Martelli wheeled around and said to the woman, "Shut up, you nitwit."
He huddled with his players for a moment. Then, according to the woman and newspaper accounts, he turned around again and added, "You should be embarrassed by your own team, you moron." (Martelli denies making this remark.)
Martelli realized he had crossed the line long before he read the Sunday papers, in which the woman was identified as Mary Palmer, a school librarian and a St. Bonaventure season-ticket holder. Martelli wrote Palmer a pagelong letter, by hand from home, that began, "Please accept this apology for my childish comments." He talked about his failure—his failure—as the leader of his team when he made those comments. He sent the letter by Federal Express to the Palmer home in Smethport, Pa. That same day Martelli also called Palmer and apologized. What Martelli didn't know was that he was talking to a retired high school coach. She once had a jayvee girls' team that won a bunch of games in a row. She felt she heard in his voice the pressure he was under, the pressure of trying to win game after game after game.
She was more right than she could know. Martelli says that all he's trying to do is win the next game, one game at a time, and all that. But he knows what's going on: He's got the best backcourt in college basketball, the best player in college basketball and a modest, small regional school just aching for the chance to stick an index finger in the air with the whole country watching. He knows what's going on. You can coach your whole life, and if you're lucky, really lucky, you might get a team like this—once.