Chris Webber called the final time-out on his career this week. But not the one no one will ever forget. The next two weeks are like that movie The Quick & The Dead w/ Gene Hackman and Sharon Stone. Unless you are the last one standing you’re dead. A dear friend of mine knows how narrow that margin can be …. One play in one game and and one is either a Tar Heel immortal or “just a tall dentist” ….. A MUST READ!
(I posted this column before Thursday night’s game so as not to be effected by its outcome. UNC has now survived quite well thank you and advances to meet Louisville and the “evil malevolent Slick Rick Pitino“. Fear not fellow Tar Heel. Ol’ Roy ain’t afraid of no Rick Pitino ….. not one bit. Roy didn’t start coaching in 2004 ….. he’s been at this silliness quite a while.)
Today (Thurs) is God Squad Day. Prince Albert Long, Danny Lotz and I and “the fellas” get together for “religious fellowship”. Clue: We don’t use “prayer rugs” or profanity. Sweet Sixteen guesses what we talked about today? Most all the fellas are Tar Heel fans or sharp enough to pretend to be, considering we meet in “Just One Jumbotron” Kenan Stadium.
Confidence and Pride tend to flourish in abundance around Chapel Hill in late March especially when the local hoopsters whup the bejebbers out of two (oops, make that three) whozits along the way. Lots of whistling past the graveyard among that bombast however as this ain’t the first March Rodeo for any of us. As Casey Tibbs or Jim Shoulders mighta said …. “There never been a horse that couldn’t be rode. There never been a rider that couldn’t be throwed.”
Ol’ Roy knows that well and has the scars to prove it. ….. but “with the hope that springs eternal from within the human breast” we press ever onward ….. grabbin’ “our left one” for luck.
I have known “the story” for some time but something triggered it with me on this day. The setting is one that is as ingrained in UNC history as Hinton James riding his horse to Chapel Hill to go to school. I dare say the participants are even more well known than ol’ Hinton.
March 19 and 57 …. Memorial Auditorium in Kansas City. Many of us born before 1950 have a memory that involves an RCA Victor black/white TV and two games “that changed a region” and arguable changed American sports.
Most of you UNCers know the main characters in this historical drama ….. Rosenbluth, Brennan, Quigg, Cunningham (Bob not Billy), Kearns ….. led by the dapper Irishman with the French cuffs and killer instinct. Many of you even recall the classic final second when Tommy Kearns heaved the ball into the rafters and when it came down the UNC Tar Heels were National Champions at 32-0.
You likely recall McGuire sending little Kearns out to jump center against Wilt in a classic McGuire mind game on the Jayhawk giant.
Back then the semi-finals and finals were played Friday and Saturday. There was hardly a “demand” back then but a local broadcaster named Castleman D. Chesley had gotten caught up in the Tar Heels season and had arranged to send the signal back to a hastily arranged state-wide network. The incredible events of that Friday and Saturday in Kansas City as viewed “back home” lit the fuse for the explosion of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and all that that has become.
Many have forgotten how narrowly McGuire’s Tar Heels even qualified to get to Kansas City. Long time Deacon fans will never forget however. The final game of the ACC Tournament saw the Heels eke out a disputed W over the Deacs. The Deacons and Heels had battled tooth and nail all season with the narrowest of advantage to Carolina.
Through the Eastern Regionals and on to Kansas City where Jumping Johnny Green and “Wilt The Stilt” awaited.
Friday night versus Green and his Michigan State Spartans was a 3 OT thrilla with a fistful of key plays that “coulda gone either way”. The Heels survived and advanced to an ominous fate ….. the Jayhawks in their own backyard led by “the giant colored man”. What chance did Frank and his Yankee carpetbaggers in C-Blue have against such a stacked deck just 24 hours later?
There were dozens of sidebar stories within that game. It too went to 3 OTs as all recall. And, of course, the Tar Heels did win ….. etc etc etc. But here’s a new one for the memory bank.
UNC’s Lennie Rosenbluth had fouled out and 6th man, Danny Lotz was on the court as the final seconds ticked off. The Heels up 54-53 and Kansas has one final chance in that 3rd OT. Less than five seconds to play ….. Jayhawk Ron Loneski has the ball 10’ from the basket ….. Loneski was KU’s top % shooter (a little known stat from the scouting report that one Tar Heel fortunately recalled). Danny Lotz and Joe Quigg were double teaming Wilt per McGuire’s order. “Whatever you do, don’t let them get the ball to Wilt”. Loneski catches the ball (….6….5 ….) …. sees Wilt is covered so he coils to shoot an uncontested jumper from “gimme range”. If Loneski makes it Jayhawks win and History as we know it never happens.
The one Tar Heel that recalled the scouting report on Loneski was ….. (you’re ahead of me here!) …. Danny Lotz. In that frozen second, Danny Lotz disobeys McGuire and jumps out from Wilt getting his hand in Loneski’s face …. Off-balance Loneski alters his shot to try and get a pass into Wilt ….. (…4 …3). Off balance just enough that Danny’s teammate Quigg swats the errant pass to Kearns who heaves it into the rafters ( …2 …1 ….00:00).
Fifty one years later Danny is immortalized in UNC sports lore as “Danny Lotz – a member of Carolina’s 1957 National Champions.” Since Ron Loneski never took that shot, we can’t say for certain he woulda made it. We do know he didn’t.
One instinctive move under the most dramatic of moments or Danny Lotz would have spent the past 51 years as “just a tall dentist” ……
AND ….. a member of the FCA National Hall of Fame and married to Anne Graham and a proud daddy and a valued friend to many.
If Michael had missed the jumper in ’82 would Dean have earned his first ring? If Chris Webber had not called the TO in ’92 would ….. ? If the traveling call in the Villanova game had gone the other way in 2005 would ….. ? Please don’t inundate me with other details of those pivotal games from your perspective behind your C-blue glasses. I saw them too. There were all the injuries in other years (Ford, LeGarde, Smith, Phelps, et al). The point is that to get to “a bright shining moment” takes a gosh awful lot of practice, preparation, execution, instinct and Dame Fortune smiling.
Recently I was rereading a column I wrote after Mike Fox’s Moochies lost to Oregon State in Omaha in ’06 in that heart-breaker with the errant throw from second …. My admonition being “God loves Beavers too.” Tar Heel fans are going thru all their good luck traditions hoping that their “wishin’ will make it so ….” for Roy and His Boys this year. I hope so too.
Whatever the outcome this year under whatever circumstance …… be proud (but not arrogantly so) of Ol’ Roy and His Boys. Whether they will be immortalized as “members of a National Champion team” or by assorted other life events to come ….. is why they play the game.