Truth is often stranger than fiction, and in this case, the passing away recently of one of the famous members of Carolina’s 1957 undefeated championship team (the noteworthy Pete Brennan) brought to mind the day in 1958 or so I unexpectedly found another member of that team in my front yard apologizing for hitting my cat. But I am getting ahead of the story.
People can say all they want about some of the great Final Fours in modern basketball history, and Carolina has played and won five of them in my lifetime, but in my mind, hands down the greatest Final Four ever took place in Kansas in 1957 when Carolina won not one but two triple overtime games to finish the season 32-0 and win the National Title.
The 1957 Carolina team faced Michigan State in the semifinals and it was Brennan whose shot sent the game into overtime. The other real star of the team was New Yorker Lennie Rosenbluth, who still lives in Chapel Hill and shows up in the Dean Dome for games. Joe Quigg was a starter, but not the star of the team.
But the 1957 championship game, played in Kansas City, featured Carolina with no player over about 6’7″ facing Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas team. Talk about a home court advantage. Wilt was seven inches taller than any player we had, and unstoppable. He could drop the ball in the basketball without jumping.
It took three overtimes to beat that team as well, and this game had historic significance for basketball, for it really began the era of televising Final Fours, and with two straight triple overtime games, the era of basketball insanity (later known as March Madness), played out on TV, had begun. March 22nd 1957 was the day it really all began. This was before the Carolina-Duke rivalry, before Indiana, Kentucky or any other school had nationally televised big games, and most importantly, before the integration of basketball teams in the South (Kansas of course not being in the South).
I was only seven, and still basking in the glow of the 1957 championship which my Dad and I had listened to on the radio. When the car stopped in front of my house after my cat was hit (and then died), I of course was very upset, and then confused when a gigantic man emerged from a Volkswagen Beetle to apologize about my cat. He was Joe Quigg.
Now you have to imagine what mixed, and mixed up, emotions I had at that moment. I had just met one of my newly minted heroes, and he turned out to be the murderer of my favorite cat! It was a sad, but memorable moment. I was so dazed by the surreal nature of the whole deal, I forgot to get him to sign my Carolina blue and white basketball. And frankly, it was beyond difficult to make my father, the former Carolina cheerleader believe that I had met one of his heroes that very day… under difficult circumstances.
I do not remember when we buried my cat, probably the next day in my backyard. We should have erected a little cross that said R.I.P. UNC, a Pugnacious act killed Pug, but I only thought of that later. For now I will simply say that fortunately this episode did not kill my love for Carolina basketball. It was a cat-tastrophy but at the same time it was serendipity as well