The ball was deep in the end-zone seats, punched there in desperation by a Georgetown player to stop the clock. Georgetown? Desperate? Yes. Then it was on the floor, scrambled for, and finally smothered—bam, splot—as if a runaway caboose had left the tracks somewhere in the Kentucky night and crashed through the walls of Rupp Arena. A train on a basketball court? Yes again. Because it was Dwayne (D-Train) McClain who fell on the ball as time ran out on Georgetown's try for a second straight NCAA championship, and McClain who cradled it in his arms and refused to let go until he was absolutely positive his Villanova Wildcats' 66-64 victory wasn't a dream.
These were just the ultimate improbabilities in a fantasy of a basketball game Monday night that manifested all that is spectacular in sport, while at the same time recalling nothing more than the simple lyrics of the late Harry Chapin:
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon.
Just as that troubadour lifted his song from a treasury of nursery rhymes, so did Villanova steal this NCAA title from a Georgetown team that was about to step into another book: a history book. Who but the man in the moon would have believed that the terrifying Hoya defenses could be shredded by a baby-faced guard called Gizmo (in civilian life, Gary McLain), who made but two turnovers in 40 minutes against unrelenting pressure? Or that the same Georgetown gang that had cowed opponents into missing more than six of every 10 shots over two unyielding seasons would be devastated by a record-breaking 78.6% performance by the Wildcat marksmen?
Moreover, if McLain and Harold Jensen, the mystery guest in the 'Nova back-court, were the littlest boys in blue, their combined eight-for-eight shooting was the stuff of silver spoons.
To be sure, the Wildcats as a whole made nine of their 10 shots over as tense and terrific a second half as one could ask for, their only miscue being a McClain jumper that was rejected by Patrick Ewing, as courageous a warrior in his final defeat as he ever had been in 121 career Hoya victories. But in the end, Villanova's Ed Pinckney had slithered around and inside Ewing for 16 points as well as six rebounds and five assists to the Terminator's 14, five and two, and McClain had popped in 17 more points from all manner of pogo stick angles. Significantly, the Villanova interior defenders did not send Ewing to the free-throw line even once.
"Everybody had said Georgetown, Georgetown," cried E-Z Ed amid the hysterical, orgiastic postgame celebration. "Yeah," screamed D-Train. "April fool." In the middle of it all was the heartwarming sight of Dwight Wilbur, the Wildcats' starting guard, who was rolling around on the floor with Jensen, the man who had replaced him; the man who had to inbound the ball time and again against the fearsome Georgetown legions; the man who calmly was to score the biggest basket of all—an arrow from 18 feet that gave the lead back to Villanova, 55-54, for the last time.
"If Villanova is Cinderella, then Cinderella wears boots," Memphis State coach Dana Kirk had grumped after 'Nova had beaten the Tigers in the semifinals, 52-45.
Ah, but what else can you call our new champions, a crew masterminded by the beloved Rollie Massimino, a cigar-smoking pudge of a character who looks as if cartoon balloons should be floating over his head, or with a leader as E-Z-going as Pinckney, the brother of six older sisters and uncle to 13? Given Villanova's 10 defeats, including a 23-point loss to Pittsburgh in its last regular-season game, and acknowledging Georgetown's prowess, this might have been the most fascinating upset in the 47 years of the NCAA championship game. North Carolina State's surprise conquest of Houston two years ago in Albuquerque pales in comparison. "I still think we're number one," Ewing said, explaining his wheelhouse waving of an index finger during the awards ceremonies. But his moment was in the runner-up ceremony. And don't even whisper the word fluke around Massimino lest he stick one of those $5.50 stogies in your face.
If two close regular-season losses (one in overtime) didn't sufficiently acquaint the Wildcats with the Hoyas, four full years of mutual harassment between the teams from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. surely prepared 'Nova seniors McLain, McClain and Pinckney. When Pinckney was asked whether Monday's was his greatest game, he seemed insulted. "My greatest game was two years ago, 27 points, 22 rebounds," he said. "Against Georgetown."