A lot of people remember 32 years ago yesterday, when Danny Ainge drove the length of the court against Notre Dame to send BYU to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Far fewer saw it in person. Fewer yet were sitting courtside, as I was.
That’s not bragging, it’s marveling. I was front-and-center for both of BYU’s historic moments during that school year, mostly by accident.
I had barely started my career at the Deseret News when I got lucky enough to be assigned to cover college football and basketball. But at that time, we weren’t assigned a specific team. The editors and writers would gather before the season and tab certain writers to cover certain games. When the end of the football season came along, I just happened to be up for the Holiday Bowl, so I had a seat at midfield, in the press box.
It was business as usual until Jim McMahon threw his “miracle” pass to Clay Brown to win the 1980 Holiday Bowl.
I don’t remember everything, but I do remember writers groaning in frustration, having nearly finished their game stories when McMahon’s game-tying pass occurred. The Cougars had come back in the final four minutes against SMU to win. Everyone on the field seemed happy but a little dazed. I didn’t get done writing and filing my stories until about 6 a.m. the next day (we had afternoon newspaper deadlines back then).
It was also coincidental that I got assigned to cover BYU in the NCAA East Regional the next March.
What I remember about that run was that Ainge suffered back spasms earlier in the tournament and his status against Princeton was dubious. He was still touchy when the Cougars played UCLA. Then came the game vs. the Irish.
During the final timeout Steve Trumbo – a funny, likable guy – seemed to be enjoying the moment, looking into the stands while Frank Arnold tried to keep their attention. One player would later tell me that Trumbo caught none of the instructions as he looked around, so Ainge just told him as they broke the huddle to just make sure they got the ball to him.
Done and done.
Mostly, though, I remember thinking about both games and telling myself, yeah, this is good story material. But I also anticipated a lot of those moments would come along. Here it is, three decades later, and I don’t think I’ve had a year like that.
There have been equally interesting stories to cover, such as the Jazz’s trips to the NBA Finals, Utah’s Final Four appearance and several others. I had up-front seats to those, too.
But those two last-second, post-season moments for BYU in the same year were something unique.
And something I won’t likely see again.
Here’s to all those who snap photos and take videos of every little thing.
Sometimes the moments don’t come around again.