We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because once upon a time, Penn was a Final Four letter word…
As memorable games go, there are too many to choose from in Quaker history. However, I think this one is the most memorable for me.
In 1979, Penn was just beginning an extraordinary Final Four run through the NCAA Tournament. However, after dispatching with Jim Valvano’s Iona Gaels 83-75 in the first round, a daunting task awaited Bob Weinhauer’s squad. The Quakers would have to defeat Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels, who were seeded first in the East Region, in Raleigh. Few, including me, gave the Quakers much of a shot. Penn was an overwhelming underdog as many had picked the Tar Heels, who were ranked No. 3 nationally and featured future NBA players Mike O’Koren and Al Wood, to win the entire tournament.
Overall, it was a close game with UNC leading by only one point at the half. Then in the second stanza, Penn took the lead with 10:16 to go and never looked back. The game-defining play was Tony Price’s (25 points, nine rebounds) long pass to Booney Salters, which set up an old-fashioned three-point play with only 33 seconds left. Salters then coolly (at that’s how it seemed to me) sank his first free throw, putting Penn up by four (remember, no three-point shot in those days) thus capping the greatest victory in Penn history. It was also the first loss for a Big Four Team in North Carolina since 1961.
When No. 10 St. John’s beat No. 2 Duke to finish off the doubleheader later that day, “Black Sunday” in North Carolina was complete (and available for viewing at letsgoquakers.com).
And now another AQ Penn Hoops Moment…
Ironically, I was furtively listening to this game on a transistor radio in Columbia’s lugubrious Butler Library. I, like everyone else, never thought Penn had a chance to win. Columbia was the only Ivy loss for the Quakers that year so … well, you do the math: Lose 74-72 to Columbia = 107-70 loss to the Tar Heels.
So there in the eerie quiet of the austere and cavernous library, I sat for almost two hours with a little, white earpiece jammed in my auditory canal and my heart beating out of my chest, hoping that Penn could somehow silence the raucous North Carolina crowd. When the final horn sounded, I simply could no longer contain myself. I started jumping up and down while shouting, “They did it! They did it!” in front of several hundred bewildered and supremely annoyed Columbia students (most of whom screamed back at me and told me to “shut the fuck up.”) A security guard was then dispatched to my location and escorted me out. Henceforth, I was told that I would be banned from the library.
As far as I know, 36 years later, the ban remains in effect.
Totally worth it.
Stay Red and Blue my friends,