I Was There (A Fab Five Story)

Submitted by Swayze Howell Sheen on March 16th, 2011 at 9:55 PM

I was there.

The almost-perfect long weekend in the middle of the last semester of our senior year. Yeah, it was a little too expensive (even though we drove). Yeah, it made finishing our classes a little tougher (but who works much in their last semester of undergrad anyhow?). And it was a chance to see something special, a potential national championship. I had watched the last one on TV (and will never forget how clutch Rumeal was, hitting those two free throws). I had celebrated on South U. (as a high schooler) with the masses, but desperately wanted to see this one in person.

Rumeal: Clutch

They held a lottery to see who got tickets. Can you imagine, not enough tickets to go see the the Final Four down in Louisiana? We won. I don't remember how many people applied, and I sure was hoping that senior status counted for something extra. But we won. And so, we went.

Welcome to New Orleans!

I was only worried about one game: Kentucky. Everybody thought they were the team to beat. And they were. A beast of a team. Led by Jamal Mashburn, they finished the season ranked #2 in the country (behind #1 Indiana, whom #9 Kansas later bounced to sneak into the Final Four); Michigan was #3, North Carolina #4. The closest (at the time) to all four #1 teams making it. How I still wonder about what would have happened had Indiana beaten Kansas...

Bobby K: Too Angry To Win

But I was there.

The Kentucky game went to overtime, Webber was a monster throughout. Look at his stat sheet: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 39 minutes of playing time. Yes, others had great games too (Howard, Jackson, Rose), but without Webber, the run would have ended. I saw a lot of Kentucky fans crying after the game. One shook my hand and offered up a weak but heartfelt "good luck"; I'll always think fondly of that small, silly moment. What luck did I need? I was just watching. Kentucky fans, man, kentucky fans.

One Kentucky Fan We Can All Get Behind

So we celebrated. A great night out on the town, as only the town that hosts Mardi Gras can deliver. And the knowledge that we had one more game, a winnable game against a good (but not great) team.

Mardi Gras Girls: No, We Didn't Meet Them

And I was there.

The team didn't seem to have their legs that infamous Monday night against UNC. I think Kentucky took a lot out of them. Watching UNC breeze by a lousy Kansas team on Saturday, I was convinced we had the tougher road, and during the last game it showed.

Don't Worry Sir, We'll Lose Easily

But those five guys (and yes, the others, too) had something, a toughness, a resilience. We managed to pull ahead with five minutes left. Someone told me one of those stupid stats which make you feel good but only in a false-bravado kind of way: Michigan hadn't lost a game that year when they were up with five minutes left. My friends and I exchanged high fives. We're going to win!

We Exchanged High Fives

But somehow they couldn't keep a guy in Donald Williams' face, and he kept making shots. Why was Jalen on him? I thought King would have been a better choice, more athletic, if shorter. But there was Williams again, making twos, making threes, and suddenly we were down.

F---ing Donald Williams (Looking Old Now)

I was there, and I remember when Webber traveled.

The whole place screamed "walk!" but somehow they didn't call it. Later, I felt thankful for the refs: they didn't want to decide the game on a stupid play like that. They just wanted to see it play out. But Webber walked, and then started dribbling like crazy up the court.

Fisher: What I Would Have Looked Like, Had We Had One More TO

Most of us were screaming "Time out!" How many goddamned basketball games have you watched where there are about 100 timeouts at the end, play moving glacially forward, the last 30 seconds taking 20 minutes? How can a team actually run out of time outs? I bet you Fisher thought about that for a long time after. If they'd just had one more timeout ...

Pelinka: Open For A Three?

Pelinka was open. The UNC guys were running around, crazy, double-teaming (turned out to be a good decision, huh?), and if Webber had just swung the ball to someone, anyone, I bet it would have made its way to Pelinka in the corner. You know, the guy who makes threes. For years, I would wake up in the night, and think about "what if Pelinka had gotten it in the corner?" Thankfully, that went away. Sport fans, we're nuts.

Time out!

Oh Webber

I was there, when all the fans looked at one another, confused.

What happened? Then some guy two rows in front of me, in that f---ing monster of a building where there wasn't much of a scoreboard anywhere near the court for players to see, said simply: "They don't have any more timeouts. That's a technical foul. We're going to lose." Our section, crazy with noise moments ago, jumping with the certainty that our guys were going to pull it out, fell slowly quiet. The UNC fans started to figure it out too; they all started to go nuts, as did their players on the bench. I still can't figure out the Dean Smith voodoo, his two championships not remembered for his team's greatness, but for the other team's failure in the clutch. For this reason, I still harbor an irrational hatred of Dean Smith.

The Dean's Voo-doo Victim #1: Fred Brown

Watching the brilliant documentary on the Fab Five the other day brought this flood of memories back. And what memories they were, and are. I've enjoyed the current season immensely, as Beilein and Co. have built up a team that is easy and fun to root for. But for two seasons in what seems like another lifetime, we had something more than that, something so rare and special that it is hard to believe it was Michigan basketball. We had rock stars for a basketball team. We cheered them on when they won, and we wept with them when they lost. We loved them, and so we wept.

It was a long drive home.

A Long Drive Home

As for the memories I have, well, scandals, banner-removals, or any other "official" process can't touch them. A memory of my own youth, a memory of a time where five kids made national headlines simply by being who they were, a memory filled with many joyous headlines, and finished with an unforgettable exclamation point, perhaps an appropriately tragic ending.

I graduated, I moved out of the state, but I will always have those memories.

You see, I was there.




March 16th, 2011 at 10:17 PM ^

I was 14 and lucky enough that my dad was an alum who had the means to take his son on a trip he'd never forget.

No matter that the banners have been taken down, no one can take away those memories: the excitement after the Kentucky game, the first walk down Bourbon Street and sitting in a courtyard jazz club for hours, how crushed we were after the loss.

I just finished watching the documentary and immediately texted my dad. A little bit to find out if I should save my copy, but more to catch up and maybe say thanks.


March 16th, 2011 at 10:28 PM ^

It elicits the same reaction as the documentary -- very compelling but painfully depressing at the same time.  This:

"They don't have any more timeouts. That's a technical foul. We're going to lose." Our section, crazy with noise moments ago, jumping with the certainty that our guys were going to pull it out, fell slowly quiet.

... is similar to situations I've been through, but never in a game of that magnitude.  I would've cried my eyes out.  I almost want to now, still.

P.S. The pictures of hot chicks and high-fiving bunnies were pretty cool.


March 16th, 2011 at 10:31 PM ^

Great read.  Thanks for bringing back the memories.  I wasn't there but it was the Fab Five who really made me the Michigan fan I am today.  Both of my parents went to State and my grandfather to Michigan.  Growing up I had both shirts, but wasnt a huge fan of either.  My brother and I here were huge fans of basketball however, and when the Fab Five came on the scene I was a Michigan fan for life.  I immediately bought all the Michigan stuff I could and laughed in my parents face whenever they beat State.  I will never forget them and thank them from the bottom of my heart for changing me over from the dark side.  I don't want to think about what would have happened to my fanhood had the fab five not had happened.


March 16th, 2011 at 10:49 PM ^

Great read and thanks for sharing. I was 12 years old watching with my buddy who was on my basketball team & also a rapid UM fan. It seemed every game they played came down to the wire, but this is still one game where I still get angry/sad every time I see it. I remember being so upset I couldn't get words out, I was really upset about it for over a week (at 12, that's like 3-4 years). 

This documentary was so awesome to watch, I had goosebumps the entire time and was that excited 12 yr old on the edge of the couch. My girlfriend could tell something was different about how much I was into this and actually left me alone to watch. Just wild how much I remember about each of these games, each pair of shoes, and the swagger they brought to an otherwise pretty vanilla (no pun intended!) college basketball landscape at that time.

Great reliving these great memories. Just 3-4 months prior my Dad took me to my 1st UM football game, which happened to be a buttwooping at the expense of OSU & a certain Heisman pose game!


I will always love this team & remember them forever. 



March 16th, 2011 at 11:06 PM ^

Great diary.  I was too young to really understand that teams like the Fab 5 don't come around every year, and only now do I realize how lucky anyone who got to follow this team really was.

no joke its hoke

March 16th, 2011 at 11:52 PM ^

I grew up in a house hold that only watched the NFL. Then I saw the Michigan vs Noter Dame game in 88 and that's when I became a Michigan football fan. I never watched basketball untill I came across a Gab Five game and fell in love! They did shape a generation and I'm glad it was mine!


March 17th, 2011 at 3:07 AM ^

but the thing I remember the most was the win over Kentucky (and the awesome party on Bourbon Street Sat night afterwards).

They were never expected to beat UNC and they were never really in the game. Although they could've had a chance at the end, it didn't feel like it was going to happen.

I didn't mind so much.  I was still in the glow of the run in '89 and especially the epic Final Four game against the Illini.  That and the wipe-out of Virginia with Rice and Higgins draining 3s from everywhere.




March 17th, 2011 at 11:51 AM ^

They were never expected to beat UNC and they were never really in the game.

This is not true.  We were favored to beat them - in fact, we'd beaten them earlier in the season.  And we were in the game the whole way.  Yeah, we were down a few points for a long stretch in the second half, but we took the lead and led 67-63 with about four minutes left.  Then we went cold for a few possessions and they seized the lead.  


March 18th, 2011 at 12:40 AM ^

I don't know what the Vegas line was, but until the Kentucky game they had played a terrible tournament.  They beat 9 seed UCLA on a last second shot and barely got by Temple and GW.

They had beaten NC in the Rainbow Classic 4 months earlier (also on a last second shot), but NC wasn't playing Donald Williams much at the time.

In the tournament, NC had beaten a very good Cincy team and crushed Kansas.  And we had watched the Kansas domination first hand. 

Also, the Fab Five were a team without a center and Montross was one of the best in college that year (and NC had another 7 footer on the bench).  Michigan was very susceptible to being beaten by teams with good big men.  



March 17th, 2011 at 10:45 AM ^

Jalen underestimates how closely Fab Five fans followed that team in this manner: off the top of my head, starting lineup NC team that beat M - D. Williams, D. Phelps, E. Reese, G. Lynch, Eric Montross.  We reaaally cared Jalen, I think I could probably name the starting lineup of every team they played that year take away Coastal Carolina.


March 17th, 2011 at 11:25 AM ^

Thank you for sharing this memory. I fell in love with the 5 times instantly. I can tell you how many points webber and jalen scored in the first game they ever played at cobo against u of d.


March 17th, 2011 at 11:43 AM ^

I agree with every word.  That game just ripped my heart out as a fan - I think it's still the most painful loss I've gone through.  I hated UNC, more than Duke even, for a long time after that.  We were better than them!


March 17th, 2011 at 12:01 PM ^

Very well written. The only game that I think was as vomit inducing for me as that one, would have been the 1994 game vs Colorado and the infamous Stewart to Westbrook hail mary.

I remember being 10 during the Nat'l Championship game, and 12 during the Colorado game. I remember being downright sad and apathetic to everything and the tears welling up. I think those two will forever be burned into my memory, the start of my obsession.


March 17th, 2011 at 1:09 PM ^

from being a fan of a sporting team.

It was that night when the timeout was called.

I was 13.

I'll never forget it.

Nor will I forget all the great feelings and memories that they gave us all.

Excellent diary post - i appreciate it.


Section 1

March 17th, 2011 at 3:24 PM ^

If we had another timeout; if Webber had seen Rob Pelinka for an open three; if Webber had not called timeout at all; and IF we had won that game... Do you think that the legend would instead be about how Webber got away with an obvious travel in the backcourt as we inbounded the ball?

There is an alternate/mythical ending to the Fab Five story that I would have liked.  (But which Ed Martin would have ruined, no matter what).  It is this:  That all five players remained all four years and got degrees.  That they'd have been the first team since Wooden-era UCLA to go to four Finals all four years.  And while they might have last the first two, they might have won the next two.


March 20th, 2011 at 9:54 PM ^

Didn't play in 4 Final Fours, because freshmen didn't play. And saying I want you to turn down dozens of millions of dollars to get your degree is just saying risk injury, because I still want to watch you play (Howard finished his degree...does it matter it wasn't in 4 years for any other reason...?).
<br>And really, if we had won, the NCAA would have never vacated anything over Martin, right or wrong as that may be.


March 17th, 2011 at 6:12 PM ^

That was my freshman year.  I watched the Kentucky game and the UNC game at Crisler.  The crowd was so electric, it was almost as if we were actually there. 


March 18th, 2011 at 12:49 PM ^

Coach, you and I are the same year at UofM and it's as if we felt the exact same things about the ride with the Fab Five.

I lost the lottery, so I didn't make the trip to New Orleans, but the weekend in Ann Arbor was just as exciting.  Everybody was nervous about Kentucky, and more than just Mashburn, Travis Ford had been lighting up the tournament.  Jimmy shut him down and that may have been the difference.  After the game, I recall turning to friends and saying that if we didn't do the same to Donald Williams (who won tournament MOP), we might not win.

I felt bad for Chris after the time out.  When he went to the corner and put his hands together, I stood up from my seat, said "that's the ball game" and walked out of the viewing party because I already knew.  I also couldn't get over the errant (and fast) three we took on the possession before when we didn't need it.  I too dreamt about that play for weeks after (like it did after Desmond getting tripped and Kordell's bomb - sorry about this part).

That IU class (of 93) with Cheaney, Graham, Graham, Lawson, Leary and Reynolds (and at one point, Funderburke), was considered one of the best classes of all time.  UNC followed it up with Montross, Sullivan, Phelps, Reese, and Salvadori (and at one point, Rozier) which replaced IU's class at the top of the chart.  Then the starts aligned for the Fab Five.  The difference for us, was that our crew didn't stay together.

After they returned to campus, I was talking to Juwan and asked him what Chris was going to do.  He told me Chris was leaving and when I asked why not stay together until they make their mark with a title, I vividly remember his reply: "there talking about a lot of money man."

Jalen's comments in the documentary about all the people making money off of them - except them - was what resonated with my most.  They had already made the most amazing 2-year run in 20+ years (better than Duke's) because of their youth, yet we never got to see them reach their full potential.  That has become the bigger heartbreak for me over the years.


March 18th, 2011 at 9:19 PM ^

...and have had many friends from Latin America over the years after graduating in '89.  I watched the UNC title game with friends from Ecuador who knew nothing about basketball.  Within minutes of the opening tip, marveling, one of them asked, "Wow, who is that number 4?"

I remember thinking it was interesting that even people who had never seen a basketball game in their lives could tell that Webber was special.

Anyway, the end of that game is my most painful sporting memory ever, worse than Kordell's bomb (devastating, but a regular season game), Isiah's errant inbounds pass (horrifying, but they beat Boston the following year), or the premature retirement of a still-in-his-prime Barry Sanders (that one's actually pretty close).

But it's also true - we were in the final b/c of Chris, and we were in position to win it b/c of Chris.  He gave us a lot more great moments than bad ones.