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Cardiac Pack's team of destiny

It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since Jim Valvano's "Cardiac Pack" captured the national basketball championship. N&O writer Gerald Martin painted the scene for the folks at home.

The mascot cried, his tussled wolf's head tossed back, his arms pleading for someone to please tell him it really was so. Dr. Co McQueen climbed atop the basket and perched on the top, higher than a Phi Slama Jama had ever soared. and the little fellow wearing a Coor's beer cap, the fellow with both arms raised, fists clinched, pleaded, "Let me through. That's my boy, " as he worked his way through a sea of insanity that ran red and was called Wolfpack.

The little fellow's name was Charles, and his son is Lorenzo, and they had something to talk about, to celebrate, because they were part of just about the greatest sports story ever told Monday night in a place called The Pit.

It was incredible, completely in character for a team whose heart and soul had for the past month defied x-and-o strategy with magic and miracles that cannot be scrawled in chalk on five-and-dime slateboards.

When Dereck Whittenburg launched a desperation shot with the score tied and the national collegiate basketball championship on the line, all the x's and all the o's were useless, because the best-laid plan during a spent timeout had gone astray.

He couldn't get a handle on the clock, all he knew was that the world around him was going berserk, that the time had come to do it and he didn't want the game to end with the ball in his hand.

So he launched, not from two- or three-point range, but from four. He could joke later that it was a pass, diagrammed, practiced, a brilliant play to end the string of miracles.

The best he could have hoped for at that point was overtime, Houston, No.1 and king of college basketball, 52, and N.C. State, the champions of cardiac arrest and late-night mission impossible reruns, 52.

But no. Charles was there and in the air, towering alone, impossibly alone, above the rim, for the most resounding, Pack-elating, Cougar-crushing jam of the season, the decade, the century.

How very, very ironic, that N.C. State, the team of patience and tempo, without a jamming reputation, should douse the fire of the net-scorching Houston Cougars in such last-second, even-seeing-ain't-believing fashion. The death knell for the Cougars was sounded as fittingly as possible, with a dose of Phi Jama Slama's own medicine.

And how fitting, too, that in the final run from the brink of defeat, when the Wolfpack's tongues were parched, its strength sapped, that it rallied from six down on senior superlatives who stood no taller than Akeem Olajuwon's belly button.

The Cougars had their jammers, the Pack had its Whittenburg and its Magna Cum Lowe.

The brothers from D.C., who grew up in short shoes and long shots, did what they do best, beat giants - Monday night the most gigantic of them all.

Pass, as Whittenburg joked, or shot, as he finally admitted. It doesn't matter. It was in their playbook of miracles, not in the one with x's and o's.

And when it ended in unparalleled fashion, with a comeback late in the game that began with a comeback late in the season, it only mattered that the championship was in hand.

As coach Jim Valvano told his kids at halftime: "The dream ... the dream. I told them they were 20 minutes away, for me, it had been 16 years. You'll never forget it as long as you live, so play, play to win."

And they did. They played to win, against odds too big to count, and they will never forget it, from that oh-so-narrow victory over Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament, to that moment of triumph in Albuquerque, when Whittenburg, realizing, "Yes! It went at the gun, " raced across the court to the Wolfpack fans' corner of the world, and plunged head first into that sea of red, to be caressed and blessed.

Never forget. ...

The wonder-working Pack and the wizard of Western Boulevard had won it all.

And Phi Slama Jama got one, just one, jam.

It was incredible.The News & Observer 4/5/1983

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