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Today, it all begins.
The play-in games are done (Texas Southern, Drake, Norfolk State and UCLA were the winners), and Virginia Tech gets it all going shortly after noon from Hinkle Fieldhouse when the Hokies face Florida.
To commemorate the tournament, the NCAA has released a 3-minute all-time video of the Big Dance, and I have to say, it both made me feel old AND made me feel goosebumps, as it captures just about all the great moments I’ve come to remember about the tournament.
My first memory of the tournament - when it was only two weekends - was the historic victory by then-unknown Texas Western, winning it all at Cole Field House up at College Park. A black and white snippet of the team is in the early seconds, then – to the music of One Shining Moment – the memories start coming one after another.
There’s Dell Curry’s son Steph, showing the world that there is no shot too long that he can’t make, Gary Williams getting his hair tousled after winning a national championship (I have a basketball here in the house signed by Gary), and Jim Valvano, running around the court in search of someone to hug after the "Survive and Advance" miracle in Albuquerque. I was lucky enough to cover that N.C. State team in about a dozen games that season.
There’s freshman Michael Jordan knocking down the game-winning jumper for North Carolina over Georgetown, UMBC shocking the world as a No. 16 seed beating No. 1 seed Virginia, and Bo Kimble shooting a free throw left-handed (he’s right-handed) as a tribute to left-handed teammate Hank Gathers, who only a few weeks earlier collapsed and died in the team's league tournament.
There’s also Brigham Young’s Danny Ainge driving the length of the court in the final seconds 40 years ago to beat Notre Dame 51-50, Christian Laettner, breaking hearts throughout the state of Kentucky with his historic buzzer-beater, Big John Thompson getting a hug and a national championship, and the game that really set basketball on fire in the modern era, the one between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson where Michigan State came out on top. Among the teams Indiana State beat in the tournament was a second-round 86-69 win over Charlie Moir's Virginia Tech team that included Dale Solomon, Wayne Robinson, Les Henson and Marshall Ashford.
It ends with a great exclamation point, as Tony Bennett – after previously losing to a No. 16 seed – completes the comeback and seizes redemption by slapping a big ol’ Virginia sticker on the line that says “National Champions.” No one’s done it since, and I can't believe any UVA fan can see that and not get a goosebump or two.
That’s not all that’s in the video, as these are just the moments I thought were special. But they were a nice group of memories for how special this tournament has been if you’ve been a basketball fan over the last 50-plus years.
So let the games begin. Here’s to adding a few more memories that years from now we may look back upon and also consider "One Shining Moment."