At Cole, UCLA, Jacksonville played a very different game

35 Years Ago

April 02, 2005|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

The Afros were high. The sneakers were low. The shorts resembled the hot pants worn by some women of the day.

When UCLA and Jacksonville played for the NCAA basketball championship 35 years ago in College Park - one of the last times the title game was held on a college campus - the phrases "March Madness" and "Final Four" had yet to enter the sport's lexicon. No one was filling out brackets in office pools. And television coverage featured hair tonic ads for Vitalis, not screaming commentary from Vitale.

"Think about how basketball has changed since that time," said Lou Henson, who coached New Mexico State, one of the other 1970 semifinalists along with St. Bonaventure. "Back then, a lot of people didn't know the tournament was going on.

"Nowadays, if you don't know that, something is wrong with you."

When Maryland last hosted the Final Four, 14,380 people shoehorned into Cole Field House for the Saturday afternoon championship. Now it's a prime-time extravaganza set in a football stadium. Monday's finale is at the Edward Jones Dome (capacity 46,668), home of the St. Louis Rams. Scattered seats remain - in downtown sports bars with plasma TVs.

"The [tournament] has blown up," said Sidney Wicks, 55, star of UCLA's 1970 team. "It's bigger than life. There's more exposure, more talent, more pressure on players and coaches.

"It has evolved for the better, but it always had flavor."

Leafing through a scrapbook this week, John Vallely, 56, came across a special keepsake - a two-inch piece of the net he cut down in the aftermath of the Bruins' 80-69 championship. Vallely, the lone senior on that UCLA team, snipped the cords while riding the shoulders of center Steve Patterson. Patterson died last year of cancer.

"I can still see Steve and Sidney double-teaming Artis Gilmore [Jacksonville's 7-foot-2 center]," Vallely said. "Defense and quickness and teamwork seem to win out every year. That much hasn't changed."

However UCLA configured its defense, the Bruins didn't have to worry about Gilmore's dunking. The college game had banned the dunk in 1967, only to restore it nine years later.

That's not to say the Final Four was without flair. Though UCLA's three-time defending champs went about their workouts in button-down style, reflective of the orderly approach of coach John Wooden, Jacksonville played the maverick.

An eclectic lot, the Dolphins breezed into College Park with their colorful garb and unorthodox ways. They wore mutton-chop sideburns, mile-high Afros and green racing stripes on their shoes. ESPN (founded 1979) would have jumped on the glitz.

"When we beat [top-ranked] Kentucky in the regionals, a TV reporter tried to interview us," said Rex Morgan, 57, then Jacksonville's star guard. "We all started singing this corny song about a rooster, a song that [7-foot] Pembrook Burrows had made up as a kid.

"As big of clowns as we were, it's probably good that ESPN wasn't around."

UCLA (27-2) entered the tournament as the Associated Press' No. 2 team. Jacksonville (27-1) was No. 4 in the poll but first in looseness.

"I allowed those guys `structured freedom,' " said Joe Williams, 71, then Jacksonville's coach. Before the playoffs, his players presented Williams with a new outfit: a white double-breasted sports coat, powder-blue pants and a watermelon-red shirt. Cost: $30. Effect: priceless.

"I wore it every game," he said.

There was nothing ugly about Jacksonville's offense. The Dolphins led the nation in scoring (101 points a game), remarkable considering that neither the three-point basket nor the shot clock had yet been implemented.

In College Park, Jacksonville stayed in the same motel on Route 1 that, four years earlier, had quartered upstart titlist Texas Western during the 1966 NCAA championship.

None of the teams was pestered by crowds or the press.

"I don't even remember meeting with the media," said Henson, 72, the New Mexico State coach. "There wasn't much fanfare at the [Washington] airport. It was like flying into Purdue."

In the semifinals, Henson's team lost, 93-77 to UCLA, which barely broke a sweat, With a first-round bye in the 25-team tournament, the Bruins needed just two victories to reach the Final Four.

Jacksonville advanced with a 91-83 victory over St. Bonaventure, which had lost 6-11 All-American Bob Lanier (leg injury) in the regionals.

Although NBC televised both Thursday night games, Channel 11 pre-empted the semis to show an old Marilyn Monroe movie, The Seven-Year Itch.

Cole Field House, then 15 years old, proved a hit with the players, said UCLA's Wicks, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player: "I thought, `Big place, beautiful field house.' I marveled at it."

Not big enough. The post-game news conferences were held in a weight room.

Neither finalist had seen the other play on television, which wouldn't happen in today's sports-saturated cable universe.

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