TGS SPECIAL REPORT...OH MY! TRIBUTE TO DICK ENBERG
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
ED NOTE: This week, we were planning to run our first “Bracketology” report of the season, but the passing last Thursday of sports broadcasting legend Dick Enberg has altered our plans. Since we had followed Enberg’s career closely after he burst upon the scene in Los Angeles in the mid ‘60s, and considered his voice to be the soundtrack of our lives, we wanted to run some sort of tribute to this most-versatile of announcers who had been an accompanyist to some of the most-memorable sports moments for more than a half century.
Thus, as our tribute to Enberg, we are re-running the following piece, Shake Down The Thunder–Part II, from these pages of TGS Hoops in January of 2012 when we recalled how Notre Dame managed to bookend the great UCLA basketball 1971-74 win streak of 88 games. Enberg was at the microphone for Eddie Einhorn’s TVS for both of those games at South Bend, the last Bruins loss before the streak began, in January of ‘71 when Austin Carr scored 46 for the Irish, and when Digger Phelps’ Domers, in perhaps the most incredible last 3:18 in college hoops history, would score the last 12 points to end the UCLA streak at 88 games. Enberg’s play-by-play commentary, alongside color man Hot Rod Hundley, from that epic 71-70 Notre Dame win in ‘Jan. ‘74, was one of the most unforgettable sequence of descriptions in college hoops broadcast history and served as the part of the narrative for this Part II piece, which remains one of our all-time favorites from the pages of TGS. And a fitting tribute to this once-in-a-lifetime announcer whose presence not only complemented big games and bigger moments, but enhanced them.
(We also highly recommend Enberg’s 2004 biography, appropriately entitled Enberg’s trademark Oh, My!, for further enlightenment on this sports broadcasting legend.)
Our first “Bracketology” update of the season will now appear in next week’s Issue No. 13 of TGS Hoops.
The Johnny Dee regime at Notre Dame never hit another crescendo as it did against UCLA that late January afternoon in 1971 when Austin Carr scored his 46 points. Everything else seemed anticlimactic thereafter for that Fighting Irish side, even the NCAA Tournament, when Notre Dame was placed in the Midwest Regional. After staving off Southwest Conference champ TCU by a 102-94 count in the first round, Notre Dame advanced to regionals at Wichita, but was upset by Maury John’s Drake Bulldogs, 79-72, at the Sweet 16. Completing the ignominy was a wild 119-106 loss to Guy Lewis’ Houston Cougars in the regional consolation game (yes, they used to have such games).
An era ended that weekend in Wichita for the Irish, as the bulk of that year’s team, including key seniors Carr, Collis Jones, and Sid Catlett, would all graduate. Moreover, Dee had become burned out on the college coaching grind, but fortunately had another career option. A practicing attorney, Dee retired from the sidelines after Carr’s senior season and moved to Denver, where he enjoyed a lucrative career as a member of a law firm that did most of its business by representing the energy industry.
Tabbed to pick up where Dee left off in South Bend was brash, 29-year-old Richard “Digger” Phelps, a former Penn assistant who had moved to Fordham and taken the Rams to the NCAA Tournament in 1971, his only year in charge in the Bronx. That team, led by explosive guard Charlie Yelverton, fashioned a 26-3 mark and made it as far as the Sweet 16, where it lost 85-75 to a Villanova side that would advance all of the way to that year’s Finals behind the great Howard Porter. Phelps’ last game at Fordham was a 100-80 regional consolation win over Frank McGuire’s South Carolina.
Still, the Phelps hiring was considered a bit of a gamble by AD Moose Krause, who had never entrusted one of his flagship sports programs to a coach as young as the chap they called Digger (a nickname affixed to him because his dad happened to be an undertaker).
Phelps’ first Notre Dame team in 1971-72, however, was a mess, depleted by graduation and beset with injuries, including a season-long illness that sidelined sophomore F John Shumate. One of Digger’s early games came against an Indiana team led by another first-year coach, a fellow named Bob Knight, in the dedication game of the Hoosiers’ brand new Assembly Hall. Phelps, in what could only be described as a suicidal resolve, decided to press Knight’s IU all evening, but the strategy backfired miserably in a humiliating 94-29 defeat in which the Hoosiers scored layup after layup. Notre Dame also lost by a 58-point margin (114-56) at UCLA, led by sophomore Bill Walton, shortly thereafter, and soon Phelps was reduced to soliciting walk-ons, so acute had become the injury problem on his depleted roster. With football wide receiver Willie Townsend in the starting lineup, Phelps even tried to stall UCLA in the return match at South Bend, but all it did was hold the final score to 57-32 in the Bruins’ favor.
In the meantime, UCLA had been winning consistently since the loss in 1971 to Austin Carr and the Irish, proceeding to claim that year’s NCAA title, and the next one as well in 1972 when the sophomore-led “Walton Gang” burst upon the scene. The Bruins kept winning, undefeated since the ‘71 loss at Notre Dame as they swept to titles that year, ‘72, and ‘73, while the series vs. the Irish had expanded to home-and-home matchups each season beginning in 1971-72.
The 1973 game at South Bend was a landmark one as well, as the Bruins used that occasion to finally break the all-time consecutive win mark of 60 games set by USF (featuring Bill Russell’s teams) in the mid 1950s, winning handily, 82-63. By the end of that campaign, the win streak had reached into the stratosphere at an astounding 75 games. With Walton’s cast returning for another go in their senior seasons of 1973-74, it was assumed by most that UCLA would probably go unbeaten again and extend the win streak to an astounding 105 games by the time “Big Red” would leave campus.
Phelps, however, had quickly rebooted the Irish after that disastrous 6-20 campaign in 1971-72. Things didn’t start too well the following year as the Irish stumbled to a 1-6 start, and the grumbling could be heard all of the way to Chicago, as Domers wondered if Digger might be better suited for embalming than coaching. But getting Shumate healthy provided a presence in the post for 1972-73, while classmate Gary Brokaw emerged as one of the top guards in the Midwest. Things began to pick up in early January, and Notre Dame forged a significant turnaround when upsetting Al McGuire’s Marquette and ending the Warriors’ (as they were then called) 81-game home win streak at Milwaukee Arena, with guard Dwight Clay launching the final dagger with a baseline jumper in the final seconds for a 71-69 win. The Irish entered that year’s NIT with momentum and took it all of the way to the final game, beating Southern Cal, Louisville, and North Carolina along the way. Although Virginia Tech stole a 92-91 overtime win in the finale on a last-second jumper by G Bobby Stevens, Phelps knew that the following year could be something special with the bulk of his team returning en masse.
Although the Irish were still flying slightly under the radar when that 1973-74 season began, national attention instead focused more upon UCLA and a couple of ACC powerhouses, Lefty Driesell’s Maryland, and Norm Sloan’s NC State (featuring David Thompson), both of which would be on the Bruins’ schedule in December. Driesell’s team almost ended the UCLA win streak, losing only 65-64 at Pauley Pavilion, setting up the UCLA-NC State showdown in mid-December at a neutral site at the old Arena in St. Louis, site of the previous season’s Final Four. It was not lost upon the media that the Bruins and Wolfpack could have made for an all-time final the previous March, as both were unbeaten, though NCS was on NCAA probation and barred from the Big Dance. While many suggested the downfall of UCLA was imminent with NC State off probation, someone forgot to tell the Bruins, who buried the Wolfpack with a second-half blitz to win 84-66. Moreover, Walton had missed almost half of that game due to foul trouble, and NC State still couldn’t forge a breakthrough.
If ever a college hoop team looked like it couldn’t be stopped, it was that Bruin edition in late 1973.
After dusting off NC State, the Bruins continued on their merry unbeaten run, pounding most foes, including a good Michigan team (led by Campy Russell) in the Bruin Classic finale by a 90-70 count. Meanwhile, Notre Dame would be the next unbeaten in the queue, waiting for its crack at UCLA. The Irish ascended to the second spot in the polls, behind the Bruins, and the countdown began before Christmas in South Bend for the UCLA game on January 19.
Phelps had also added some new ingredients to the Irish mix in a potent freshman class led by 6-5 F Adrian Dantley, another in the Irish pipeline from Morgan Wooten’s DeMatha High in the Baltimore area.
By that time, the rivalry had begun to take flight, given a big boost by the Carr game three years earlier. Although UCLA had not lost to Notre Dame since, the series had become must-see stuff for college hoop aficionados, who could look forward to Eddie Einhorn’s TVS providing syndicated television coverage throughout the nation.
Indeed, there had developed an unmistakable electricity in the rivalry. If not a little nastiness. In the aforementioned game in which the Bruins broke USF’s 60-game win streak, HC John Wooden had walked to the Notre Dame bench in the second half and had admonished Phelps for the rough play Shumate was using on Walton. “Knock it off or I’ll put (Sven) Nater out there,” the Wizard warned Phelps, who was aware of the Bruin backup center’s reputation as a meat cleaver. Shumate summarily ceased the rough stuff with Walton.
The January ‘74 clash of the unbeatens in South Bend provided a fascinating contrast between the establishment of the sport, reflected in UCLA and Wooden, against college basketball’s nouveau riche, represented by Notre Dame and Phelps. It was the king against the aspiring heir to the throne.
Back in Los Angeles, the local television station carrying the UCLA games in those days, KTLA, had made something a habit since the Austin Carr game of 1971, which was the Bruins’ last defeat over a three-year period. In each of 1972 and ‘73, before the Bruin games at Notre Dame, KTLA would air highlights of the 1971 win by the Fighting Irish, complete with the call of the game by Dick Enberg and Hot Rod Hundley, as if to remind viewers what it was like to witness a UCLA setback. Once again in 1974, KTLA aired the highlights of the 1971 game before the Bruins-Irish showdown. It had been three years since UCLA had tasted defeat, and the win streak had mushroomed to 88 games as the Bruins readied for their Saturday afternoon test in South Bend. Meanwhile, Enberg and Hundley would again be courtside to describe the action, just as they were in 1971, ‘72, and ‘73, their presence now a fixture in the rivalry.
The Bruins entered South Bend having been in the Midwest for a few days, beating Iowa by a 66-44 count on Thursday night at Chicago Stadium. Walton, however, had missed that game and the two previous ones vs. Cal and Stanford due to a sore back courtesy of an awkward landing in a game at Washington State two weeks earlier. Soph Ralph Drollinger, who had filled in admirably when Walton got in foul trouble against NC State, again stepped into the breach in the big redhead’s absence, but Walton would be ready to go on Saturday at South Bend.
And so would the Notre Dame student body, which had supposedly gotten wind of Walton’s allergy to bee stings. There were occasions when the student section would do a mass imitation of buzzing bees to unnerve the big redhead, and one brave (or crazy?) ND student charged onto the court in pregame warm-ups, wearing a bee costume, pretending to sting Walton. Moreover, Domers everywhere in those days had the feeling they could beat anybody, especially after watching their football team march through the season unbeaten and claim the national title just a few weeks before in a thrilling Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in New Orleans.
No one also had to accuse Phelps of lacking confidence after he had his team practice cutting down the nets during the week!
Although one had to wonder what all of the hype had done to Notre Dame in the first 14 minutes of the game. The contest was chippy, with several near-skirmishes breaking out on almost every dead ball; contrary to perceptions, those Bruins liked to talk. Or perhaps Phelps had the Irish too hyped. But UCLA came out throwing serious leather and looked ready to score an early knockout, blazing to a 35-18 lead before Notre Dame knew what hit it. Phelps’ special strategies, including positioning Shumate behind Walton to prevent the lob pass, forcing the Bruin guards to Walton’s side of the floor to keep the ball away from smooth forward Keith Wilkes, and defending against Walton’s baseline move by forcing him to wheel to the middle instead, all seemed to be backfiring.
In fact, Walton, sore back and all, was on fire at the outset, hitting 12 of his first 13 shots, and the Irish were on the ropes.
Phelps, however, then made a shrewd move by inserting one of his freshman, point guard Ray (Dice) Martin, into the game, moving Clay over to a wing position, and Notre Dame suddenly climbed back into the game, within striking distance after closing the gap to 5 before halftime, then down 43-34 at the break. Moreover, the crowd was alive again, and even Enberg dropped a few trademark “Oh Mys!” into his colorful description of the action that had tightened considerably after the Bruins threatened to run away in the early going.
Still, UCLA didn’t appear especially threatened, maintaining its lead deep into the second half. A pair of Wilkes free throws, followed by a Tommy Curtis jump shot, put the Bruins up 70-59 with 3:22 to play. The lead appeared solid, and Phelps called a desperate timeout with 3:18 to play, looking for a miracle.
Oral Roberts couldn’t have done it any better.
It didn’t take long for the Irish to make their final charge. Shumate scored quickly after the timeout on a nifty inside move, cutting the deficit to 70-61, and immediately Phelps had the Irish using a full-court press, which forced a quick turnover and another bucket by Shumate to cut the lead to 70-63. The noise in the Athletic and Convocation Center, somewhat muted a few minutes earlier, raised its octave a few more levels when Irish pressure forced a steal in their own end, which Dantley took the other way for a layup.
70-65! The ACC rocked some more. Louder and louder it became, with Enberg’s description adding to the drama for the viewers at home with his highly-charged commentary that accentuated the unfolding drama.
Wooden, however, was not calling timeouts, and the Bruins looked to strike back quickly against Phelps’ press when Wilkes threw a deep pass to Curtis, who had streaked behind Martin and raced for an uncontested layup. Or so it seemed for a moment. The referee had waved off the bucket, citing Curtis for traveling after receiving the deep pass.
Oh my! Two minutes and twelve seconds still remained, and Notre Dame had the ball again!
Sensing the shift in momentum, the Irish aggressively looked to capitalize. Shumate, taking a pass at the high post, found Brokaw on the left wing, and the smooth guard dribbled toward the baseline, where he pulled up for a soft jumper over Wilkes, hitting nothing but net.
“70-67!,” exclaimed Enberg. “And they’re starting to believe that this is going to be the day at Notre Dame!”
UCLA was not looking at all comfortable against the ball pressure of the Irish, which, upon reflection, shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Unlike the Sidney Wicks-Curtis Rowe teams that preceded them, the “Walton Gang” had rarely been involved in any close games the previous 2 and a half seasons. When finally pressured in the late going during that early-season game vs. Maryland, these Bruins had nearly blown a late 65-57 lead, needing a steal by Dave Meyers in the final seconds to preserve a 1-point win. And now they seemed to be panicking once more, as the frenzied Notre Dame fans crowded closer and closer to the floor.
One minute and forty seconds still remained. The Irish deficit was only three, and the ACC was in near pandemonium.
Yet Wooden would still not call a timeout, and the Bruins could not effectively freeze the ball. Moreover, Walton was suddenly not getting any touches. Junior forward Meyers tried to stem the Irish flow, but he missed a short-range bank shot, and Shumate pulled down the rebound. Once downcourt, the Irish quickly found their money man, Brokaw, as Enberg provided the description. “They’re on their feet, over 11,000 here at Notre Dame! The Bruins lead by three...Brokaw...SCORES!” Brokaw had driven into the paint and lofted another soft jumper over Wilkes. “Look at this Irish crowd go crazy!,” said Hundley. The deficit had amazingly been cut to one point!
“One-oh-two, one-oh-one, one minute left!,” said Enberg excitedly as Curtis dribbled across the timeline, dogged by Brokaw. “70-69, UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in immediate jeopardy now!,” added the voice of the then-called California Angels. “The Irish need the ball...49 seconds remaining...Wilkes inside...he SCORES... but it’s a FOUL AGAINST WILKES OF UCLA!” Against pressure, Wilkes had driven to the bucket, but had hooked Dice Martin with his right arm and been called for the offensive foul!
Forty-five seconds remained. Phelps, sensing the surge of his team and UCLA wilting under it, did not bother to call a timeout. The Irish smelled blood and were ready to go for the throat, and Phelps was sharp enough to simply give his troops the green light to go.
As the camera panned to a nervous Wooden on the bench, Enberg framed the moment with a poignant comment. “John Robert Wooden, 63 years old... when he went into the US Navy in second World War, Digger Phelps was being born....63 and 32 years, the contrast between the veteran Wooden and the electric young coach of the Irish!” Brokaw dribbled from the left wing to near the top of the key, and Enberg counted down the seconds. “34, 33, 32, 31,” said Enberg, as Brokaw looped a pass deep into the right corner baseline, where the “Iceman” himself, Dwight Clay, was waiting in the same spot on the floor where he had broken Marquette’s home win streak the year before. “That’s CLAY...to SCORE!”
Indeed, Clay had buried his jumper from deep in the corner, almost as he was falling out of bounds, and the Irish amazingly had the lead. Enberg was certainly up to the moment as well. “The first time the Irish have led in the game, 71-70...TIMEOUT, UCLA!”
Wooden would come under criticism for waiting until Notre Dame had completed its rally before finally calling a timeout. The explanation the Wizard offered at the time was that he didn’t want to provide a psychological edge to the Irish by calling a timeout and acknowledging their momentum. Wooden did not err often, but most observers believe he overthought this particular situation.
Before UCLA inbounded the ball, Enberg took care of some TVS housekeeping duties by reporting that the Arkansas-Rice game, the second half of the TV doubleheader to be shown in the southwest, had a power outage, and that viewers in the region would instead be switched to the Missouri-Kansas State game (and a Wildcat team featuring a point guard named Lon Kruger). There were still 21 seconds for UCLA to regain the lead after calling the timeout, but the Bruins were a panicked bunch by that time as they sensed their 88-game win streak slipping away. “Notre Dame has 21 seconds to kill,” said Enberg, “and if they do, they will have signed the death warrant for the 88-game win streak of UCLA!”
Curtis dribbled the ball upcourt, hounded by Martin, and forced a pass to Walton near the left elbow of the key, which was deflected and almost intercepted by Shumate. Curtis retrieved the ball about 30 feet from the basket, but quickly forced a shot almost as awkward as the one Derrick Whittenburg would hoist in the last seconds for NC State in the title game vs. Houston nine years later. The long-range jumper missed badly, and after being batted around, landed in the hands of Notre Dame’s Brokaw, who lost the ball out of bounds. Six seconds remained, and UCLA had one more chance, with possession underneath the bucket.
The Bruins inbounded quickly, and Enberg’s description still rings for anyone who watched the drama unfold 38 (now almost 44) years ago.
“Notre Dame 71, UCLA 70...with six seconds left...into Walton, he CAN’T SCORE ...TRGOVICH...MEYERS...SHUUU-MATE...IT’S ALL OVER! THE NUMBER-ONE-RANKED BRUINS OF UCLA HAVE BEEN UPSET BY THE IRISH OF NOTRE DAME, 71-70! THE LONGEST WINNING STREAK IN COLLEGIATE SPORTS HISTORY HAS ENDED WHERE IT BEGAN THREE YEARS AGO!”
The result sent shockwaves through the college basketball world. Marquette’s Al McGuire, of all people, said that the loss “guaranteed” another UCLA title, because there was no way the Bruins would blow another game after losing one in that manner. But the UCLA Walton Gang had a fatal flaw that was exploited again in a similar scenario in the Final Four rematch against NC State at Greensboro. In another thriller, the Bruins had a seven-point lead in the second overtime, yet saw the Wolfpack chop down the lead in quick order, much as did Notre Dame in mid-January of that year, and emerge an 80-77 winner.
As for the Irish? Similar to 1971, the UCLA win would be hard to top. The next week, the teams played a rematch at Pauley Pavilion that the Bruins won handily, 94-75, reclaiming the top spot in the polls, and Notre Dame never really hit that high note again the rest of the season. Like three years earlier, the Irish were bounced at the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, this time in the Mideast Regional. After routing Fly Williams’ Austin Peay in the first round at Terre Haute, Notre Dame advanced to the regionals at Tuscaloosa, where it was KO’d by Campy Russell and Michigan 77-68.
Still, no one could ever take away what Notre Dame accomplished that January afternoon against UCLA, one of a series of upsets of number one teams that the Fighting Irish would deliver over a four-decade span, right up to last week’s shocker over top-ranked Syracuse (which had been upset by the Irish the week before this piece first ran in TGS in 2012). But 71-70 set the standard by which all others must compared. And as of yet, and for the foreseeable future, we can’t envision any upset coming even remotely close, in either its significance or drama.
Like Sports Illustrated said in its headline story about the game the following week, “After 88 Comes Zero.” It will be forever hard to top.
And thank you, Professor Enberg, for giving us a call we’ll never forget.
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