloppy, shot poorly and never found our rhythm. We were spectators, not opponents, as ANS won the championship. It still gnaws at me 29 years later. And it’s not the loss to Holy Angels that bothers me; it’s not getting another shot at ANS. I’ll never know if we could have beaten them. It is my one great athletic regret.
I wonder if John Thompson, Patrick Ewing and that ’85 Georgetown team feel similarly. While they at least made the championship game, by losing to Villanova, the Hoyas squandered an opportunity to be remembered as one of the greatest teams in NCAA history. They were about to chisel their legacy into college basketball’s stone tablet and they dropped the hammer.
I suppose I’m curious if that Georgetown team, despite winning the 1984 title and all their accomplishments, regrets the loss to Villanova. They could have been iconic; instead the Hoyas became the slain giant in someone else’s David versus Goliath story.