Twenty years ago today, I became a college basketball fan.

No, really. That’s not an exaggeration. The Sweet 16 game between UConn and Clemson in 1990, ending in the Burrell-to-George miracle shown above, was literally the first basketball game I ever watched in anything close to its entirety. As I recalled some years ago, tracing my history as a March Madness fanatic:

The first year I paid any attention to the NCAA Tournament was 1990. I was waiting to get a haircut at Stan’s Barber Shop in Newington on March 17, 1990 when I noticed a basketball game on Stan’s small, black-and-white TV. It was Connecticut vs. California in the second round of the NCAAs. The Huskies won, 74-54. I was huge nerd back then (even moreso than now!), and was only just barely beginning to follow sports at all, so I believe this was the first time I’d even heard of the NCAA Tournament. But the UConn-Cal game got me interested enough to watch the Huskies’ next game in its entirety, five days later, on my TV at home.

And that game, on March 22, 1990, just happened to feature a shot that ESPN subsequently ranked as one of the 25 best plays in any sport in the network’s 25-year history. It was “The Shot” — Tate George’s game-winner with 0.1 seconds on the clock, made possible by Scott Burrell’s length-of-the-court pass with 1.0 seconds on the clock. It beat Clemson, 71 to 70, and sent UConn to the Elite Eight for the first time ever. The Hartford Courant headline the next day was “It’s late, it’s Tate, it’s great!” …

[Actually, as I just discovered via Google, I’ve been misquoting it all these years. It was “It’s late, it’s great, it’s Tate.”] [UPDATE: Never mind! I was right all along.]

It’s easy to see why I got hooked on March Madness. Literally the first NCAA Tournament game I ever watched in its entirety was a true classic!

UConn lost to Duke two nights later on a not-nearly-as-amazing buzzer-beater by Christian Laettner. (He had 2.4 seconds, and only had to go half the length of the court.) Duke ultimately lost to UNLV in the most lopsided championship game ever, 103-73. But UConn’s “Dream Season” and “The Shot” had turned me very quickly into a March Madness junkie.

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