was in college, marveling at the incredible run of North Carolina State. My friends and I were huge basketball fans, especially at our own school, but once the Ball State Cardinals were done for the season, we turned to the bigger schools and the NCAA tournament.
In 1983, the Wolfpack were decent, but they were nowhere near the best team in the land. That was Houston. The Cougars went by Phi Slamma Jamma becasue they slam dunked the ball so often in an era where dunking was not an every-second occurrance.
State clawed their way through the Atlantic Coast Conference, actually made the NCAA tournament field and methodically began picking off teams they were not supposed to beat. The team's colorful coach, Jim Valvano, took his team all the way to the championship game against the number one team in the land -- Houston.
The Wolfpack took the opening tip and scored immediately with a slam dunk -- usually not their forte. For the rest of the first half, the underdogs kept the Cougars at bay, piling up an eight-point lead at halftime. But Houston came out smoking in the second half and soon asserted control. But the 'Pack wouldn't quit, and with less than a minute left, the score was tied and State had the ball. Playing for the last shot, the Wolfpack almost frittered away the entire remaining time with Dereck Whittenberg picking up the ball near half-court with less than five seconds remaining and heaving a desperation shot at the basket. The shot fell about a foot short, but it didn't fall all the way to the floor. Lorenzo Charles grabbed the ball as it was passing in front of the rim, turned and slammed it through with two seconds left. The Houston players were so stunned that no one thought to call time out. The game was over, and Valvano was running wildly around the floor looking for someone to hug.
I remember so much about that game, even though it happened 25 years ago. It's the stuff of legend. Two years later, Villanova did something similar when they upset Georgetown to win in 1985 and I remember some of the same things. But it's not just wild upsets. In 1979 it was Magic vs. Bird as Michigan State took out Indiana State. In 1982, Fred Brown made a pass to the wrong team as his Georgetown Hoyas were coming down to take the winning shot. These are a part of my memory.
Yet I find it interesting that I can remember vividly the 1979, 1982, 1983, and 1985 NCAA Championship Games but I couldn't tell you much of anything about 1980, 1981, 1984 or 1986. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has something to do with the game itself. Watching the back-and-forth struggles and battling for supremacy make things memorable. There may have been high drama during the years I can't remember off-hand, but for some reason it hasn't stuck with me.
I remember other battles from sports. Billy Buckner lets a grounder go through his legs. Dwight Clark makes "The Catch." The "Do You Believe In Miracles" USA hockey gold medal game, The "Thrilla in Manilla", Boise State's Statue of Liberty touchdown win... the battles make memories.
I think it's the same way with life. The episodes in our lives that make the most impact on us are the ones that involve battles. There's something about fighting through adversity that makes an impression on the ol' memory bank. That struggle you find yourself in will affect you. You'll remember the hard times, but you will also remember the victory that was won. Some may seem like hollow victories or even complete losses, but if you are still alive and kicking afterward, there is victory to be found. After all, God has preserved you for this moment, for this time. Your victory may be found in how He helped you through, in how you learned from tragedy or from your mistakes.
There are some who would want life to be easy, without battles. I think that sort of life wouldn't teach us much of anything. We wouldn't learn how God strengthens us. We would see how He upholds us. Our character wouldn't grow. Neither would our perseverence. We wouldn't be all that God wants us to be.
It's the battles that make us better. It's the battles that draw us closer to God. It's the battles that make memories because battles with God lead to the ultimate victory.