My apologies for those hoping for another political post, but with last night's debacle in Detroit--in which I couldn't decide if it was merely the worst Fox News Channel-moderated debate of all time or, due to the rudeness of the carping crowd, we were in a bar watching WWE Summerslam--I would rather provide lighter fare today.
Thirteen years ago, I discovered some fascinating connections as I looked at two incidents in sports history. As one who majored in history during his college days, I know there are a number of freak coincidences in the days of the past. Some people cherish pointing to the oddities between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy (although a number of those are false comparisons or dubious claims). But with March Madness--yes, the NCAA men's basketball championship tournament--now upon us soon, I believe that the all-timer in the art of Herodotus resides in hoops history, in a comparison between the efforts of two NCAA basketball championship teams: the 1986 University of Louisville Cardinals and the 2003 Syracuse University Orange. Here's what I found years ago that I share with you now:
1. Both teams won the NCAA men's basketball championship in those respective years. Louisville beat Duke, 72-69, in 1986; Syracuse beat Kansas, 81-78, in 2003. Each defeated a team one seed higher than they were (1986: Duke was a 1-seed, Louisville 2; in 2003, Kansas was a 2-seed, Syracuse 3).
2. Both teams' scoring totals in their respective championship games were divisible by nine. Louisville in 1986 scored 72, which divided by nine equals 8. In 2003, Syracuse scored a perfect square of 81, which divided by nine equals 9.
3. Both teams' winning margin in each championship game was three points.
4. In the semifinals of each respective Final Four, both teams defeated their opponents by eleven points. In 1986, Louisville toppled LSU, 88-77. In 2003, Syracuse defeated Texas, 95-84.
5. The scoring totals for both vanquished semifinal opponents in each Final Four was divisible by seven. LSU's 77 points in 1986, if divided by seven, equals 11, while Texas' 2003 semifinal total of 84, when divided by seven, is 12.
6. In 1986, the Final Four was held in Dallas, which meant that Louisville won their semifinal game by beating a team from Louisiana (LSU) in the state of Texas. In a reverse twist in 2003, the Final Four was held in New Orleans, so Syracuse won their semifinal by beating a team from Texas in the state of Louisiana.
7. In each instance, the Most Outstanding Player for each title-winning team was a freshman! In 1986, Pervis Ellison garnered the honors for the Cardinals, while frosh Carmelo Anthony snagged MOP laurels for the Orange in 2003.
8. The 1986 championship was coach Denny Crum's sixth Final Four trip and his second national championship. The 2003 title was, at the time, coach Jim Boeheim's third Final Four and his only national title. Crum's six Final Fours to two national titles and Boeheim's three Final Fours to one national championship (at the time of those years) are both 3:1 mathematical ratios.
9. In 1986, Louisville's win over Duke meant they finished with an overall record of 32-7; in 2003, Syracuse's title win over Kansas elevated their final record to 30-5. In both cases, each team's won-loss differential was +25.
10. Finally, and perhaps most spooky of all: Both the 1986 Louisville Cardinals and the 2003 Syracuse Orange were coming off mediocre seasons from the year before. Both teams not only played in the second-tier National Invitation Tournament the year before their respective NCAA championship runs; they each also got to the NIT Final Four in New York City; and they each were defeated in the semifinals and then lost in the third-place consolation game...and each of their NIT consolation game opponents began with the letter "T" and ended with the letter "E"!
1985 NIT consolation game: Louisville loses to Tennessee by a score of 100-84.
2002 NIT consolation game: Syracuse falls to Temple by a 65-64 count.
The only conclusion one can draw from all this?
It was truly meant to happen.
What's that about things being written in the stars....?