Next to the Super Bowl, the NCAA men's basketball championship is the most popular sporting event in this country.
If we had today's 24-hour media coverage with the 1974 Final Four in Greensboro, N.C., imagine the hype surrounding UCLA, North Carolina State, Marquette and Kansas and its status among the greatest games played.
East Chicago's Tim Stoddard, the Wolfpack's immovable power forward, lived it all firsthand.
He had nine points and seven rebounds in NC State's 80-77 double overtime upset of UCLA in the semis, snapping the Bruins' remarkable string of seven straight NCAA titles and 38 consecutive tournament victories.
"Trust me, I was sky-high with emotion at the time," Stoddard said. "It was tough to stay grounded with everybody saying that was for the (NCAA) championship.
"But we were going against a great Marquette team next. It was a big test for us to stay grounded and our coaches had instilled that in us from the get-go."
Stoddard had eight points and seven rebounds in State's 76-64 win over Al McGuire's Warriors in the title game.
Ecstatic? Of course. But the '71 EC Washington grad was remarkably reserved afterward compared to the emotional spillover we see today in all sports coverage, regardless of the event.
"It was out of respect for your opponents," Stoddard said of being a class act. "You didn't have all the self-promotion you see at today's events, but that's where we're at now."
While this year's Final Four in Atlanta had some nice individual talent to cheer for, Stoddard encountered NBA prospects everywhere he turned in Greensboro.
The Wolfpack was led by 7-foot-4 Tommy Burleson, 6-8 forward Phil Spencer, guard Moe Rivers, point guard Monte Towe, forward David "Skywalker" Thompson and his freakish 44-inch vertical, and the 6-7 Stoddard.
Marquette's heavyweights were Bo Ellis, Earl Tatum, Maurice Lucas, Lloyd Walton and Marcus Washington.
UCLA featured David Meyers, Bill Walton, Andre McCarter, Jamaal Wilkes, Richard Washington and Pete Trgovich, who did not play in the NC State loss.
USA Today listed the NC State-UCLA semifinal as the 13th greatest tournament game of all time. Don't ask me the top 12. I have no clue.
Walton called it the most disappointing loss of his basketball career, given the fact his Bruins blew a five-point lead late in regulation and a seven-point advantage in the second OT.
"It definitely was a crazy time then," Stoddard recalled. "But it was so much easier to focus back then. You didn't have ESPN, 24-hour sports talk radio or the Twitter world.
"(Today's players) have got more to handle but they're also better prepared to handle all the media."
By winning a ring while pitching for Baltimore in 1983, Stoddard became the only man to win an NCAA basketball title and World Series championship.
He planned the watch Monday's title game between Michigan and Louisville. As the long-time pitching coach at Northwestern, he has Big Ten ties, of course.
I couldn't get him to predict a final score, only that it shaped up to be a great game, maybe a classic.
This is a guy who's been there, done that, as classics go.
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