Duke may have no chance, but neither did NCSU in '83
Posted December 6, 2013
Each time I find myself thinking Duke has no chance whatsoever against Florida State in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, the flabbergasted image of good friend and old golfing partner Dave Kindred suddenly materializes in my mind with the impact of Jacob Marley’s face on Scrooge’s door-knock.
Kindred, an award-winning Washington Post sports columnist for many years, became something of internationally famous clairvoyant at the 1983 NCAA Final Four in Albuquerque, N.M.
Dave’s line “Trees will tap dance and elephants will drive in the Indy 500 before N.C. State beats Houston” will forever stand as one of the most memorable miscalculations in sports history.
In the years since, we’ve often kidded that at least his prediction didn’t wind up in a bold, belching headline. (Think Harry Truman beaming ear to ear and holding up the Nov. 3, 1948 Chicago Daily Tribune front page proclamation “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”.)
“Jim Valvano would have done that same thing, too, just like Truman and who could have blamed him?” Kindred moaned.
With The Raleigh Times in 1983, I covered the final 10 games of N.C. State’s basketball season. That string began with a startling 130-89 win over Wake Forest in Reynolds Coliseum on the final day of regular season.
The last of those 10 straight wins was 54-52 over mighty No. 1 Houston for the National Championship in the University of New Mexico’s coliseum, a place nicknamed “The Pit.”
On paper, State could not possibly have won that game.
On paper, the Pack could not have won against UNC in the ACC semifinals at Atlanta, or Virginia the following day for the league title, or UNLV in the NCAA second round, or Utah (in Utah) in the third round and or Virginia again in the West Regional final.
In the most technical sense, none of those games should have been wins.
But when it was all over, Thurl Bailey was sitting almost alone on a bench in what was left of State’s locker room. He had the net around his neck as I approached, sat down next to him, patted his back and made what I guess was stupid question/observation: “Can you believe this?”
He looked at me, smiled and quietly said, “Yes, definitively yes. I’ve always believed this. Every person in this locker room has believed this. What everyone else was writing in the papers and saying on TV and radio was interesting, but those things never have anything to do with what actually happens when the game starts.”
Obviously there’s a big different in pulling off a resounding upset in football as opposed to basketball.
For one thing, college basketball games last 40 minutes. Football takes an hour. It requires a longer, sustained effort to pull off a shocker. Basketball games normally are determined by 12-15 players. Florida State and Duke each will play at least 50 players Saturday night in Charlotte. Depth simply is more important in football.
But one thing is the same in football, basketball and all team sports, and that’s a common belief in the mission.
As Duke leaves the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium after the game, UNC may be preparing to go.
Bowl matches won’t be announced until Sunday, but the Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4 ACC) are a prime candidate to play in the Dec. 28 Belk Bowl against an American Athletic Conference team.
If it unfolds like that, Carolina is likely to face Houston (8-4) or possibly Rutgers, which is 5-6 entering its final regular-season game against 2-9 South Florida.
ECU’s bowl placement is still completely guesswork but a slot opposite Maryland (7-5) in the Dec. 27 Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., is among the possibilities.
The Pirates (9-3) lost to Maryland 51-20 in the 2010 game, Ralph Friedgen’s last as the Terps coach.