From our archives: When Indiana and UNC last played in Philly

NCAA Indiana North Carolina
Indiana beat North Carolina in the 1981 NCAA Tournament championship game at the Spectrum.

Friday night's North Carolina-Indiana game at the Wells Fargo Center will be the third all-time NCAA Tournament meeting between the powerhouse programs. The first was one of the most famous games in college basketball history: the 1981 national championship game at the Spectrum.

It has been 35 years since that historic contest, which became just as renowned for events off the court as for events on it. From legendary Indiana coach Bobby Knight throwing an opposing team's fan in a trash can to Ronald Reagan being shot on the day of the title game, there was no lack of drama.

Here's a look back at how the Inquirer and Daily News covered that wild weekend.


Indiana punched its ticket to the Final Four by beating St. Joe's in the East Regional final. The game was played at IU's fabled Assembly Hall, giving even more of an advantage to a Hoosiers squad that was already a strong favorite. The Hawks, meanwhile, were a Cinderella underdog.

Ultimately, it was no surprise that Knight's team steamrolled St. Joe's, 78-46.

The late, great Phil Jasner was there for the Daily News:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - When the poor man dreams, he does it with the understanding that, at any moment, he may awaken in a fierce, chilling swat. If he is not prepared, reality will greet him in the form of a gallows.

Yesterday's specter was the Indiana basketball team, floating through the sea of red that is Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers' imposing home court. The inscription they left on the St. Joseph's tombstone was 78-46.

Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon couldn't help praising Indiana:

The dissection was performed in IU's own laboratory, an arena draped in red NCAA and NIT championship banners, before 17,112 inflamed worshippers. However, it probably would not have mattered if the final of the NCAA Mideast Regional had been played in an asphalt parking lot at midnight before a crowd of two sleepy night watchmen.

That is because the Indiana team that is corning to Philadelphia for the Final Four is surging on a tidal wave of momentum right now. It is technically brilliant, superbly disciplined.

North Carolina beat Kansas State 82-69 in the West Regional final to set up an all-ACC Final Four showdown with Virginia. The Cavaliers, led by superstar center Ralph Sampson, beat Brigham Young 62-48 in the South Regional final.

Stan Hochman covered the Tar Heels' win for the Daily News:

SALT LAKE CITY - The ball was a tan, buttery blur. It zipped from Jim Braddock to Al Wood to James Worthy to Sam Perkins for a rim-rattling stuff. Wham, bam, thank you Sam.

Bud Shaw was courtside for the Daily News at Virginia-BYU:

ATLANTA - Ralph Sampson poked his head up between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Smokies, sneering down at the valley below. It was a clear day. There was reason to believe Ralph could see all the way to Philadelphia.

The Mormons had been in the valley earlier, carrying signs that read, "Smite Virginia." It was too tame to make a Palestra rollout, but it was as close as a good Mormon could come to a four-letter word.

Indiana's opponent at the Spectrum was to be Louisiana State, which won the Midwest Regional. The Daily News' Ray Didinger watched the Tigers' triumph:

Friday night. the Tigers bad a 23-point lead on Arkansas midway through the second half. They grew bored with the contest at that point and ho-hummed their way to a 72-56 victory.

YESTERDAY, THEY played a similar game against Wichita (26-7). They ran a 19-2 spurt in the first half - [Durand] Macklin tossing in 7 points and the Shockers were, well, in shock. The Wichita folks hadn't seen anything like it since the day the campus grain elevator blew up.


Once the Final Four was set, the excitement began to build.

The Inquirer's Gail Shister (yes, she was a sports writer back in the day) wrote a piece on an inside page highlighting the things to know about each of the teams. Notably, she included the hotel each team stayed at - information that would surely be kept a guarded secret today.

All four of the team hotels go by different names now than they did back then, though some are still recognizable.

Virginia stayed at a Marriott at City Avenue and Monument Road that has since been demolished and replaced by an office tower. (Hat tip to Pat McLoone and Laurie Conrad at the Daily News for helping me figure that out.)

North Carolina stayed at what is now the Sheraton at 36th and Chestnut in University City. It was a Hilton at the time.

Indiana stayed at the Bellevue-Stratford on Broad Street, which is now officially a Park Hyatt even though everyone still calls it the Bellevue.

LSU stayed at the Warwick on 17th Street just south of Walnut, near Rittenhouse Square. That's the only one of the four hotels that has kept its full historic name, though the word Radisson is now at the start of it.

When crunch time came at the end of the week, the teams weren't quite so public about their whereabouts. In fact, it seems some of them might have changed plans after the initial word got out. LSU, however, stayed in the city. As Phil Jasner wrote in the Daily News:

North Carolina was secluded in St. David's. Indiana tucked away in Cherry Hill. Virginia was up the Expressway, at the Marriott.

LSU? "We were out for a while, seeing the sights," bubbled Rudy Macklin, the Tigers' 6-7 forward. "We saw the Liberty Bell, a few museums, some famous old houses, whatever the tour guide thought was important."

Although the Tigers were staying loose, it was clear that they were the underdogs against Indiana. The Hoosiers simply proved to be too much in a 67-49 triumph. LSU was left reeling, as Dick Weiss wrote in the Daily News:

LSU must have thought it was on LSD.

No one, least of all Greg Cook, wanted to believe the bizarre hallucinations that were flashing before them during the second half of Indiana's 67-49 victory in the NCAA semifinals at the Spectrum.

When the fierce 6-10 center finally fouled out late the game, when the reality that he would not win a national championship finally sunk in, the Cookie Man finally broke into little pieces, sobbing uncontrollably into a towel at the end of the bench.

In the other semifinal, North Carolina beat Virginia to reach the title game for the third time in Dean Smith's tenure. But the Tar Heels had yet to win a championship for their superstar coach. That was the big talking point, as the Inquirer's Danny Robbins wrote:

North Carolina has won the race over the low hurdles. Now the Tar Heels face the high ones.

After two painful losses to Virginia, they have beaten the Cavaliers. 78-65, on no less a stage than the NCAA tournament semifinals at the Spectrum.

One goose egg is gone, and Dean Smith didn't, surprise anyone by beginning his postgame remarks with: "We will trade those other two for this one."

Now, what will he trade for a national championship?


Philadelphia was buzzing throughout the Final Four, as happens every time the city hosts a major NCAA event. On the morning after the semifinals, a story inside the Inquirer's sports section captured some of that energy. You can read the many funny anecdotes in it here. This is one highlight:

The bars at the Franklin Plaza Hotel, NCAA and press headquarters, opened early Friday and the bartenders reported a lively business.

One woman bartender was asked if that would indicate that those involved with college sports are heavy drinkers.

"Of course not," she said. "The drinkers are all reporters."

Some of that buzz wasn't FOR the better, though. In the hours after Indiana's win over LSU, one over-enthusiastic Tigers fan approached Knight to congratulate him - and ended up being thrown in a trash can by Knight because of it. The Inquirer's Mark Wagenveld had the story:

Victorious Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight was involved in an exchange of insults and shoving with an unidentified fan of defeated LSU last night in a hotel room - and the fan wound up in a garbage can. witnesses said.

The incident occurred about 7 p,m. as Knight and several friends were sitting around a table in a lounge at the Cherry Hill Inn, according to witnesses.

"I was there and I saw the whole thing," said Gaetano Gallo, 26, a freelance writer from Montreal here for the NCAA championships.

"This LSU fan recognized Knight and went up to him and congratulated him for yesterday's 67-49 win over LSU. Knight told htm. 'LSU was just bait for us.'

"The LSU guy then called him a jackass, and Knight physically, picked him up and threw him back, and the guy fell into a garbage can."

Not surprisingly, this became the big story on the off day between games. On Sunday afternoon, Knight took to the stage for a press conference and fired back. George Shirk and the great Chuck Newman had the Inquirer's account of Knight's remarks:

An angry Bobby Knight yesterday criticized a published account in The Inquirer of an incident involving him and an LSU fan on Saturday evening after Indiana had eliminated the Tigers from the NCAA Tournament.

"The story this morning is totally unfactual," the Hoosiers coach said at a scheduled news conference, holding up a copy of the newspaper. He made note of times in the past in which he and the press have had what he called "misunderstandings."

"This article this morning kind of epitomizes that same lack of understanding. They're quoting someone I don't know."

Daily News columnist Tom Cushman, a self-confessed defender of Knight's vociferous ways, wrote that this time Knight had crossed a line:

This incident not only was unnecessary, it is unworthy of one who has so much to contribute to his sport... but cannot hope to do it effectively in a hailstorm of cynicism.

DISCIPLINE IS A word frequently associated with Knight, and yesterday morning people were asking why a man who demands so much of that quality from his players cannot exercise more of it himself.

There was plenty of coverage of the game itself, of course. You saw above that the Inquirer featured a guest column by Al McGuire, the legendary former Marquette coach who was part of NBC's broadcast team. He wrote of his own experiences coaching at the Final Four, including the night in 1977 when the Golden Eagles (then called the Warriors) won the national championship:

How do you save this moment and truly enjoy it? Dean and Bobby are two basketball warriors, they're scarred and tested. The know the odds on getting back here are great. They want to know how they can save and possess this moment forever.


The national title game took place on March 30, 1981. I'm sure many of you know that there was another major news event that day. It took place a few hundred miles south of South Broad Street, at 2:27 p.m. Eastern Time:

Back then, the Daily News was an afternoon paper, and the 9-star edition was the final version. There was just enough time left in the day to get the story into print in our old newsroom at Broad and Callowhill Streets.

Whether a "Stop the presses!" order was given has been lost to history.

It has not been lost to history, however, that there was a heated debate among officials over whether the championship game should be postponed. Ultimately, the decision was made just more than a half-hour before tipoff to play the game as scheduled. As the Inquirer's Lewis Freedman wrote:

The choice, made in a closed-door meeting of the nine-member NCAA basketball committee with top NCAA officials, was between playing the game and postponement to another date. Cancellation and the declaration of the teams as co-champions was not considered, according to Wayne Duke, the commissioner of the Big 10 Conference and chairman of the committee.

The major element that the committee considered in choosing to proceed with the game, said Duke, was the televised press conference in which doctors indicated that President Reagan was out of surgery and out of danger.

Freedman also noted that "there was no consultation with NBC-TV," which broadcast the game nationally.

At least, that's what the official word was. Behind the scenes, there was plenty of speculation that NBC might have put a word or two in someone's ear.

Those suspicions were bolstered by remarks from Bryant Gumbel, the host of NBC's coverage, to the Inquirer in the hours before tipoff. Among the highlight quotes were these:

"It makes the people covering this game look like this is all we care about."

"If the Academy Awards can be pushed back [which they were, by a day], so can the NCAA finals. ABC and CBS are on the air [with news coverage], and we're playing bleeping games."

"It doesn't look good for us. It makes us look like callous boobs."

Bill Lyon wanted the game to be postponed:

We have become immune to tragedy. Maybe we have seen so many of our leaders blown away on the streets that it no longer affects us. Even an assassination attempt doesn't jolt us; or, if it does, the effect is only momentary. Two Kennedys, King, Lennon, the slaughter in Vietnam... they have all been beamed into our living rooms and it is as though we have become numbed, lost the capacity for outrage, concern, even interest. Is there anything more deadly than indifference?

So did Daily News columnist Stan Hochman:

Yesterday, with a chance for two universities to lead society in outrage, to show concern, to show respect respect for a wounded press secretary, cop, Secret Service man, President, the two universities and the television network let the games go on, as scheduled.

The family of man has splintered to all hell. And as long as we keep dribbling basketballs past bloody sidewalks, it may never reunite.

A few pages over in the Daily News, Tom Cushman had a different perspective:

It was only a game, but the President reportedly is healing and these young men, from both Indiana and Carolina, worked very hard to remind us that there is more to our way of life than what either Washington, or the elements, produced yesterday. I'm glad they played.

Most of the sellout crowd at the Spectrum wanted the game to happen, though they maybe weren't the most objective judges. Rich Hofmann, now the Daily News' sports editor, was tasked with surveying fans on the concourse. He was told this by one who had traveled up from Florida for the occasion:

"There's somebody up where we're sitting with a TV, and we're following it. Why am I here? Well, we had the tickets, and... well, knowing Ronald Reagan, he'd probably say go to the game too."

(To think that back then, you could take a portable television into the arena with you. Then again, these days, we'd all have our phones out.)


In the end, the protests fell on deaf ears. The game was played, and Indiana took home its fourth national championship. Because of the shooting, there was no room to include the result on the Inquirer's front page:

In the sports section, Danny Robbins wrote the game recap:

The NCAA tournament final - which will be remembered as the one that didn't make a lot of difference in the overall scheme of things - was won by Indiana. The Hoosiers beat North Carolina, 63-50, in a game that may have seen more emotions loosened beforehand than in the aftermath of the IU runaway.

Phil Jasner wrote the Daily News' verdict:

The portable computer which transmitted this story to the Daily News' offices early this morning has one vital characteristic in common with the Indiana basketball team that last night won the NCAA championship in the Spectrum.

They are both machines.

Indiana and North Carolina met again in the NCAA Tournament in 1984. It was their first matchup since the '81 title game. But surprisingly, our coverage of the contest didn't include any mention of that. I suppose it wasn't necessary at the time.

The Hoosiers and Tar Heels have played five times since then, all in the regular season, most recently in 2012 in Bloomington.

Now it's time for the next chapter in the great history that these programs share. There's no place better to have it be written than in the city where the most famous chapter came to life.

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