The Last Great Game…..A Review

I think it would be safe to say that out of the three Errant Easel members, I am probably the biggest University of Kentucky basketball fan – if not the biggest than I am definitely the oldest.

Please accept my following small review with a large flashback and insight into my family’s love of Big Blue for what it is – my best attempt to write about something surprisingly emotional.

Let me take you back….

March 28. 1992 – I had been 11 for a whopping 1 month and 10 days.  Kentucky was playing Duke for a chance to go to the Final Four.  The television was against the wall in the living room of our log house.  We were actually watching the game in the living room as opposed to the T.V. room which could only mean one thing: this game was HUGE!  I would be lying to you if I said “I can remember the whole game.”  I can’t.  I do remember jumping from a small chair, recently reupholstered and busted at the base, to the floor in front of the television and the brown brace holding our roof up.  I remember we, UK and the faithful following them, were ahead and all we had to do was hold them…just please hold them…there is only two seconds we have this!  

The ball flew down the floor.  Laettner caught it, turned toward the goal, let the ball fly…..and it went in.  That was it.  Duke players and fans were rejoicing while our Wildcats, OUR boys, were devastated.

NO!  Time started late!  NO! Time ran out!  NO! NO! NO!

I cried.  I sat on the floor and cried.

Fast forward to the now…..

It’s not out of joy for a painful memory that I bring up the ’92 Duke/Kentucky regional game.  Every March when the highlight reels start, we, the UK faithful, are assailed with “The Shot.”  I’m older now and can appreciate more what that game truly was.  I didn’t realize at 11 that UK had been in trouble.  I didn’t know that they had been on probation for NCAA violations and that one of the most storied programs in the HISTORY of college sports nearly crumbled only to be saved by the few that believed.  I knew very few things at 11 and one of those was that I was for UK no matter what – they were MY team.  At nearly 31 I still feel that way, but I’m more objective.  I’ve coached a little here and there.  I’ve discussed basketball ad nauseam with family and friends.  I can say without shame that while I hate (and I mean H-A-T-E) Duke, I respect the fact that Coach K is an awesome coach that always has exceptional teams.  Still, I LOATHE seeing “The Shot” anywhere – on t.v., in print.  I know it’s iconic.  I know that, as my father says, “That shot is the UK basketball moment people remember.  Not the winning shots, or championships.  The Laettner shot – that’s what we all remember.”

I know that, but knowing it and liking it are two very different things.  That’s why, when I saw “The Shot,” on the cover of a book entitled The Last Great Game, I gravitated towards it.

It’s really amazing I even saw it – consumed as I was searching for the British mini-series “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”  I just turned and looked across the floor of the Barnes and Noble and bam! there it was…Laettner in the air, UK players surrounding him. I didn’t even read the back, or the inside, of the book cover.  I picked it up, read the title and that was that.  This is a book, I thought, that I’m going to share with EVERYONE.

Written by Gene Wojeciechowski, a writer for ESPN, the book isn’t just about the greatest game in college basketball history (totally unbiased opinion), but about how that game even became possible.  Mr. Wojeciechowski starts by introducing us to the programs and the men who made them what they were in 1992.  We meet Mike Krzyzewski and his path from player to coach at Duke University.  We meet Rick Pitino, young coach willing to take a chance on a program in need of a serious overhaul.  We meet athletic directors, and players from other teams with insight on what it was like to play against the two squads – but we meet, and learn, about the players of THE GAME.  We meet the Unforgettables of UK (seniors Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, and Sean Woods) the Hurley/Hill/Laettner dynamic of Duke, and Jamal Mashburn.  We meet the reserves from the bench, the assistant coaches, the play-by-play men – we meet them all.  We hear them speak of an event twenty years old as if it were yesterday and discover that our heroes are like us: mortals that hold on to moments, recognize greatness when it happens, have a hard time letting go – especially if that moment hurt.

This is a great read for anyone who likes basketball, but for Kentucky/Duke fans in particular it is a must.

I am not crazy.  I don’t weep at every UK loss, I don’t HAVE to be in front of the television or near a radio when they play.  I don’t even have cable in my apartment because the cost for it is too high.  Still, I call my parents and ask how the game is going – to which my dad always shouts from the background, “you mean you aren’t watching it?!”  I wear my UK blue proudly, knowing that my grandmother is too (she had 3/4 sons and one grand-daughter, me, graduate from UK).  If it’s a Sunday, she’s wearing blue to play the church organ in.  My brother will sent me texts to update me on games when I don’t want to be yelled at by my boisterous, and wonderful, father.  I can read the live blog at kentucky.com.  Yet, as I read this book, I cried.  I didn’t cry because I remember what it was like as an eleven year old watching her favorite team leaving everything on the floor.  I played basketball too – was pretty good at it – I knew that is how we played in Kentucky.  I cried today because the heartbreak of losing, losing something that you want so bad, hits closer to home the older you get.  You can’t get through life without losing some things.  Hopefully you learn, you move on, you grow, but sometimes that hurt stays and shapes who you are – sometimes for good, sometimes not.

Maybe I’m looking too hard at why an account of two basketball programs playing a game nearly 20 years ago still affects me – and so many others (my uncle and I both own “I still hate Laettner” shirts).  I like to think that maybe I’ve stumbled onto something important here – maybe not just for me, but others as well.

With all of this in mind, again, I’d like to recommend this book again.  It’s a quick read and hard to put down.  The things that had to happen for this game, this last, great, game to occur – like most things when you think about it – are amazing.

And so, to the Unforgettables and to the Big Blue Nation (except you Ashley Judd, except you!):

“To Kentucky.  And the ones who stayed”

Pelphrey, Feldhaus, Woods and Farmer - The Unforgettables

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. jumpingpolarbear
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 22:34:41

    That shot gave Laettner an olympic gold medal in Barcelona 🙂

    Reply

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