Celebrating the 1980 Championship Team's Silver Anniversary
By Kevin Hyde
Denny Crum's 1980 University of Louisville basketball team had just defeated a powerful Louisiana State University team in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament and advanced to Market Square Arena in Indianapolis for the Final Four.
While the trip was a homecoming for Cardinal senior and Indianapolis native Roger Burkman, the idea that he had a new extended family just over 100 miles down I-65 became clear. "After we had practiced there at Market Square Arena, I went over to see my parents who were sitting pretty close to the court," says Burkman, recalling his favorite memory from that legendary championship season. "I bet you there were 10,000 U of L fans in the stands watching us workout that day. And, when I went over to the sideline to where my parents were, several hundred of them came down to say, 'Hi'--not just to me but also to my family sitting there.
Some even asked my dad for his autograph," he laughs. "That's kind of the way Louisville fans are. You're just a big family. We're all just a big family."
That feeling was back in full force this past February and March. Not only was Rick Pitino's 2004-05 Cards showing flashes of U of L's dynasty years, the university, alumni and fans were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Cardinals' first NCAA National Championship.
The 1980 Cards are remembered for more than their 33-3 record and their 59-54 victory over UCLA in the title game. Led by hometown hero and All-American senior guard Darrell Griffith, their high-flying fast break exploits--the like of which had rarely been seen before--got them dubbed "The Doctors of Dunk." Griffith, who got plenty of use out of his 48-inch vertical jump that season, was nicknamed "Dr. Dunkenstein." The team even created the "high-five," which NBC analyst and former Marquette coach Al McGuire awkwardly called a "high-five handshake" during the championship game telecast.
"All of us just had a blast," says Wiley Brown, the starting power forward on the team. "I played with a lot of great guys...and great characters. We had fun. That's why the city adopted us and loved us so much."
Greatest Fans in the NCAA
Two hours before U of L's Feb. 12 home game against the University of South Florida this year, an endless line of Cardinal fans snaked throughout the corridors of Freedom Hall. Many wearing commemorative championship T-shirts, they waited for an opportunity to get posters and prints signed by 1980 team members.
The players--minus the late Derek Smith and point guard Jerry Eaves, who was coaching North Carolina A&T--had returned to Louisville for a weekend of events looking back at their championship season. At half-time of the game, they along with Coaches Crum, Wade Houston and Jerry Jones were introduced to a thunderous ovation. "We love you as much as you love us," Crum told the fans.
Pitino kept the current Cardinal squad on the floor to witness the fans' reaction to the 1980 team. "I wanted them to see the difference in how a team is loved when they win a championship, because it goes down forever," Pitino says. "Our guys realize that they're all special and all part of the Louisville family, but when you win a championship, you'll always be remembered."
The 1980 Cardinals returned the fans thanks and love by unveiling a new banner in the Freedom Hall rafters that reads, "To The Greatest Fans In College Basketball Presented By The 1980 NCAA Championship Team."
The festivities before and during the South Florida game were only part of the commemorative celebration. The night before, Crum was in the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis for "The Ville in Nap Town," a celebration of the 1980 team. Sponsored by the Alumni Association, the event included a replay of the championship game with commentary by Crum.
While their coach was in Indy, the players were back in Louisville attending a dinner in their honor at Louisville's Hilton Garden Inn. The night was highlighted by a highlight reel--one that showed why the 1980 Cards were called the "Doctors of Dunk." The highlights brought back a flood of memories along with several proud grins. Brown remembers one of those spectacular moments better than others. It was during that Elite 8 game against LSU, when the Cards surprised the country by drubbing the Tigers 86-66 in the Midwest Regional.
"Darrell had an unbelievable dunk in that game," recalls Brown, who is now a director of student welfare in the U of L athletic department. "And in the background you could see Derek Smith jump and kick his legs up. He was almost as high as Griff. He got as much enjoyment out of that dunk as Griff did. When I watch that, it just brings tears to my eyes."
Brown thinks his 1980 team could compete in today's era, and he'll get no argument from Pitino. "There's very few times you can look at a team 25 years later that athletically could win a championship," Pitino says.
The former players gathered with fans again on March 12 at the Brown & Williamson Club to watch a telecast of the 1980 national championship, which was being shown locally on NBC. (The new DVD "Doctors of Dunk Deliver First NCAA Championship," which contains the complete game with coverage from NBC sports, has been flying off shelves in the Louisville area.) During the "game watch party," the players signed autographs and gave out memorabilia. Proceeds went to the Derek Smith Memorial Fund.
All of the events remembering U of L's first national championship had one thing in common-- they showed the special bond the city has with the 1980 Cards and the special bond the teammates have with each other.
"When we see each other, even today, our eyes light up," Griffith says. "This program means a lot to this city, and the city means a lot to this program."
Where Are They Now?
Darrell Griffith, who earned a communication degree in 1980, is founder and president of Metro Enterprises, a warehousing and distribution network in Louisville.
Jerry Eaves, who earned a physical education degree in 1986, is the men's head basketball coach at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
Wiley Brown, who earned a communication degree in 1993, is assistant to the athletic director for Student Welfare and Outreach at U of L.
Derek Smith, who earned a communication degree in 1992, died in August of 1996.
Rodney McCray, who earned a communication degree in 1998, is a construction company owner in Houston.
Scooter McCray, who earned a business degree in 1988, is manager of La-Z-Boy Furniture operations in Louisville.
Roger Burkman, who earned a business degree in 1983, is senior development director at Trinity High School in Louisville.
Pancho Wright, works in the medical services industry in Indianapolis.
Tony Branch, who earned a political science degree in 1981 and a master's in education in 1998, is a history teacher and boys' basketball coach at Seneca High School in Louisville.
Daryl Cleveland, is a shipping and receiving supervisor at Hamilton Printing in Louisville.
Greg Deuser, who earned an engineering degree in 1982, is a portfolio manager at National City Bank in Louisville.
Marty Pullman, who earned an MBA in 1982, is a pressman at R. R. Donnelly & Sons in Danville, Ky.
Steve Clark, is vice president of Sun Belt General Contractors in Knoxville, Tenn.
Denny Crum retired from U of L in 2001 and is now a co-host, along with former University of Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall, of a daily sports talk radio show in Louisville. He is also special assistant for funding and consulting to the U of L president.
Wade Houston is chief executive officer of Dallas & Mavis Specialized Carrier Co. in Louisville.
Jerry Jones is retired and living in Louisville.
Bill Olsen is retired and living in Louisville.