Saturday, April 30, 2005

GOTC A Much Bigger Deal to UH Than to UCLA

It has become clear to me in the time since I started this website that fond memories of the Game of the Century are much more abundant on the UH Cougar side than on the UCLA Bruin side.

For one thing, I've found many more UH-based web documents about the game to link to, than UCLA-based ones. Also, when I've posted announcements about my website on a Houston Cougar "chat board," they've generated more comments than when I've posted similar messages on a Bruin one.

This relative lack of enthusiasm on UCLA's part, however, did not stop the classic showdown with the Cougars from being ranked No. 1 in Scott Howard-Cooper's 1999 book The Bruin 100: The Greatest Games in the History of UCLA Basketball.

Howard-Cooper's write-up leads off thusly:

The audacity of picking a loss as the greatest game in the history of a program that has won 70% of its games and more NCAA championships than anyone comes with the even-more-dramatic counter of history, this merely being the night that changed an entire sport. The Bruins would have to accept their role, even as they contend to this day that it wasn't even their most important game of the season.

The article provides the usual litany of details (the attendance, the fact that a 47-game UCLA win streak was ended, etc.) and concludes as follows:

"People think it was a terrible loss," [UCLA Coach John] Wooden recalls a little more than 30 years later. "Not to me it wasn't. Not more than other losses. It's not like a conference loss or something to knock us out of a tournament."

Houston would get that chance a few months later, this time at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in the [NCAA] semifinals. But the Cougars would not get the victory -- UCLA won, earning vindication and a spot in the championship game.

It is precisely because the Bruins avenged their Game of the Century loss later the same season en route to winning the national championship that I would have expected UCLA fans to overcome whatever bitterness they had over losing at the Astrodome and embrace the game more. From a Bruin perspective, the mid-season match-up with the Cougars could be viewed as something that did not derail a national championship, yet made a major contribution to college basketball at large.

From Houston's perspective, not only is there the joy of winning the Game of the Century. With five appearances in the final four in school history but no national championships, the Game of the Century is, almost by default, guaranteed to be a much bigger icon to UH than to UCLA.

The write-up in The Bruin 100 also alluded to a Los Angeles Times article marking the 30th anniversary of the game. I have now located this January 20, 1998 Times article through microfilm, and I will discuss it in my next posting...