Like everyone else, my head is still spinning over UMBC’s unbelievable one-sided victory over No. 1 Virginia on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
There has never been a more unlikely upset in the history of the men’s tournament, but there have been other Cinderella teams and I was an eye witness to the magical “Cal State Disneyland” run that came within a few seconds of the Final Four.
Well, that’s what they called Cal State Fullerton when the Titans knocked off two highly ranked teams to reach the Elite Eight in 1978… when they weren’t calling us “Cal State Who?”
In fact, it was also on March 16 — 40 years to the day before UMBC’s surreal 74-54 victory — that a bunch of tired students arrived at the “The Pit” at New Mexico University fresh off a 20-hour rooter bus ride from Fullerton to Albuquerque.
None of us were planning to stay the whole weekend, but the Titans had already shocked New Mexico in the first round of the then-32-team tournament, knocking the fifth-ranked Lobos out the week before they were to host the regional semi-finals and finals.
So, for obvious reasons, the Titans weren’t exactly a popular addition to the regional lineup when they took the floor, seemingly overmatched again by 11th-ranked San Francisco, which featured all-everything 7-foot center Bill Cartwright.
Cartwright would go on to win three NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, but he would not go on to the Elite Eight on this night. The Titans fell behind by double digits, as they had against the Lobos, and stormed back to deliver a second shocking upset.
The same night, the No. 1-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks sent No. 4-ranked UCLA home, which spawned this headline in the Los Angeles Times the next morning:
“Get this, UCLA’s out, Fullerton’s in!”
The only thing that stood between Fullerton and the Final Four was a star-studded Arkansas team that had been elevated to the top spot in the Mar. 13 Associated Press poll. That’s all.
And, when the regional final tipped off two days later, the Titans looked like they would finally come back to earth and land hard. The Razorbacks, led by future NBA stars Sidney Montcrief and Ron Brewer, burst out to a big lead and went into intermission up by 15 points.
Maybe it’s just legend, but Titans coach Bob Dye was reputed to have gatherer his team in the locker room for a very short pep talk.
“Ok guys, we’ve got them right where we want them.”
The Titans stormed back again and came downcourt in the final seconds with a chance to knock out the top-ranked team in the nation, but Fullerton guard Keith Anderson was mugged and stripped of the ball as he drove the lane and the Razorbacks held on to reach the Final Four.
I’m still waiting for the whistle.
Fortunately, there are no YouTube videos available of the television broadcast of that game, or you might see me straining underneath one of the four shirtless fans with CSUF painted on their bare chests. Don’t remember much about the rest of that day, but the letdown quickly gave way to the knowledge that we had just seen something that might never happen again.
Guess we can never say never again.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.