a special excerpt from Bruce Mitchell senior columnist for the Pro Wrestling Torch at www.pwtorch.com and an avid ACC basketball fan with a certain attraction to the Duke Blue Devils.
From last Saturday night at the Greensboro Coliseum, memories of Ric Flair and just how does N.C. State basketball figure into this whole scenario?
Those memories of Ric Flair started on a Thursday night, back on May 16, 1974. Just a couple of months before the Coliseum had hosted what many still consider the single greatest college basketball game in history, the legendary Lose-And-Go-Home 1974 ACC Tournament Final between Coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell (who would have made one hell of a pro wrestling manager) and his Maryland Terrapins starring Lenny Elmore and John Lucas and Norman Sloan’s NC. State Wolfpack. (Actually, “Stormin” Norman wouldn’t have been too bad outside the ring himself.)
From author John Feinstein – “They dragged themselves onto the bus, drained emotionally, so exhausted they wondered how they could play again in five days. Coach Norm Sloan cried on his wife’s shoulder. Center Tommy Burleson, who had been the hero of the game, was so tired he remembers “feeling like a dishrag that’s been all wrung out. I had nothing left.” They sat there, joyous over their victory, yet too tired even to speak to one another. Suddenly, a figure appeared at the front door of the bus, climbing the steps slowly because he, too, had little energy left. “Men, I just wanted to tell you I thought you played one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. I was proud of my team and I’m proud of you. You’re a great team. I hope you win the national championship. You deserve it.”
That speaker was Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. His team had just lost the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament final in overtime, 103-100, to Sloan’s North Carolina State Wolfpack team, which eventually did win the National Championship. “I don’t usually go for that going into the other locker room stuff because I think it’s phony,” Driesell said recently. “But that night, I did it because I really felt that way. I was disappointed we lost, but I wasn’t upset. My team played its heart out.”
The Wolfpack, with star player David Thompson, started a new era in college basketball by beating Coach John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and ending their six year monopoly on the NCAA championship in a double overtime thriller in the Final Four, then went on to win the national championship. That Final Four, also played in the Coliseum, started the NCAA tournament on the road to where it is today – the biggest, most far reaching playoff in sports.
And if you’ve never heard of David Thompson, consider this: The Skywalker both inspired and was a better college basketball player than Michael Jordan – who won his own ACC title in the Greensboro Coliseum a decade later, the infamous 1982 Four Corners Stall Ball game between the UNC Tarheels and the Virginia Cavaliers – the game that featured a slew of future NBA stars yet still ended 47-45 and did more than any one game to bring the shot clock to college basketball. A game in the Greensboro Coliseum once again led to a boost in its most popular sport.
And if college basketball was the Coliseum’s and the area’s most beloved sport, and N.C. State’s 1974 championship was a once-in-a-lifetime on-site thrill, well, a chubby Dusty Rhodes imitator in goggle sunglasses working a tag match third from the top on a pro wrestling show wasn’t going to do much to change that. But here’s a dirty little secret: more fans and more money came to the Coliseum to see Ric Flair in his heyday than to see college basketball.
Anyway, the debuting Ricky Flair teamed with Chuck O’Connor (who later became Big John Studd) to wrestle veterans Abe Jacobs and Danny Miller. Flair and O’Connor won.
*****to read more of Bruce Mitchell’s works, go to www.pwtorch.com*****