Moments after Rhode Island upset Syracuse 97-94 in a second-round NCAA tournament game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tom Garrick, whose 28 points led the Rams to their improbable victory, scanned the crowd in search of another miracle. There in front of the Rhode Island cheering section stood Garrick's father, who has been blind for 43 years. He was smiling and waving a Ram Rag. "I saw it all," said Tom Sr. "I'm sitting on top of the world."
The elder Garrick, 68, has gone to every Rhode Island home game for the last two seasons, as well as a few on the road. "If my father had had to get on the plane and fly to North Carolina by himself, he would have done that," said young Tom after the win. "There's nothing he can't do. When I'm on the court, just having him around makes me feel better."
While the younger Tom, a senior guard, relies on his dad for inspiration, the elder Tom relies on his seven other children for interpretation. During the Syracuse game, son Jonn, 39, and daughter Stacey, 23, delivered the play-by-play. "When Tommy has the ball, I get extra description," says Tom Sr. The communications system sometimes breaks down when Rhode Island triggers its machine-gun offense. Says daughter Sharon, 32, "Sometimes my tongue can't go that fast."
Tom Sr., who played baseball on a South Carolina farm as a kid, is a hoops convert. "I see myself through my son's basketball," he says. "I imagine what it would feel like to do some of those things on the court. I can do it through him."
Garrick lost his sight in April 1945 during World War II when he drove a truck over a land mine in Germany. "I had several eye operations, but nothing ever happened," he says. "I got into rehabilitation and picked up from there. People always want you to stand on a street corner and sell pencils. I wasn't going to do that."
So he got a job at a naval base in Rhode Island, where for nearly 20 years he repaired gear boxes in airplane radar systems. Now retired and living in West Warwick, R.I., with Beatrice, his wife of 41 years, he tinkers with his midnight blue 1973 Cadillac, which has logged some 300,000 miles. What's more, he drives it. "Basically in the driveway and yard," says Sharon. "After he changes the brakes, he tests them."
Like his son, Tom Sr. won new admirers at the NCAAs. Says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils face Rhode Island on Thursday night in the East Regional, "You think about great people that you'd want to meet—the president of the United States, great sports heroes. I want to meet Garrick's dad."