Basketball has always been more than just a game for me. Throughout my life, my emotions and passions were influenced by the sport. As former Notre Dame coach, Digger Phelps was inducted into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor on the 40th anniversary of the Irish victory that snapped UCLA’s remarkable 88-game winning streak, I was drawn back to a time when all of my hopes and dreams involved basketball. Notre Dame’s improbable comeback win remains etched in my mind as a glimmer of hope during a time when I struggled as a youth in the midst of a broken home. ESPN’s look back at the game reminds all of us to keep believing, even when circumstances are difficult and the opponents we face seem unbeatable. Watch ESPN’s 88 and 1 for the full story and walk down memory lane!
BASKETBALL – If you don’t believe, hit the showers!
As a hoops junkie and a die-hard Marquette Warrior fan in the 70’s, we didn’t have a multitude of sports channels and websites to follow college hoops around the country. In Milwaukee, we had local broadcasts of Marquette, a few Wisconsin games, and a TVS broadcast of a national or regional game on the weekends. Our college basketball world was focused on MU and their closest rivals like DePaul and Notre Dame, so we knew those teams almost as well as we knew the Warriors and when one of them faced off against a national giant like UCLA, we tuned in! The black and white video memory of the Irish scoring 12 unanswered points over the final two minutes is etched in my mind as I was pushed off to watch the game on the old TV in the basement, but the wild scene is as familiar to me as any highlight I’ve seen on ESPN or live celebrations that I’ve been a part of. At the time, it was the most amazing, improbable win I had ever seen, but hearing the recollections of Phelps and the Irish players reminds me that great things happen only if you believe they will happen. Here’s legendary Dick Enberg’s call and the colorized version of the broadcast:
Not only had Phelps done everything he could prior to the game to help his players believe they could win, like doing a practice run of cutting down the nets and requesting a special Mass to be said on campus that day, but he challenged their belief in the huddle with 3:22 remaining and his team trailing by eleven points. He told players, “If you don’t believe we’re going to win, hit the showers right now!” He asked each player in the game if they shared his belief and they went out and made it happen. You see, belief is important – in basketball and in life. I know it may seem cliché, but nothing good happens without belief.
For a more in-depth look at that dramatic game check out UND.com’s Retrospective: Jan. 19, 1974 and ND’s UCLA Upset Stands the Test of Time by ESPN.com writer, Eamonn Brennan. And by the way, UCLA also lost in the Final Four that year to NC State, who went on to beat my Marquette Warriors in the championship!
LIFE – It’s not just a sports cliché!
In 1974, my family and my world had crumbled. My father had left our family and my mom was working third-shift hours as a nurse to support three teenage kids. We had moved to a new church, a new school, and a new home on the other side of Milwaukee, but at least I had basketball. In my own mind, I believed I was pretty good, and I was, until I stopped growing and my playing future migrated more to the football field and the weight room. More importantly, with the help of some amazing teachers, coaches, and mentors I learned to believe that I could make something of my life. I could put the difficult family life behind me and find a way to be productive in a difficult world. And though life is tough for all of us, I still believe that great things can happen. There are obstacles and there are all kinds of setbacks to deal with, but a productive, fulfilling life is within reach. My experiences in coaching basketball are proof of that!
FAITH – There will be a day!
UCLA’s All-American center in that game, Bill Walton, referred to that day as “the day the earth stood still.” As far as I know, that hasn’t happened yet and he’s wrong. Life went on and the earth still spins; however, there will be a day when the earth does stand still, and every knee will bow, and there will be a celebration that will outdo any celebration the Irish could have had that day. Do you believe that? If you don’t, is there really any meaning in the struggles of this world?
My pastor mentioned how so many of us shy away from the Book of Revelations. Even rock-solid Christians tend to avoid diving into symbolism and prophecy that describes the end times because it’s difficult to understand and possibly a bit uncomfortable, but here’s the good news – WE WIN! If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, you win. And as one of the final verses in the Bible, Revelations 22:20 says:
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Jesus is coming and we win. Believe it!