Atlanta Final Four veterans Robb Newman and Don Oliver go head-to-head today at the Georgia Dome, and both have history on their side.
Newman of Ashton, Md., and Oliver of Lebo will strap on their colorful head gear and charge into basketball history when their beloved college basketball teams, Newman's Maryland Terrapins and Oliver's Kansas Jayhawks, meet in the NCAA Tournament semifinal for a shot at the championship.
"It's going to be a great battle," said Oliver, retired after a 40-year career with the Santa Fe railroad and a frequent guest at Allen Fieldhouse.
"I expect nothing less," counterpunched Newman, who has had front-row seats for Terrapin games for 30 years.
Both know of what they speak regarding NCAA Tournament action. Oliver has experienced the mayhem and madness of every NCAA Tournament Final Four since 1984. And Newman has been to the Final Four 16 times.
Together, without realizing it was so, they tasted KU's sweet victory with Danny Manning and the Miracles. Both felt the agony of Michigan's Chris Webber calling his infamous time-out. Each sat in stunned silence when North Carolina coach Dean Smith was unceremoniously tossed from a game. And they jointly admired Duke, which won the title a mindboggling three times during the stretch.
They'll set sentimentality aside at about 7:47 p.m., when Kansas and Maryland enter the ring in front of 55,000 raging fans. The winner earns a shot at the title.
Oliver will be there in his crimson, blue and yellow-beaked Jayhawk cap.
"We'll beak 'em," he vowed. "We'll pick their shell apart."
Newman and his basketball soul mate, Jeff Weaver of McLean, Va., will be decked out in 1960s-era military helmets painted white and adorned with Terrapin-red slogans. They plan on using these garish lids to drink champagne in Atlanta.
"We went to all those Final Fours and, finally, last year got to go to one and root for Maryland," Weaver said. "They lost, but this will be different."
Oliver, who is at his fifth KU Final Four "and counting," said his favorite championship setting was Indianapolis in 1991. He didn't think the outcome was funny Duke clipped KU 72-65 on April Fool's Day. But that championship atmosphere was intoxicating, he said.
"If I could, I'd play all the Final Fours in Indianapolis," he said. "I guess I could take a finish something like we had in 1988, with KU beating another team from the same conference."
In that season, Kansas defeated Oklahoma 83-79 in a gut-wrenching title game.
Oliver said he couldn't imagine skipping a Final Four, especially if there was a chance the Jayhawks would make it to the big dance.
"For me, the electricity is in here," he said, touching his heart. "And on this court."
Weaver said his favorite Final Four was the first he attended. It was 1966 in College Park, Md., where underdog UTEP slipped past heavily favored Kentucky.
"That was the game five black players went up against five white players, and the Kentucky coach made disparaging remarks about UTEP," he said. "When UTEP won, it was an important turning point in college basketball.
"I hope history will be on our side this time."