To this day, it's still the highest rated NCAA Men's Basketball Game on television....And it not only helped take the NCAA Tournament to another level, two of it's major players would help shape the look of the NBA for the next decade. The NBC Trio of Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire called the game in Salt Lake City as undefeated Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, battled Big 10 power Michigan State...which featured another legend, Magic Johnson.
At the time, the Tourney was a 40 team field. And the five seed in the East that year believe it or not, was UConn. They won the ECAC Title that year after beating Boston College and Rhode Island in Providence to win earn their last berth until 1990. The key players were Freshman Corny Thompson of Middletown and Bridgeport's Mike McKay. A pair of Hartford natives, Randy LaVigne (So Catholic) and Jeff Carr (Bulkley) were the seniors and Bobby Dulin of Milford ran the point. They would lose to the "Louie & Bowie Show" along with Marty Head and Syracuse in Providence a week later. Here's a fun fact, the 9 & 10 seeds played in the East Regional Final. With the #9 Penn reaching the Final Four with a 64-62 win over the 10 seed, St Johns....Penn is the last Ivy League Team to reach the Final Four.
Michigan St beat Lamar, LSU and Notre Dame to reach Salt Lake City, The Sycamores beat Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Arkansas to earn theirs...Sparty rolled Penn in their national semi-final....Indiana St squeaked by DePaul, led by Mark Aguirre by two....
It set the stage for what was being billed as a terrific final. But the Spartans jumped out to an 9 point halftime lead of 37-28. Not only did Magic Johnson spur Michigan State, so did Greg Kessler, who had 19p, 8 reb and 9 assists...while Johnson led the Spartans with 24 points and 7 boards..He also turned it over 6 times. As did Larry Bird. The Senior from French Lick, IN had to work for his 19p-13r double double. Just 7 of 21 shooting, but also had 5 steals. In the end, Sparty's depth won out in the 75-64 win. As Michigan State shot 61% from the field. And remember, there wasn't a three point shot in those days.
Both Bird & Magic were first team All Americans...Bird, who was actually drafted by the Celtics the season before hoping he'd come out, owned his rights...Johnson ended up in L.A. with the Lakers. Magic & The Lakers won the first of five NBA Titles in 1980. Bird was Rookie of the Year in 1980 and got to the Eastern Finals. Then won their first of three titles in five years in 1981. And as you all know, these two rivals played for the NBA Title three times....1984, 1985 and 1987.
Yes, Michael Jordan would come shortly after in the decade...But Larry Legend and Magic started the resurgence of the NBA. As for the NCAA's, NBC carried the tournament until 1981....Since then, all or at least part of it has been on CBS and it's family of networks...for Mega Bucks....and it has a field of 68..
Sure we miss March Madness today for sure....But 1979 lit the fire into the the Giant it's become.....Tune in tonight at 8p on 97-9 ESPN to hear the radio broadcast from that epic matchup....And enjoy the classic games coming up over the next few weeks. Stay Safe !!