If you’re a rabid sports fan, you inevitably have experienced losses that were so crushing they each left a scar on your soul. The deepest scar I’ve worn the longest is from the 1986 Final Four held in Dallas, Texas.
30 years ago, top seeds Kansas and Duke met in the semifinals. My parents were at the game in Dallas, and I was watching the game at home with my good friend at the time. I was 16, and had finally reached a point where I had a good awareness of not just KU, but the rest of the nation’s top teams. To say I was confident in how Kansas would do against Duke – even though Duke was the number one ranked team in the nation – was an understatement: I remember my friend and I talking about where we would watch the championship game and how we would celebrate after we won the title.
And then, well…and then. Danny Manning couldn’t catch a break with the referees and fouled out in limited minutes. Greg Dreiling seemingly had 100 turnovers before he fouled out. Calvin Thompson missed a key block on Danny “First of Duke’s Hated White Players” Ferry. Ron Kellogg was called for a questionable charging foul and then missed a jumper on the next possession that could have sent the game into overtime. All of the struggles gained momentum however, after around the eight minute mark when Archie Marshall blew his ACL on a drive to the basket. At that point, KU was up by four and – even though the game had been close – the Jayhawks seemed to be taking control. Once Marshall went down however, everything snowballed, particularly with how the game was officiated. Coach Larry Brown did his best with a patchwork rotation created by the foul situation, but it just wasn’t enough. Like that, KU’s season came to an end, and Duke ended up losing in the championship game to a Louisville team that Kansas had already beaten twice – yes, twice – that season.
After the loss to Duke, my friend and I, stunned, presumably with gaping holes in our chests from where our hearts had been ripped out, decided to try and do something in an effort to feel better. A week before, Police Academy 3: Back In Training had opened, and we decided that seeing a comedy might just be what we needed.
Keep in mind, this was a movie franchise that was right in a 16 year-old boy’s wheelhouse at that time. I don’t remember cracking a smile, let alone laughing at anything in the movie. To be fair, I don’t really remember much about the whole experience – getting to the theater, the plot of the movie, whether there were other KU zombies trying to fill their emotional void as we were – nothing. I just remember a haze of images surrounded by an utter feeling of disbelief that KU had lost. The whole experience was so depressing that I don’t think I’ve seen any of the movies since then.
30 years later, I look back on Kansas’ 1986 Final Four team fondly – it’s one of my all-time favorites and I’m utterly convinced that KU was the best team that year. And a week after Kansas lost to Villanova in this year’s tournament and on the day before they play North Carolina in the national championship game, I look forward to similarly being able to look back fondly on the 2016 Jayhawks.
And I’m confident it won’t take me 30 years to be able to do it, even…