“Yes, the game has grown in legend in 30 years. And yes, much of that — if not all of it — is because of what the two players did in the NBA. But doesn’t every good-to-great game’s stock grow over time?”
Shame on Dick Enberg. He’s a Michigan born-and-reared kid. He ought to know better than to rain on our parade in this state.
And here I thought that the 1979 Michigan State-Indiana State NCAA Final — aka Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird — was some good television.
But now here’s Enberg, trying to spoil the fun just as MSU is set to take on Kansas in a regional semifinal tonight.
“It’s almost sacrosanct to refer to it as one of the great games of all time,” Enberg, who called the game for NBC and who now works for CBS, told USA Today.
Enberg didn’t stop there. Not only should we stop holding the game in such high regard, he said, and not only wasn’t it one of the greatest finals ever, it was downright…bad.
“But had Magic and Bird been NBA busts, I don’t think we’d look back on it as a great game. It was not a great final. As I left, I had the same feeling as after Super Bowl blowouts — that it wasn’t very exciting.”
Enberg’s sour puss was joined with that of broadcast partner Billy Packer, who echoed the downer words of CMU grad Enberg.
“It was one of the poorer finals games I ever broadcast,” Packer said. “What Bird-Magic eventually became made that game, not the other way around.”
Well, now that last statement of Packer’s, I can swallow.
I won’t quarrel that Magic and Bird’s NBA careers certainly added to the image of the ’79 Final, when MSU met the Indiana State Sycamores. The Spartans had breezed — as much as a team can “breeze” thru an NCAA tourney — thru the brackets, and waiting for them were Bird and his flock, who were 33-0.
But take it from me, who’s old enough to still recall the game (I was 15): the game wasn’t a dud.
Maybe I’m looking at it through too much of a local prism, but I seem to remember that, although the Spartans led most of the way, it was never a blowout, and Bird did his best to make sure it would never be such.
I’m perplexed and a little disappointed to hear such wet blanket words from Enberg and Packer, because it’s not like Magic and Bird weren’t already superstars — at the college level. NBC, I’m sure, enjoyed terrific ratings that night — the only time Magic and Bird met in college.
In other words, these guys weren’t chopped liver who became NBA Hall of Famers. They were already damn good, and that’s why the MSU-ISU game was looked forward to with so much anticipation.
Maybe Enberg and Packer expected TOO much.
But we fans expected a lot, too, and I simply don’t remember being disappointed. MSU won, 75-64, but it wasn’t until the final minutes that you could, as a Spartan fan, relax. As long as Bird lurked, no lead felt truly safe.
I’ve wondered for years if the outcome would have been different had the three-point shot been made available to Bird in 1979.
I don’t know what Enberg and Packer were hoping for, but to broadcast a college game with two high-profile studs like Magic and Bird in it, squaring off…well, unless the game was a complete dog, you’d think you’d have a little more respect for its memory than what they told USA Today.
Yes, the game has grown in legend in 30 years. And yes, much of that — if not all of it — is because of what the two players did in the NBA. But doesn’t every good-to-great game’s stock grow over time?
If we’re going to start telling tales out of school, then I’ll throw one back into Enberg’s face, who was about my 1979 age when it happened: the 1958 NFL Championship between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants. You know, the “Greatest game of all time”?
Not so much, really. Had it not been the first (and only) overtime game in NFL Championship/Super Bowl history, I don’t know that it would be known as the greatest game.
Oh, it was close — no doubt about that. But there were turnovers and dropped passes and it lacked a big game from any of the very talented skill players that both teams employed at the time.
So there. Two can play at this game.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Dick Enberg. He’s been a rock in the business. I still get chills thinking about his game show, “Sports Challenge”, which aired in the mid-1970s to early-1980s. And his voice was the one calling all the plays on my Talking Football game. For those who don’t know, Talking Football was played with two people. You selected an offensive play, which was a tiny recorded disc, and dropped it into the disc player. Your opponent spun the disc to match up with the defense he was calling. Then you plunged the disc down, and the player described the play.
My favorite was, “A LEAPING interception….he’s going to go…all the way!! TOUCHDOWN!”
So Dick Enberg is OK in my book. Not so much Billy Packer, but there you go. But my man Enberg’s memory might be the one that’s not so good.
It’s OK to keep lauding MSU-ISU from 1979. You have my permission.