Instead of spending today focusing on the men’s and women’s Final Fours and the end of the tournaments, we’re dealing with the start of the third week of a world without sports.
And while the NFL Draft will take place next month, and while free agency/trades are all around us (amazing how even in the face of a pandemic the NFL offseason won’t go away), the 2020 season has been lost forever to the athletes, coaches, and fans; from those who thought their school had a shot at the National Championship (Maryland men and women) to those who were pumped to end long droughts (Rutgers) in the dance.
But instead of focusing on the lost season, let’s focus on seasons that were won.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., I was out of the broadcast industry for over a year. The 2000-2001 winter was the coldest I had experienced. (Although, truth be told, I scribbled together a weekly ACC roundup in my spare time.) I missed being in the business and was fortunate to re-enter it in the fall of 2001. This was when Maryland men’s basketball was at its best under coach Gary Williams: 11 straight NCAA appearances with seven trips to the Sweet 16, and two more to the Final Four with one national championship.
My first shift at WTOP was the afternoon of the ACC Semifinals. (They still played the finals on Sunday in 2002.) and disasters came in threes for the Terps that day, as they’d lose to N.C. State 86-82. Maryland would not lose again, winning its first national title 23 days later by beating Indiana 64-52.
The next year I had a chance to watch my alma mater, Syracuse, win its first national championship, but I was trying to keep track of the tournament as best as I could. While I was part-time at WTOP as well as Westwood One/CBS, my full-time job at the time was at Morton’s Steakhouse, where I also trained new hires (that’s another post entirely).
In the service bar area, servers were allowed to drink soda or water out of a Styrofoam cup. Naturally, you labeled it with your name. During slow times, one got “creative,” from drawing Christmas trees during the holidays to hearts with arrows during Valentine’s Day.
Part-way through the NCAA Tournament that year I scribbled down a Sweet 16 cup to keep abreast of the games. Unfortunately, I don’t have that cup any more as an overzealous co-worker threw it away. But that eventually spawned what is now the “Super Awesome Bracket Cup” that gets made every March — until this one.
Three years later, I found myself celebrating another championship: It was my first year announcing Maryland women’s basketball, and fourth-year coach Brenda Frese had a young team that was probably a year or two away from a title. Only they forgot to tell the Terps that, as the team that started two freshmen (Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver) and two sophomores (Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper) made its way to the program’s first Final Four in over a decade.
Once there, they vanquished then-ACC rivals North Carolina and Duke to win the program’s first national title. People recall the shot — Kristi Toliver’s 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime — but I’ll recall the coming together of a young team that had yet to establish itself with the ACC elites of the era.
Frese has coached 13 seasons since, and they’ve reached a pair of Final Fours, while turning the Big Ten Tournament into their own invitational. And while this year’s team was likely getting the program’s first No. 1 seed since 2015, they’ll join the rest of college basketball in the land of “what if.”
But for the 2006 Maryland women, 2003 Syracuse men and the 2002 Maryland men, they’re still champions. That lasts forever. So does Styrofoam, but that’s another story entirely.