The 2013 NCAA National Basketball Champion Louisville Cardinals will be honored Saturday night at the Clemson game. This is a piece I wrote in the immediate aftermath of that title. It includes a couple stories oft told before and after. (Frankly not sure how the Jerry Lee anecdote is pertinent. Sorta made sense at the time. To me. Verbosity über alles.) I am intent on leaning into these emotions during this current season of woe. Remembering I only wanted one.
Omne trium perfectum.
If we are lucky as we slip into our dotage, if more synapses stay connected than not, we’ll remember salient moments, significant snippets of dialog from yesteryear.
A cunning retort. A pithy aside. Legit advice that resonates.
A life changing admonition. A homily to guide. A comforting whisper, such as the one that really should begin this piece, But first, as if to illustrate, a moment of insight into celebrity.
Jerry Lee Lewis sometime in the early to mid 70s played a Monday night gig at a dinner theater in, I believe, Simpsonville. Maybe Shelbyville. As best I knew at the time, he was still in exile for marrying his 13 year old cousin Myra at the apotheosis of his rock & roll ascendency. Truth is by then he had fashioned somewhat of a career, singing what was then called Country & Western. All I was looking forward to as I drove out to the show was “Great Balls of Fire.” (He called Pee Wee King out of the audience and sang “Tennessee Waltz” with him. Which was pretty sweet.)
The current run of “Camelot” at the beef and boards joint was taking the night off, but the set, still in place, hadn’t been struck for the concert.
Jerry Lee took the stage in fighting trim, chest puffed, like a banty rooster. He was wearing a suit. On his head, a prop crown from the musical. Hmm, Jerry Lee as King Arthur . . . it’s an interesting contemplation for another time.
He took a few steps across the proscenium, when someone in a crowd ready to party shouted out, “The Killer is back.”
The now sole surviving member of the Million Dollar Quartet, a man with 9 lives, plus another 9 simply because of his pluck and guile, did a classic double take, stopped and looked at the fellow, paused.
Then, cocksure, “The Killer never left.”
Tincture of Jerry Lee. The kind of immediate insight into one’s soul.
Which brings me more to the point here to the night of March 24, 1980. Louisville basketball fans, those with some sense of history, recognize that as the night our beloved Cardinals won their first national championship. Those, with some sense of cultural history, will also remember that the site, Market Square Arena, may it rest in peace, was the venue of Elvis Presley’s last concert.
At any rate, U of L prevailed 59-54 over Larry Brown’s UCLA Bruins. In the aftermath, the arena, a sea of red, was ecstatically shaking to the pilings.
Stoned beyond cognition because, well, it was “back in the day and that’s what we did,” I stood in the aisle, joyous, letting it all soak in, but flummoxed. The game’s nuance had passed me by, it was but a blur of emotions. My team had finally won, but I couldn’t remember the details.
I gleefully realized I’d need a new quote for my gravestone.
(To that point, among my fellow Cardinal acolytes, the joke was that my marker would read, “Here Lies Charles D. Kaplan. He Only Wanted One.”)
The Governor approached. Not the then actual Governor of the Commonwealth, mind you, but my pal Bill, who wore that nickname like a badge, since his friends figured, given his political mentality, he’d be a lock for the mansion in Frankfort one day.
He put his arm around me, we shed some tears of joy together.
He whispered, “Tonight, my friend, you can sleep easily.”
It’s an instant that stands the test of time, a perfect reflection of the sublime moment.
Actually, I was so exhilarated with a head full of snow, I didn’t sleep all that well.
But his point was, remains, well stated, well taken.
Which, skipping over the obviously pleasant feelings generated by U of L’s somewhat surprising second crown in ’86, brings me to now.
Louisville 82, Michigan 76.
I gotta tell you, this feels different.
Astonished, frankly, I have to admit the latest, one I’m still trying to fully comprehend, is resonating more than the previous ones, even the first, though that one which got the school off the schneid came after a long wait, in my 35th year, 28th year of fandom.
This 2013 championship comes with a sense of completion.
Omne trium perfectum.
I’m not sure how J.M. Atherton HS Latin maven Miss Duerson would translate that? I never sat for a second in her class. But I understand it to mean something like, “that which comes in triplicate is perfect,” or “sets of threes are complete.”
You know, “Truth, justice and the American Way.”
Athos, Porthos, Aramis.
Larry, Curly, Moe.
Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
Death. Taxes. Second guard around.
Earth, Wind, Fire.
Clean up, Paint up, Fix up.
Dino, Desi, Billy.
Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.
Do. Re. Mi.
Survivalists, you know those guys, usually from Down Under, who live on dandelions and crickets as forage while lost in the Amazon rain forest, even go tripartite. Rules of Extreme Situation Survival are, you can last 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food.
Etc, etc, etc. I trust you get where I’m going with this.
Beyond the marvelous play and unique, quirky character of U of L’s third championship contingent, there is simply a sense of consummation, full resolution for me in having it happen thrice.
1980, 1986, 2013.
It’s not that I won’t cheer as vociferously in the future for my team. That I wouldn’t cherish another trophy.
It’s just that I’m sated.
That I’ve been sleeping well.
— c d kaplan