A special NCAA tourney memory

Non-baseball entry alert!

I promise I will get back to baseball talk with another entry in a few hours, but I want to start off today with a memory from an NCAA tourney 20 years ago. If it matters, it involves a kid from Maryland and Cole Field House. Hope you take the time to read on. If you’re not interested and only want a baseball entry, I will file one in a few hours, so check back.

Anyhow ...

Watching the Richmond Spiders beat Vanderbilt Thursday afternoon reminded me of a special night I was lucky to be a part of in March of 1991 and it involved those Spiders and was also in the NCAA tourney.

I worked in Richmond then and, for a few seasons, was fortunate enough to serve as color analyst and occasional play-by-play guy for the Spiders on radio. On that night 20 years ago I settled into my center court seat to serve as color analyst alongside Bob Black (still the voice of the Spiders) as 15th-seed Richmond took on mighty second seed Syracuse. To make it even more special for me the game was in my home state and at historic Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, a place where I had seen and covered many games.

Well, the Spiders put on a great show that night and became the first 15th seed to ever win a first-round game and they upset Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen.

In the Washington Post the next morning the headline read something like “The Spiders pull off the biggest upset in NCAA Tourney history.”

To make it even more special, Richmond’s captain was a young man named Terry Connolly, who I had covered since his high school days. He didn’t even start and was not nearly the best player on that team. But he had all the guts in the world, was a real leader and was from Thomas Johnson High in Frederick.

That night, Connolly, the kid no Division I team seemed to want a few years earlier, left the court to a standing ovation at Cole. It was one of those moments you never forget.

The game didn’t tip until after 10 p.m. and by the time we wrapped up the broadcast and post-game stories, it was after 1 a.m. We were so wired we tried to grab a quick nightcap, but we were too late, the bars of College Park were closing.

Undaunted, a Spider assistant coach invited us to his room to continue the celebration of Richmond’s greatest win ever. By the time 2 a.m. approached, many of the players had also made it into that hotel room and we all basked in the glow of one amazing night of basketball.

But, then it got even better. At 2 a.m. we put on ESPN and SportsCenter’s lead story was the Richmond upset. Sitting there that night watching the Spiders’ players watch themselves on national TV after rocking the college hoops world, capped off one of my greatest nights ever covering sports.

Richmond’s tradition as an NCAA Giant Killer picked up big steam that night and the tradition is still alive I see. (It all began when Richmond upset Auburn and Charles Barkley in 1984 and four years later beat then defending champ Bob Knight and Indiana).

The Spiders by the way, who won as a 12th seed yesterday, now have five NCAA tourney wins as a 12th seed or higher, the most ever. Since that win, three other teams have won an NCAA first-round game as a 15th seed: Santa Clara in 1993, Coppin State in 1997 and Hampton in 2001.

Coming into this year’s tournament, the 15th seeds are 4-100 all-time in the first round. Not only did I see the first of those four wins up close, but I had a role on the radio broadcast.

To me, it seems amazing that 20 years have gone by. It almost seems like that didn’t happen, but I know it did. Every time I see the Spiders play in the NCAA’s I can’t help but think of coach Dick Tarrant, Curtis Blair, Kenny Wood, Terry Connolly and that group from 1991 that pulled off a real-life Hoosiers’ act.

Thanks again for letting me take a brief detour from baseball. Along those lines, feel free to post any O’s questions or comments here despite the content. If you feel inclined to add one of your favorite NCAA tourney memories, that is fair game also.

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