April 1st, 1985. 25 years ago to the day. The 1985 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship was played in Rupp Arena, in Lexington, Kentucky. The measley, woefully inadequate Villanova Wildcats were going to get crushed, embarrassed, and destroyed by the mighty Georgetown Hoyas, led by unstoppable center Patrick Ewing. Georgetown was going to capture its 2nd consecutive National Championship and become the dynasty of the 1980s. April Fools?
Villanova, led by a fiery Italian coach in Rollie Massimino, pulled off arguably the greatest upset in the history of sports. This team was too small, wasn’t skilled enough, and didn’t deserve to be on the same stage as Georgetown. No one except the Villanova family, the players, and the coaches thought the team had a chance. Jim Boeheim, coach of conference foe Syracuse, was the only coach interviewed who gave Nova any chance in the game. Boston Herald columnist DG FitzMaurice said ” . . . in the spirit of humanitarianism . . . I must demand that tonight’s championship game be canceled. Just hold the coronation as planned, send the Villanova kids out for a hot meal, and God bless” (philly.com). The “Villanova kids” were sent out alright, but as NCAA National Champions. The team shot 22-28 from the field (78.57%) en route to a 66-64 win to capture the National Championship. Nova was able to get Patrick Ewing in foul trouble very early in the 2nd half, and tied the mighty Hoyas in rebounding (17 for both teams). Nova also was able to penetrate the Georgetown zone as well and consistently get to the free throw line, where the team went 22-27 from the line, only a slight percentage improvement (81.48) over the team’s field goal percentage (78.57). Patrick Ewing knew he would walk off the floor for the final time as a Georgetown Hoya that night, but he was supposed to have a small piece of the basketball net in his hand. Instead, Ed Pinckney had that piece of net in his hand, and longtime Villanova trainer Jake Nevin was wearing that net around his head. It was Villanova’s first National Championship in Men’s Basketball, and was the first Final Four appearance since Jack Kraft coached the team in 1971.
For Villanova fans, this is the day we all wait for each year. A day to celebrate the accomplishment by this tight-knit, team-oriented group of basketball players. The team that was an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and the team that was embarrassed by Pittsburgh in the final regular season game. A day to celebrate a non-conventional coach that wasn’t always loved at Villanova, but the man who was able to get the best out of each and every player on the team. A day to celebrate Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain, Harold Pressley, Harold Jenson, Chuck Everson, Dwight Wilbur, Mark Plansky, RC Massimino, and Steve Pinone, the players who contributed to that April 1st National Championship victory. A day to celebrate Al Severance, longtime head coach who led the Cats to the Final Four in 1939. He died that morning in Lexington. A day to celebrate Jake Nevin, who followed the team around for each game even though his health was failing. The fieldhouse on campus was named in his honor the following December after his death.
It is simply a day to remember and celebrate what those men did for their own legacies and for the legacy of Villanova University. April 1st, 1985, an April Fools Day that will live forever.