By Miki Turner
Special to Page 3
LOS ANGELES To mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most remarkable games in college hoops history, HBO Sports has produced a 60-minute special called "Perfect Upset: The 1985 Villanova vs. Georgetown NCAA Championship."
Airing all this week (check HBO listings), the documentary features archival game footage, and interviews with former coaches and players from both teams, including: John Thompson (Georgetown coach) and Rollie Massimino (Villanova coach); Billy Martin, Reggie Williams and Patrick Ewing (Georgetown players); and Harold Jensen, Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Gary McLain (Villanova players).
The tribute also features a host of sportswriters, including Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post and ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," and a special appearance from rapper Chuck D, who discusses the Hoyas' influence on hip-hop culture in the '80s.
The memory of that victory remains vivid for McClain, who led the Wildcats with 17 points and had the ball in his hands when the final buzzer sounded: "It's like it happened yesterday. We came together at the right time as a collective group and accomplished something great. That will stick in my mind forever."
Just about everyone, from college hoops experts to novice fans, fully expected the Hoyas to have their way with the No. 8-seeded Wildcats, who barely snuck their way into the Big Dance.
But the joke was on them.
The Wildcats, led by McClain, McLain and Pinckney aka "The Expansion Crew" played nearly flawless basketball, missing only one field-goal attempt in the second half and shooting an astonishing, NCAA record-setting 79 percent from the floor, to top their Big East rival 66-64.
Even more impressive was how the Wildcats' defense shut down a seemingly unstoppable,All-American center named Patrick Ewing, by forcing the game's then-most-dominating player to finish his collegiate career with only 14 points (eight of which came in the first half).
That night, the Wildcats not only won the game, they brought down a dynasty. Since that fateful night, the Hoyas have yet to appear in another NCAA title game.
The story behind the story
The 1984-85 Hoyas were an all-black squad with a big, imposing black coach playing for a predominantly white Catholic university in the nation's capitol. They were unrelenting, unapologetic and intimidating. Hoopsters of all levels tried to emulate their look by wearing T-shirts under their jerseys and blue-gray Nike high-tops. Georgetown stadium jackets were a must-have for all hip-hop cats coast to coast.
Conversely, the integrated Wildcats were journeymen, playing for a short, yet demonstrative white coach at a predominantly white Catholic university in the City of Brotherly Love. Essentially, they were role players who were yet to be blinded by the glare of the national spotlight.
"Put it this way," McClain said. "They had a seven-foot center who was the best player in the country. They had some of the best athletes surrounding him and John Thompson, an experienced NBA backup center as a coach. They had the best college program in the mid-'80s by far. So, the Georgetown program was probably the most aggressively played defensively-minded program that I had ever come across at that time."
That, combined with the Hoyas' mystique, No. 1 seeding and imposing roster, was certain to create a fear factor. Not so, says McClain.
"Were we intimidated? Have you seen the game tape? Did we look intimidated? Of course not," McClain said emphatically. "Georgetown was a familiar foe for us in the Big East conference we played them twice a year. We respected Georgetown, St. John's, Syracuse and the rest of the Big East teams, but it was other teams outside of our conference that feared them the most."
In what is a relatively abrupt segue, the documentary concludes with a segment featuring Villanova's point guard, Gary McLain.
But he isn't talking about beating the Hoyas. Instead, he's reflecting upon the 1987 Sports Illustrated article in which he confessed to being high on cocaine during several games of the NCAA tourney. McLain, however, made it clear that he was "not under the influence of any mood or mind-altering substance" in the championship game.
McLain's admission adversely affected his relationship with Massimino and the team. But his teammate McClain shared, "What we accomplished as a group was in no way diminished by Gary's story a couple of years later. It did kind of dull the shine a little bit, but as a collective group we beat Georgetown University for the national championship and that's the bottom line.
"In my mind it was the best game ever played."
Fade to black
The producers carefully crafted a film with the look and feel of a home movie, thus giving viewers an up-close and personal look at two very different teams striving to reach the same goal.
This film actually has elements that young and old can relate to. Maturing hoops purists will appreciate the flashbacks that showcase a time when the college game was less diluted than today, and the games were arguably played at a higher level. And younger generations will enjoy the hip hop and fashion references.
Perhaps most importantly, "Perfect Upset" provides lessons in faith, humility and overcoming obstacles. And those are TiVo moments that you'll want to replay again and again.
Miki Turner covers the fusion of sports and entertainment for Page 3 in Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.