Usually when asked to explain why I chose to rest my college rooting interests on the University of Pittsburgh – or Pitt, as the locals call it – I harken back to a time when Craig Heyward straight-up ruined lives as a running back for the Panthers.
Heyward was the nation’s leading rusher and all-American on a Panthers team that went 8-4 in 1987, the first year that I really started noticing sports in general. That 10-0 win over Penn State maybe solidified that love. Who knows?
This isn’t about “Ironhead,” though. This is about the moment that left zero doubt in my mind that I’d give my heart to an athletics program that would constantly leave me wondering why I’d do such a thing.
Enter Jerome Lane. Exit a backboard at Fitzgerald Fieldhouse that didn’t see the end of a win over Providence on Jan. 25, 1988.
Heck, it barely made it through the start.
(OK, let’s just wrap our heads around the fact that 1988 is already “30 years ago” … OK, now I feel super old)
Nevertheless, with Sean Miller – yup, the current men’s basketball coach of Arizona – leading a 3-on-2 break, a dish to Lane on the right of the led to this …
Schoolchildren should be required to reenact this dunk in class plays. If only for the sheer absurdity of a small child replicating Bill Raftery’s “SEND IT IN, JEROME!” call on that day’s ESPN broadcast.
To a then-7-year-old version of myself, this made basketball awesome. Pitt was already “neat” as I probably said … OK, maybe I said “it” while championing the school because rhyming was pretty darn cool to the second-grader who was destined to one day break a backboard himself.
(Update on that: So, I claimed a couple Nerf hoops with ferocious dunks in my youth, but never got to break an actual backboard that would have mattered. I was blessed with height but zero jumping ability. It led to a couple full-court sprint dunks with a volleyball that I could palm, but never a legit dunk with a basketball and actual opposition)
As far as the Pitt basketball team that year. This was a team that had been ranked No. 2 in the nation twice by the AP Poll. A stunning overtime loss to Vanderbilt in the second round wrapped the Panthers NCAA Tournament run. It was the first of many way-too-early exits I’d endure as Pitt fan.
Watching the Lane dunk on loop this morning, it still feels to me that I made the right call.