It was supposed to be a coronation. Georgetown was to be crowned king of college basketball, a team for the ages and forever.
But someone forgot to tell Villanova. Someone forgot to tell little Rollie Massimino not to coach the game of his life on the night of his life. Someone forgot to tell Ed Pinckney and Gary McLain and Dwayne McClain that this was not supposed to be the night of their lives, the night they achieved the impossible.
For 40 minutes, Villanova played as close to a perfect basketball game as has ever been played in a national championship game. And yet, the Wilcats' 66-64 victory was also a measure of Georgetown's greatness because it took perfection to defeat the Hoyas.
For Coach John Thompson and for Patrick Ewing this was to be the night they stamped their names in the history books, winning a second straight national championship and doing it in the dominating way that has marked Ewing's four years at Georgetown.
But Pinckney, who has played against Ewing 12 times, looked him right in the eye all night, never backed off a step and made every big play. And Harold Jensen, the sophomore guard who made the shot that put Villanova ahead for good with 2:36 left in the game, just kept his baby face frozen and made one shot after another.
And so, the impossible happened. And, when the clock hit zero, the three seniors stood in a circle under the basket, hugging one other and crying, not believing what they had done. "Look at the scoreboard, look at it," Pinckney said, pointing. "Everybody said Georgetown wins, Georgetown wins. April Fools everybody!"
And then they all hugged again, even as Thompson was hugging Ewing at the other end of the court, forcing a smile through the disappointment that will make this night one he will often relive.
"I'm proud of my kids," Thompson said with justification. "They played hard. Villanova just shot the ball unbelievably well. If I had to lose to somebody I'm glad it was to Massimino, that damn Italian."
Massimino began the biggest day of their lives with tragedy. Early this morning, Al Severance, who coached at Villanova for 25 years, was found dead of an apparent heart attack in his hotel room here.
The Wildcats were uncanny with their shooting. Twenty-eight shots and 22 went in. Twenty-two of 27 from the foul line. As close to perfect as a basketball team can play. And it had to be that way because Georgetown is a great basketball team that shot 55 percent tonight.
"They played great," Massimino said. "But for tonight, we were as good as they were. After our mass today, I told the kids to go to their rooms for 15 minutes and just think about playing this game to win, not playing it not to lose. I just had a good feeling when we came over here. The last time we played them, we were ahead with three minutes left."
Perhaps his most significant accomplishment tonight was not the new alignment he came up with to deal with Georgetown's pressure as much as it was his ability to convince his players they could play with the Hoyas for 40 magical minutes.
"At halftime, when we were up one (29-28), I told the team, 'You are as good as they are tonight, now there's no question about it. Now, we just have to go out and win.' "
And that is what Villanova did. Georgetown was playing for posterity tonight, playing for a place in history alongside Oklahoma State, San Francisco, Kentucky, Cincinnati and UCLA. Those were the only schools to have won back-to-back championships. Thompson's name would have gone on to the same page next to Hank Iba, Adolph Rupp, Ed Jucker and John Wooden. Ewing would have been remembered along with Bill Russell, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.
The Wildcats played for none of those things. They played for one chance, one moment they will remember always. "We will be remembered," Massimino said, "for beating one of the greatest teams of all time."
And that is as it should be. Georgetown won 121 games in Ewing's four years, more than any team in any four-year period. The two national championship games it lost were two of the best ever played.
Tonight does not lessen the greatness of Thompson and Ewing. Together, they were one of the greatest forces in the history of the game, an anomaly, two huge black men becoming the darlings of an almost all-white school.
Villanova deserves all the praise that will now come its way. But the Hoyas deserve to be remembered as the team that made Villanova play so memorably to achieve the impossible. No one shoots 79 percent in the national championship game. Players such as Jensen, who less than a month ago thought himself a failure, don't shoot five for five from the field, four for five from the line and score 14 points with the entire country watching in disbelief.
"Coach Mass' never gave up on me when I was ready to give up on myself," Jensen said. "I thought I was letting him down; he told me I wasn't to just go out and play."
For 40 minutes tonight, both teams went out and played the game as wonderfully as can be . Everyone in Rupp Arena, including the Hoyas, knew the Wildcats could not keep up their pace, that they had to turn human. Even Thompson thought it had to happen.
With 9:34 left, after the Hoyas had gone ahead, 42-41, on David Wingate's jump shot, Massimino called time to settle his team down. As Thompson sent his players back to the court, he said to them, "They're tiring; let's work on them now."
Georgetown never quit, making plays right until the buzzer. But by the last minute, Villanova's players had that look one sees when destiny has taken over, when they know this is their moment.
When it ended, Pinckney was on the press table, screaming, crying. McClain was on the floor, pounding it, crying, too. And McLain was in his coach's arms, the two cocky, strutting bantams who did what couldn't be done.
Georgetown must be remembered for its brilliance, but also for the brilliance it forced on Villanova. The Hoyas, with their one national title, are still a team that should be remembered for a long, long time.
But tonight, Villanova produced a performance that should be remembered forever.