Seeing his poetry prof, who happens to be the school's president as well, what's a guy to do? Here it was at last--definitive proof of Georgetown University's basketball prominence, a victory three days ago over Louisville that put the Hoyas in tonight's national championship game against North Blessed Carolina.
So, dripping out of a shower, a Georgetown poetry student/forward said to Father Timothy Healy, "This takes care of that seventh- and eighth-place bullfeathers." Not in those exact words.
And tonight, not No. 1 but a glorious No. 2, Georgetown's proud warriors sat in silence as that poetry prof again came to the locker room, this time in the melancholy moments after the 63-62 defeat.
"Thank you," Father Healy told them. "In 200 years, our university never came this close."
One other thing, this with a smile: "Albuquerque is another game," the president said.
Whatever happens in the 1983 NCAA championship game at Albuquerque, tonight's game was for the memory books. From time to time, in ways few things do, a sports team captures the hearts of folks. One of those hard-bitten Washington Post editor types turned his Lou Grant scowl on a sports columnist last week and said, "Good for Georgetown. This damn town needs something to cheer about."
They call Dean Smith the music man because, ta ta, he's too good for words. The North Carolina coach sang celebrations tonight, saying his team's second half was the best of the season. This is his first national championship after losing three title games, disappointments near-consuming. And when the music man at last had won, who embraced him for half a minute, who whispered in his ear, saying things "too mushy" to repeat?
The Georgetown coach, John Thompson, did.
In defeat, grace. In victory all season, the coach and his Hoyas were heroes in a city of survivors and basketball players.
A mostly black basketball team representing a mostly white university in a mostly black city that is the capital of a mostly white country presents a spider's web of sociological threads so intertangled we'll never figure out why they lead where they do. They lead to chic Georgetown cocktail parties, they lead to Duke's shoeshine place on 13th Street, they lead to Capitol Hill and to cracked asphalt playgrounds.
It's easy enough, though, to say what these threads add up to; they make a velvet cord that binds a lot of different people together, if only fleetingly. "It's great to be proud of something," Healy said today. "One of the great human beauties is someone who does something well, whether it's something so complex as writing a good paragraph or as simple as playing tennis. Watching these things is reaffirmation of human values. It's a shared pride at how good people can be at doing things. Doing anything very, very well just enlarges the soul."
Some serious soul-enlarging, then, has gone on at Georgetown in the last couple weeks as the Hoyas won 10 straight games to gain the national championship game. Everything that makes this team special has been there for examination under the pressure of immediate elimination, sport's sternest test of strength.
In 1943, when the tournament was an unappreciated infant, Georgetown made it to the NCAA final, losing to Wyoming. No other Washington team ever made it so far, and 10 years ago only the most foolish of Georgetown zealots would have dreamed of making it so far again. Quixote turning his lance on a windmill made more sense than Georgetown's 3-23 team of 1972 ever rising up to face North By God Carolina for a national championship.
Wait a second. In that dear departed time when Richard Nixon sent in plays for George Allen, there was one man--one only--who believed Georgetown someday might have a basketball team.
"Just win some games and get us a few NIT bids," said the university president, Father Robert Henle.
That one man was Henle's new coach, John Thompson, who heard the president's modest orders and said, "If I don't do any better than that, you should fire me."
Thompson's second season, someone hung a sign in McDonough Arena saying, "Thompson the nigger flop must go."
His third season, Georgetown didn't go to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), a loser's deal. It went to the NCAA, and on its fifth trip to the winner's tournament Georgetown made it to the final eight teams alive. That was 1980. Now, in his 10th season and averaging more than 20 victories a year, Thompson put his team in the tournament championship game.
How'd it feel, someone asked, to be the first black coach to make it so far in the NCAA tournament?
"I resent the hell out of that question," Thompson roared. "It implies I am the first black man to be accomplished enough and intelligent enough to do this. It is an insult to my race. There have been plenty of others who could have got here if they had been given the opportunities they deserved. That question is very offensive to me."
Once upon a melancholy time, our town's black athletes had nowhere to go but away to make the big time. Elgin Baylor went to Seattle, Dave Bing took off to Syracuse, John Thompson left his aching mother and father to go to Providence.
This was 25 years ago, 20 years ago, forever ago, and today, when little children bounce a ball on the gravelly concrete outside McDonough Gym, John Thompson goes outside to watch. No one watched him, and he remembers that. So he watches and talks. He left poverty, he didn't forget it.
A great coach imprints his character on his team. So it is no wonder that Georgetown's Hoyas are not the cheaters that Notre Dame's Digger Phelps popped off about this week. Thompson's players, like him, are models of discipline and selflessness, determination and--
"Guts," said sophomore guard Gene Smith.
Winning 30 games with a great 7-foot center is no big deal, perhaps, unless your 7-foot center has endured abuse such as playing in his hometown with 4,000 Boston College students chanting, "Ewing can't read." Maybe 30 victories is a cinch, unless your big guy has had someone threaten to kill him.
Pat Ewing played well always.
Winning 30 games is no big deal, for sure, if you have a roster full of Digger Phelps' alleged $10,000-a-year stars. But what if three of your starters had only a handful of scholarship offers? Georgetown's Eric Smith, Mike Hancock and Eric Floyd caused no crooks to break the bank in pursuit of their talents.
Only John Thompson wanted Ed Spriggs. The big senior off the bench played no school ball, only the cracked-asphalt kind. He was 22 when Thompson talked him into leaving a post office job. The coach that Smith said should run for president someday came to Spriggs preaching education.
"Roll the dice with me," Thompson said.
So tonight, at 26, after answering the demands of a demanding coach, Spriggs played 30 minutes in a national championship game before 61,612 people, three of them wearing wonderfully lettered sweat shirts.
One shirt said, "Ed Spriggs is my nephew." The next, on a younger woman, said, "Ed Spriggs is my cousin." And on the youngest woman: "Ed Spriggs is mine."
"We worked hard all year," Spriggs said, "and we were just a basket away from being the NCAA champs."
He liked that. Spriggs said now he'll go home and graduate. Then he'll go looking for a job. "One that pays money," he said.