It was January 1982 and Joe Montana’s 49ers were about about to face off against Ken Anderson’s Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.
How refreshing it was.
For the first time in what seemed like eternity, there were no Cowboys, Steelers, Raiders or Dolphins in the big game. It was something new. Even the venue was new. Instead of the same old Super Bowl cities like New Orleans, Miami or Los Angeles, the Super Bowl was being played in Pontiac, Mich.
And now it’s happening in college basketball. No Duke. No North Carolina. No Kansas. No Kentucky. No Michigan State. No Michigan.
College basketball’s blue bloods are on the outside looking in. Instead, it’s Virginia versus Texas Tech and what a breath of fresh air it is.
What;’s more, there will be two classy coaches, especially Virginia’s Tony Bennett.
The downside is that it could be one of the most boring games in the history of the NCAA championship. Virginia’s agonizingly slow offense versus Texas Tech’s overwhelming defense will have far less appeal than if Duke’s Zion Williamson was in the championship game.
I’ll take Virginia in this one. The Cavaliers, inspired by the pain of their first-round loss to Maryland-Baltimore County last season, have likely received a second jolt by their narrow escape against Auburn Saturday night.
Let’s go with: Virginia 58, Texas Tech 53. And if Virginia makes it happen, St. Catherine’s coach Nick Bennett will be celebrating with his first cousin, Tony, who has invited him to the game.
But if Tech wins, it will become only the second team from Texas to win a national championship in men’s basketball. Can you name the first? The answer is below.
Can there be any doubt?
Five years after the Bucks finished 15-67 while a rookie named Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled to earn playing time, they have clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
And they won their 60th game of the season Sunday night. The Bucks have only reached that plateau four times in their history, the most recent of which was 1980-81.
Antetokounmpo has arguably taken LeBron James’ title as the best player in basketball. And Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal concedes Antetokounmpo has even surpassed his greatness at a similar age.
“... yeah, he’s better,” O’Neal told USA Today. “And that’s why I gave up my ‘Superman’ title to him. And you know what? He works hard. He’s a humble kid. He doesn’t just come and show up and say, ‘Oh, hey, I do this, I do that, I’m the next ...’ Nah, this kid actually works, and he’s earned it. He’s earned my respect, and he deserves it, so I’m giving it to him. To answer all the critics’ questions, you’re right, the kid was better than me at 24.”
It’s difficult to believe Antetokounmpo won’t become the Bucks’ first NBA Most Valuable Player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar following the 1973-74 season.
Yes, there’s James Harden and his average of 36.2 points a game for the Rockets. But no one has done more for his team than Antetokounmpo has done for the Bucks. And he’s the best player on the best team in the NBA this season.
Milwaukee is a small-market, cold-weather team that is far from any superstar’s A-list of destinations. The Brewers got lucky when they acquired rising superstar Christian Yelich in a salary dump from the Marlins prior to the 2018 season. And the Bucks got lucky five years earlier when they got the raw Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 draft.
Luck means everything wih small-market teams.
A Horlick connection
Horlick senior Marquise Milton, the All-Racine County Player of the Year in boys basketball, has received an offer from Highland Community College in Kansas. Milton doesn’t plan on deciding until later this spring, but if he ends up going to Highland, he’ll have a friend on campus.
That’s former teammate Joe Garcia, who is playing football at Highland. Garcia, the 2017 county player of the year in football, put in a good word for Milton at Highland, Milton said.
There’s been ample speculation about who is going to sign free-agent pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. It should hardly be a mystery why they are still unemployed.
Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner with the Houston Astros, is 31 and allowed a league-high 211 hits while posting a 3.74 earned run average. Plus his agent is Scott Boras.
Kimbrel, who will be 31 in May, had ERAs of 11.57 in the AL Division Series, 4.50 in the ALCS and 4.15 in the World Series last season for the Boston Red Sox.
There are clear warning signs with both of these players. And neither will come cheap when some team needs to bolster its pitching staff.
Signing players in their declining years is risky business. Just ask the Angels with Albert Pujols or, most recently, the Orioles with Chris Davis. They’re paying him $161 million over seven years and he’s currently 0 for 23 with 13 strikeouts. And last year he hit .168 with 192 strikeouts.
Going back to last season, Davis is hitless in his last 44 at-bats.
And the Orioles are on the hook to pay him for being awful through 2022.
It doesn’t seem possible that Ernie Banks of the Cubs earned a total of $800,000 during his 19-year Hall-of-Fame career.
On March 19, 1966, Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) defeated Kentucky 72-65 at College Park, Md. The game was especially notable because Texas Western became the first team with an all-black lineup to win the national championship.