It took 51 years, but a group of pained Kansas basketball associates from a 1957 heartbreak now enjoys some solace - and now we can lift a toast to the departed, thanks to these 2008 national champions.
North Carolina edged Kansas, 54-53, in triple overtime in that '57 NCAA title game. Jayhawk devotees who suffered through that ordeal have, ever since, wanted KU to meet UNC in another crucial match - and whip the Tar Heels soundly. The '08 guys did it, 84-66, last Saturday - just another of the many favors Bill Self's title crew did for those in the Jayhawk Nation.
The fact KU whipped a Roy Williams team had nothing to do with assuaging the misery from '57. Lordy, Roy was only 7 years old then. He may not even have been certain where Carolina was on the map, let alone Kansas, where he eventually had a brilliant career.
Nope, the perceived villains in that ancient conflict were UNC coach Frank McGuire, All-American Lenny Rosenbluth, quarterback Tommy Kearns, center Joe Quigg and maybe one of the referees.
Both teams had played their guts out for nearly 55 minutes, and KU led, 53-52, when Maurice King was called for a foul against Quigg with about 10 seconds left. Quigg sank two shots, and KU hustled downcourt to get the ball to superstar Wilt Chamberlain for a winning dunk. KU 55-54, right? Rather than 54-53 Carolina? Ron Loneski's pass into the paint was low enough that Quigg was able to bat it. The heady Kearns retrieved the ball and tossed it skyward as the clock ran out.
I've never been in a KU locker room more tearful and funereal. I was lucky enough to be fairly close to a lot of those people, particularly coaches Dick Harp and Jerry Waugh. To hell with media objectivity! I puckered up with the rest. Some day, maybe, there'll be a chance for atonement, we rationalized. But for then, that seemed an impossible dream, in the gloom of the moment.
"I haven't gotten over it," Waugh commented during the 50th anniversary events for '57. "It was the most devastating loss I've ever experienced in basketball." This from one of the most upbeat guys you'll find.
Six of the seven Jayhawks who played are dead - Chamberlain, King, Gene Elstun, John Parker, Lew Johnson and Bob Billings. So is coach Harp. But Waugh, squadman Monte Johnson, broadcaster Max Falkenstien and I can savor to the fullest what the current team did. We should get together to hoist a couple to where those others now reside, hopefully aware of how Self, Mario Chalmers and present champions got even.
Roy Williams was no more than a sacrificial lamb in this case, for all the other sidebars. The goal always has been for a Kansas team to whip a Carolina team en route to the national title. Did our guys ever do that!
Fouls are pivotal. Memphis the other night wanted to foul a KU guy before Chalmers lifted that gate-opening trey, but couldn't. There is some evidence that a phantom foul was called on Reece King in that '57 contest. Films were gone over frame by frame; the KU deduction was that Reece never touched Quigg. Yet Reece and coach Harp, gentlemen that they were, never aired such notions.
What's vital now is that KU finally broke UNC hearts the way the Tar Heels tortured Kansas auricles and ventricles in '57. Maybe our dear departed pals will rest a little more comfortably now.