Friday, September 22, 2006

Notre Dame and Michigan State Celebrate 40th Anniversary of Their FOOTBALL Game of the Century

It's been a while since I last posted, but during the college basketball off-season, there's not a lot of news on the sport.

I just wanted to acknowledge tomorrow's Notre Dame-Michigan State football game, which marks the 40th anniversary of the 1966 contest between the schools -- a 10-10 tie, with both teams having come in undefeated -- that some also refer to as the "Game of the Century."

Here are some links to stories about the ND-MSU 40th anniversary match-up: MSNBC-AP (note the patch for the 40th anniversary), Lansing State Journal, and Detroit Free Press.

Getting back to college basketball, as some of you may have heard during the past season (and which you can read about in my archives), UCLA Coach Ben Howland seems to have rebuffed Houston Coach Tom Penders's request for a resumption of play between the Bruins and Cougars, including a 40th anniversary match-up in January 2008 of these schools' Game of the Century. There's still plenty of time before the 2007-08 basketball schedules are determined, but I'm not holding my breath.

I should also note that the situation between Notre Dame and Michigan State in football is different from UCLA and UH in basketball. The Irish and Spartans play virtually every year on the gridiron, so tomorrow's game is just the continuation of a long series. UCLA and Houston have met only sporadically in basketball over the past 40 years.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Status Update on UCLA and UH Basketball Programs

Today marks the first weekend of 2006 without any college basketball. I'm in a little bit of withdrawal, but doing a little writing on UCLA and UH may help ease the symptoms.

As probably everybody who would visit this website knows, UCLA made the NCAA championship game last Monday night, before getting trounced by Florida. Expectations were high three years ago when Ben Howland took over the Bruin program, but getting to the Final Four this quickly certainly exceeded my expectations.

The University of Houston continued its slow, but steady, road back to national prominence, by making the NIT for the second straight year. This year, the Cougars dropped a heart-breaker in the NIT to Missouri State. During the season, UH defeated such highly regarded teams as LSU (who also made the NCAA Final Four) and Arizona (game-by-game log). The Cougars also put together a nice league record in Conference USA, but the proverbial "asterisk" must go with that record as several of the historically best C-USA teams (e.g., Louisville, Cincinnati) had left to go to the Big East.

In summary, things seem to be moving in the right direction for both UCLA and UH, albeit with UCLA further along. Houston has signed Coach Tom Penders to a new contract, which should provide the needed continuity for the Cougar program to continue improving. Now, we just need someone to convince Howland to drop his stated resistance to playing UH in a 40th anniversary commemoration of the Game of the Century in 2008.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Einhorn Book "How March Became Madness" Includes Historical Review of GOTC

With the start of this year's NCAA tournament just a couple of days away, now is a good time for me to review the book How March Became Madness, by Eddie Einhorn with Ron Rapoport. Einhorn, of course, is the person who put together the television package for the 1968 Houston-UCLA Game of the Century. Also, as I wrote about at the time of last fall's World Series, Einhorn has also been part of the Chicago White Sox front office for many years.

The book attempts to provide a history of modern college basketball, with attention to the role of television in developing its popularity. Einhorn and Rapoport do so almost entirely via a series of five-page (roughly) mini-chapters, each based on an interview with a key figure in college hoops history.

The format of self-contained interviews rather than one continuously developing story, makes it easy to pick and choose which interviews you want to read, without worrying about disruption to any continuity. Others may see this as a shortcut on the part of the authors, who evidently elected not to try to integrate all the interviews and present their historical analysis as a traditional text.

These interviews are grouped into sections. One is on the UCLA dynasty, featuring interviews with John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bill Walton.

Not surprisingly, the largest section is on the Game of the Century, with ten chapters. The introduction to this section points out the following:

UCLA's game against Houston in the Astrodome changed the face of college basketball... The stars were all in alignment that night as we had the two top teams in the country -- which were both undefeated -- the top two players, the largest crowd ever to see a basketball game in the United States [52,693, since surpassed], and basketball's first prime-time television audience, which was its largest in history. And to top everything off, it turned out to be a great game, with Houston breaking UCLA's 47-game win streak with a 71-69 victory (p. 33).

The chapters in this section contain interviews with the following individuals (listed with their roles in the GOTC): Houston coach Guy Lewis, Cougar players Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney, UCLA assistant coaches Gary Cunningham and Jerry Norman, Bruin players Lynn Shackelford and Mike Warren, broadcaster Dick Enberg, UH Sports Information Director Ted Nance, and Houston sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz.

Importantly, these chapters convey the many breakthroughs associated with the GOTC: paving the way for college basketball to become a national television mega-hit over the years; raising the profile of basketball in Texas, long famous as a football state; and helping advance the fortunes of the city of Houston and UH, as well as aiding in their racial integration. Noted Chaney:

Three years after Elvin and I got there, Houston had its first black homecoming queen. That was amazing to me, that a school that had been all white could have something like that happen in so short a time (p. 82).

The book also comes with a DVD of the Houston-UCLA Game of the Century, which to me is the best part. It contains the last few minutes of the first half, then the entire second half. The players really seemed to shoot the ball with much more of a high-arch trajectory than is seen today (unless it's some kind of visual illusion). The commercials are edited out, but sometimes the first second or two of a commercial shows; it's interesting to see the kinds of things that were advertised in 1968.

As noted above, however, the book goes beyond the GOTC, encompassing many aspects in the history of modern college basketball. There's a section featuring interviews with great coaches of the modern era: Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Roy Williams, etc. The broadcast side of college hoops is covered in sections on great (or at least prominent) broadcasters, including Enberg, Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, and Al Michaels, and on media executives.

I learned an interesting thing from the interview with Bob Knight, who of course coaches at Texas Tech, where I am on the faculty. Shortly after Knight graduated from Ohio State, there was at least a possibility that he would go to law school at UCLA and help coach the freshman team. Imagine, Bob Knight might have progressed to being a UCLA varsity assistant and thus conceivably could have succeeded John Wooden at some point! Could Wooden's good citizenship have tamed the volatility in Knight?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

L.A. Sports Arena (Which Has GOTC Ties) Loses Last Major Client in USC

Tonight, the last college basketball game (presumably ever) will be played in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, as the USC Trojans host Oregon State.

The Sports Arena, which opened in 1959 in the Exposition Park area of L.A. (which also includes the USC campus and football's L.A. Memorial Coliseum), will no longer be needed for Trojan basketball, as the on-campus Galen Center will open for next season (construction cam).

The NBA's L.A. Clippers, of course, vacated the Sports Arena for the Staples Center about seven years ago (a photo of the Sports Arena's exterior is shown on this Clippers' historical website).

Although I couldn't find any definitive information on what will become of the Sports Arena, this newspaper column suggests that it could be torn down for parking should the Coliseum area be renovated to accommodate a new NFL team.

As many of you are probably aware, the significance of the L.A. Sports Arena for the Houston-UCLA basketball rivalry is two-fold:

First, when the Houston Astrodome was set up for the 1968 UH-UCLA Game of the Century, it was the Sports Arena's hardwood that Elvin Hayes, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), et al., were playing on.

Then, when the Cougars and Bruins met again later that season in a semi-final game of the Final Four, they played in L.A. at the Sports Arena.

Houston's coach at the time, Guy V. Lewis, discussed his team's two 1968 games against UCLA in a January 2004 interview published in the new book How March Became Madness. This book was compiled by Eddie Einhorn, who put together the television package for the GOTC, with Ron Rapoport. Said Lewis:

...What's funny is that we lost on the same floor we beat them on. The floor we used in the Astrodome originally came from the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. They just bundled it up and put it on a truck and brought it here (p. 40).

A bonus feature of the book is that it comes with a DVD of the UH-UCLA Game of the Century broadcast. You get the last few minutes of the first half and the entire second half. One thing evident from the DVD is that the folks in Houston either used their woodcrafting skills to make a new center circle or painted over the one that arrived from L.A. At the GOTC, the center circle featured the word ASTRO arched over the top, the word DOME arched up from the bottom, and a UH logo in the small interior circle.

Between the DVD and the interviews with many of the principals from the Game of the Century (as well as with many other college hoops luminaries not associated with UH or UCLA), the book is an amazing resource for GOTC aficionados, in particular, and all those interested in the history of modern college basketball, in general.

I will be doing one or more future entries on How March Became Madness.

Friday, February 17, 2006

NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston; Hayes Involved in Activities

Tonight begins the annual NBA All-Star Weekend, this year being held in Houston. Among tonight's events is the game between top NBA rookies and second-year players.

Activities surrounding all-star games often try to involve local heroes, and this year is no exception. Elvin Hayes, who led the UH Cougars to victory over UCLA in the Game of the Century and later played professionally for the Houston Rockets, is serving as an assistant coach for the rookie team.

In conjunction with his appearance back in Houston, Hayes was the subject of an article in today's Houston Chronicle. The article talks about Hayes's role in the GOTC, to be sure, but primarily features his reflections on playing in NBA all-star games. Hayes saw these games as opportunities to develop camaraderie with other elite players around the league. In fact, the article discusses how Hayes feels these gatherings helped warm up relations between him and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor), his rival from UCLA in the GOTC:

Hayes credits his All-Star appearances for easing a rift between him and Abdul-Jabbar. After they were pitted as rivals in college, the tensions carried over to the NBA.

"Once we got an opportunity to get into the All-Star situation and really begin to talk and be around each other, it became less strenuous," Hayes said. "It was less of a strain and effort to put forth, 'Hello, how do you do?' That kind of breaks the ice, breaks the walls down. The All-Star Game can resolve a lot of problems that players have on the court."

With Houston becoming the basketball hub of the universe this weekend, the city also served as the site for the announcement of this year's nominees for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Guy V. Lewis, the UH coach in the GOTC, will still have to wait to get in the Hall, as he was not among this year's nominees. One discussant on the CoogFans chat board thought Lewis might not be eligible any longer for election via the regular route and must now go through a veterans' screening process; this may or may not be true. (I'm "AlanTech" in the discussion thread.)

How coaches such as former Purdue skipper Gene Keady, whose best NCAA showings are two Elite Eights, can be nominated ahead of Lewis, who coached UH to five Final Fours (including two title game appearances), has baffled a lot of people (nothing personal against Keady, of course).

Monday, January 23, 2006

GOTC Revisited on ESPN Classic

Commenter "Yerke" notes on the CoogFans discussion board that last Friday night's episode of "Classic Now" (on ESPN Classic) marked the 38th anniversary of the Game of the Century by bringing on Houston sportscaster Bill Worrell and former Bruin assistant Denny Crum to discuss the Game. The CoogFans discussion thread is available here, then scroll down when the new page comes up.

Friday, January 20, 2006

38th Anniversary of Game of the Century

Just wanted to note that today is the 38th anniversary of the Houston-UCLA Game of the Century. As I wrote about in a previous entry (a bit down the page), current UCLA Coach Ben Howland has not been responsive to UH Coach Tom Penders's call for a resumption of Cougar-Bruin games to commemorate the 1968 classic. I really would like to see UH and UCLA play two years from now, to mark the 40th anniversary of the GOTC, and am disappointed with Howland's stance. If you would like to see a UH-UCLA match-up in January 2008, please contact the UCLA athletic department to let them know how you feel. Just follow the link below, and you'll see a phone number to call and a form to submit written comments.

Friday, January 06, 2006

E-Mail from Ted Nance

Shortly before the holidays, I received a nice e-mail note from Ted Nance, the former UH Sports Information Director who spent all or part of five decades involved with Cougar athletics. Ted said it was OK to reprint his message, so I've done so below, in slightly edited form. Many of the things Ted discusses were new to me, and perhaps they'll also be to some of you. Take a look!


I have followed your web site and postings regarding the UH-UCLA game with great interest. That game changed college basketball forever. It opened up the game to a new world of large arenas (stadiums), national television and prime time entertainment. It will be a long time before the impact this game had on the sport can be duplicated. The fact that both teams were undefeated with winning streaks and ranked one and two, the nation's top two players (both All-America choices) were involved, and the game was the first college game to be televised nationally during prime time, played in the nation's only dome (at that time it was only four years old) and the largest paid crowd in history for a basketball game are an unusual set of facts that would also be very hard to duplicate today. Regardless of the outcome, the game was big for both schools because of the effect it had on the game's future..

On a totally different point, much has been made of Alcindor's eye problem prior to the game. However, little or no mention is made of these two factors.

First, Houston had two starters who missed the NCAA championship game in Los Angeles [NOTE: UH and UCLA actually met in the 1968 semi-finals]. George Reynolds, UH's 6-4 starting point guard did not play in the NCAA due to an eligibility problem. He played 36 minutes in the Astrodome game, hitting 5 of 8 field goal attempts, 3 of 3 at the line and took down five rebounds. For the season he averaged 10 points, five rebounds and was the team's best free throw shooter and best outside shooter (53.8 FG pct.). He also led the team in assists. His defense, due to his size and agility, was also an important factor in the Dome game that was sorely missed in the NCAA game. He was replaced by Vern Lewis in the NCAA game. Lewis was a 5-ll senior who averaged 2.8 points, 1.0 rebounds and hit 38.5 percent from the field and 60.5 percent from the free throw line. He had neither the size nor the physical ability that Reynolds had defensively.

In the book College Basketball's 25 Greatest Teams by Billy Packer and Roland Lazenby published in 1989, Elvin Hayes said, "George (Reynolds) was the greatest point guard I ever played with." That gives you a better idea of what Houston missed in the NCAA game in Los Angeles. That UH team was ranked 11th in the all-time rankings by the book.

Another starter, Forward Melvin Bell (6-7), a great rebounder and scorer, blew out a knee in pre-season and missed the entire season. Melvin had averaged nearly 13 points and nine rebounds as a sophomore the year before to rank third in scoring and second in rebounding on the team. He had broken some of Elvin Hayes' freshman records and was considered a great prospect. However, he never was able to regain his top form after the knee injury.

Incidentally, Eddie Einhorn is working on a book about his years in television and has a chapter on the UH-UCLA game. He called me while he was in Houston for the World Series and was trying to get together a mini reunion from the game with Elvin, Don Chaney, Guy, et al., but I was in Northern Michigan at the time so I don't know how it came out...

Best regards,

Ted Nance