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One of my oldest friends is a guy named Tim, and the last two days have bought back memories of a wonderful spring in 1978. Unfortunately, the memories have been rekindled because of the passing of key sports figures of that time.
“Our class is graduating,” I always say to Tim, as with each year it seems like people we knew have passed away.
One was Wes Unseld, who passed away Monday at the age of 74. It does not seem that long ago that Tim and I were long-haired students at Virginia Tech (much like we were last week until the barber shops opened again) and we were at his apartment, watching Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
For weeks we had heard that “The Opera Isn’t Over ‘Til The Fat Lady Sings” thanks to Bullets Coach Dick Motta, but we knew that day somebody would be singing. We watched on Tim’s 19-inch color television with no remote control and no cable (and don’t get me started on no computers or internet) but in our caveman-like accommodations, we were able to see that the Bullets had a slim 101-99 lead and the Seattle Supersonics had just fouled Unseld.
Back then, Wes was an incredible rebounder, but he shot free throws like I dance: not that well and not that often. He had only hit 55 percent of his free throws all season, but Wes was one of those players who just always seemed to get the job done when needed the most. He hit both free throws, and a few seconds later Norfolk State alum Bobby Dandridge slammed home a dunk and the Bullets won the deciding Game 7 105-99. Unseld would be named the Finals MVP.
Tim, confusing himself with the Fat Lady at the Opera, even started singing as the horn went off. For over 40 years we’ve been telling ourselves if we had known the team wouldn’t ever be good again, we’d have paid more attention.
At the same time, Tim and I were also broadcasting Virginia Tech baseball on campus station WUVT. We must have done something right back then, because one day Hall Of Fame writer Jack Bogaczyk even came and did a story on us. It was in this story Jack asked Tim about preparing for a broadcast and Tim said “if you’re not prepared, you’re dead.”
Over the last 40 years, that line too has been repeated. Usually in the context of one of us not being prepared for something, and the other person saying “well, I guess you’re dead.”
One team the Hokies played that year was James Madison. They had a great program led by Coach Brad Babcock. Neither of us have any specific memories of that game, but we both did remember a very young bat boy for the Dukes. We would later learn that Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock, Brad’ son, was a bat boy for the Dukes when he was a teenager.
It could have very well been him.
What I do remember was Brad Babcock had great teams who played hard, and from every writer I would subsequently talk to in later years, I’d always hear what a great guy Brad was.
Brad Babcock passed away yesterday at the age of 81.
So far this week we’ve lost Pat Dye, Wes Unseld and Brad Babcock. It’s only Wednesday.
May they all rest in peace.