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Remembering some ‘Madness’ from the 1970s

Once again, March Madness is upon us.

It has become a sporting event that draws in the non-sports world along the same lines of the Super Bowl.

Everyone fills out some type of bracket, right? Even if we make our picks based on team colors and nicknames, we all want to be part of the “Madness.”

Growing up, the NCAA tournament to me was a unique basketball experience in which we began to recognize relatively unknown college stars, many of whom became familiar names in the NBA.

This latest installment of my look back at YESTERDAY - a trip back in time to the late 1960s, the 70s and the early 80s - is a recollection of the NCAA tournament in the 1970s, as well as some items that emerged during the period.

This decade also saw a number of “big men,” who played prominent roles for their teams and went on to become stars in the ABA and NBA. They became the faces of numerous Sports Illustrated covers.

It started with the 1970 tournament, which included just 25 teams from the East, Mideast, Midwest, and West regions.

Little-known centers Artis Gilmore of Jacksonville, and Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure, splashed onto the scene.

Remember the slander 7-2 Gilmore with the afro, goatee, and the one-handed grasp of the ball, and the 6-10 Lanier, who looked like a defensive tackle who also had a left-handed hook and size 22 sneakers? People forget Lanier had career averages of 27 points and 15 rebounds a contest.

Think back to the UCLA Bruins, with the power-blue uniforms and the bright yellow lettering that seemed to leave one mesmerized. Stoic John Wooden led from the sidelines, and he would go on to rule college basketball with 10 titles during that era.

Sidney Wicks was the rugged-looking, 6-9 power forward who won the Outstanding Player Award in 1970 before Bill Walton’s run began. Who was the leading scorer of the 1970 tournament? Does Notre Dame’s Austin Carr ring a bell?

NBC broadcast the games with Curt Gowdy and Jim Simpson with the call. Simpson certainly was one of the more underrated announcers during the decade. Dick Enberg and Billy Packer first teamed together in 1976.

A lost fact is that the championship game and a consolation game were both played on a Saturday afternoon from 1969-72. I can recall watching both of them on a basketball-filled day.

In 1973, the first Monday night championship game was played with UCLA outlasting Memphis State in the final behind Walton.

In 1974, North Carolina State ended the UCLA run, and a new college star, David Thompson, surfaced at the forefront.

Thompson became famous for beginning the trend of the “alley-oop” dunk and gained the name of “Skywalker” before Michael Jordan ruled the air above the rim.

Most people forget Thompson was only 6-4, but could dunk with the best of them. Didn’t we all try to be Thompson on the playground?

Besides Thompson, NC State unveiled 7-2 center Tom Burleson, who was as dominating as his peers, and 5-7 guard Monte Towe, who was relentless as an attack dog and could launch shots from long range.

The following year in 1975, the tournament field jumped from 25 to 32 teams.

One often forgotten big man was Indiana’s 6-10 Kent Benson, who led the Hoosiers to the 1976 NCAA championship at the Spectrum. Benson’s cast included Quinn Buckner and Scott May, and was led by legendary coach Bobby Knight. Indiana beat Michigan, who was paced by Phil Hubbard.

The decade ended with a fantastic finale that featured Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird, a pair who would go on to redefine the NBA in the 1980s. Johnson and his group had a little too much firepower in a 75-64 victory. Bird suddenly became a household name.

Local Hoops ... Those who were local college basketball fans in the 1970s had to at one point or another think back to the Big 5 games from Penn’s Palestra on Channel 17 on a Saturday night.

Al Meltzer and Bob Vetrone were the announcers, but the most memorable moments were the camera angles from above, and the sound of the cowbells from the crowd. There also were the streamers that would be launched before and after the games.

A Legendary Basketball Shadow ... I couldn’t finish this column without mentioning “The White Shadow,” a classic sports TV show that debuted in 1978 and ended in 1981.

Ken Howard played Ken Reeves, a former Chicago Bulls player whose career was cut short due to a knee injury, and accepted a job as a head basketball coach at a mythical Carver High School, a ghetto-based school in Los Angeles.

The show had credible basketball scenes, and also dealt with real-life teenage issues. It also had great player nicknames such as Mario “Salami’ Pettrino, James “Hollywood” Heyward, Ricardo “Go-Go” Gomez, and Curtis “CJ” Jackson.

Set The Pace ... Does everyone remember the AMC Pacer? It was the big, square-type car that was on the market from 1975-80. Did anyone have one, or know of anyone who did?

The Pacer was recognized for its wide seats, and for only having two doors. It was streamlined, and didn’t contain many of the accessories of other cars. The Pacer was a precursor for the Gremlin, which was also unique in many ways.

Don’t Drink The Water ... On this date in 1975, the Doobie Brothers topped the charts with “Black Water,” which evolved into a classic for the long-running group.

The song was sandwiched around Olivia Newton-John’s “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adore You.” Newton-John had just burst onto the scene before she gained superstardom as a co-star with John Travolta in “Grease” the following year.

McDonald’s March ... Mid-March always brought the thought of McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes to our youth. Those green-colored shakes were a gimmick as a basic vanilla shake colored green with a mint twist, but they were still a must.

A leprechaun was in the ads as well, as Ronald McDonald and a green Grimace. I believe we all have had our share of those, and we still buy them once in a while.