March 14, 1981: When Madness Began

March 14, 1981: When Madness Began

The last shot fell at a little past three on a Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles. Rolando Blackman, a willowy 6-foot-6 Kansas State senior from Panama by way of the Bronx, pounded three dribbles to the right baseline and rose quietly off the floor before stroking a jumper that gave the Wildcats a 50-48 lead over Oregon State with two seconds to play in their NCAA tournament game at Pauley Pavilion. Oregon State was ranked No. 2 in the nation after spending much of the regular season at No. 1, and now was almost certain to exit the tournament without winning a game. NBC play-by-play announcer Jay Randolph shouted his call -- "A 16-footer from the deep right corner has put the Wildcats on top!'' -- but his voice is scarcely audible on the game DVD beneath a thunderous explosion of noise. Oregon State missed a long heave at the horn and then came another roar.

It was the concluding act in a daylong drama that stands as one of the seminal moments in what has come to be known -- and trademarked by the NCAA -- as March Madness. By the time Blackman's floater dropped through the net, two other games had ended in upsets at the buzzer. Early in the afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, a DePaul junior point guard nicknamed "Money,'' because he was so clutch under pressure, had missed a free throw that he would never forget, even as he later spent more than six years in prison before turning 40. Less than a minute before the Blackman basket, in Austin, Texas, an Arkansas guard named Ulysses C. (U.S.) Reed had made what is likely the only half-court, game-winning shot (so close, Gordon Hayward) in NCAA tournament history, bringing down defending national champion Louisville and keeping the Cardinals from what might have been four Final Fours in four seasons.

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