Grant Hill is an only child whose doting parents didn't let him play football as a preteen, notwithstanding his pedigree as Calvin's son. Yet he whipped a pass that would have made a quarterback proud, and it seemed to him to hang in the air forever. Feldhaus sealed his position behind Laettner when the Duke star beat him to the free throw line. Pelphrey was most concerned with keeping the ball from going over his head. He hadn't seen Laettner bust up from the corner, but why should that matter? Pelphrey had seen Hill, and he had watched the flight of the ball, and here it was, heading right to him, a gift: "There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to catch it," he says. "I could almost feel the leather. I took a step or two backwards. I kind of jumped. And he had it."
As soon as Laettner came down with both the ball and his balance, Mashburn, from his scat on the bench, sensed what would happen. Laettner took one dribble and wheel-faked right—"to create some distance," he says—then spun left and leaped up, rising into a majestic fallaway. Feldhaus lacked the stature to contest Laettner's shot even if he were so inclined, which, out of a well-founded fear of fouling, he wasn't. When the ball left his hands, after nearly 45 minutes of play at the highest level, Laettner still hadn't missed, a fact lost on most everyone in the Spectrum at the time—on Lundquist and Elmore, on Laettner himself, even on Krzyzewski, who today says it would have made him nervous to have known, as if one more shot would have fatally tempted the law of averages. With his view blocked, the Duke coach never saw the ball drop through. But from the arc the shot traced, a familiar and comforting parabola, the coach didn't doubt that it would.
Hill didn't doubt it either. Watching the flight of his pass, he had thought of Hoosiers and The Natural and of the climactic slow-motion sequences in those movies. "Fate was on our side," he says now. "We were destined. Even if somebody had been on me, even if the pass had been off, Christian would have tipped it and it would have gone in. We still would have won somehow."
Scan Woods fell to the floor, facedown, limbs spread. Finally, with a game in the balance, he had made the play, and for naught. For nearly a minute he lay there, inert. Eventually a security guard came over to be sure he was still breathing.
Thomas Hill stood by the sideline with his hands clasped behind his head, and as he rotated slowly in place, the muscles on his face seemed stretched to the limit. His eyes registered a sort of plaintive horror, as if they had just witnessed something hideous. If there is a continuum between delirium and terror and it loops around and meets somewhere. Hill seemed to occupy a place at that conjunction.
Pelphrey stood motionless, his hand atop his head. It had all happened so fast. We'd no sooner come out of the huddle than the ball was coming through the net, he thought. Wait a minute, he wanted to say. Let's do this again.
Along press row, where malfunctioning phone lines had put normally sour writers in an even more loathsome humor, all cynicism was suspended. "Here we'd been, ragging on the Spectrum," says UPI's Tom Withers, one of the 269 accredited journalists who now had to do the evening's events justice. "And then it gave us this gift." Elmore and Lundquist began 75 seconds of what the networks call "layout," which consists of just shutting up. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, the acknowledged dean of the basketball print journalists in attendance, turned to Ledford, his broadcasting equivalent, and held aloft a sheaf of notebook paper on which he had scratched out the interrogatory already beginning to make its way through the arena: GREATEST GAME EVER?
Krzyzewski had felt anger when Woods's shot went in—"In basketball," he says, "you know you don't bank it in from there"—and even as Duke set up its inbounds play, his pique lingered. Thus in the moments after Laettner's answer, Krzyzewski first felt vindication. Yes, he thought, throwing down a clipboard. That's the way it should be.
But then the Duke coach saw Farmer in front of him. He remembered the Kentucky seniors from the Tip-Off Classic four years earlier, and he knew how Farmer, more than any of them, was the idol of every mountain kid just now turning on the spigots of grief. "Just looking at his face, there was no way I could be celebrating," Krzyzewski says. "I felt a real sense of guilt, for lack of a better word. Like we were the cause of all this despair." Is this a winning coach's lot? To go from anger to guilt in barely a minute, bypassing entirely the euphoria his own players now indulged in so uninhibitedly?
Krzyzewski went up to Farmer. "Richie, I'm sorry," Krzyzewski said. "I'm so sorry."