Fairleigh Dickinson will live now in NCAA tournament perpetuity, intertwined in highlight reels and slow-motion montages that provide eternal March backdrops.
The Knights harassed and hounded No. 1 Purdue to become just the second No. 16 seed since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to pull off a first-round upset. No. 16 seeds are now 2-150 vs. No. 1 seeds after the 63-58 win.
As history unfolded Friday night for Tobin Anderson’s team, I couldn’t help thinking of the coach of one of those forgotten 150. His funeral is Saturday morning.
I wished I could have texted former Western Carolina coach Phil Hopkins on Friday night, a coach who will be remembered for being almost famous. After nearly pulling one of the great upsets in NCAA tournament history as a No. 16 seed back in 1996 against No. 1 Purdue, Hopkins’ story reminds us that history doesn’t remember the near upset.
Phil Hopkins died on March 2 at age 73, and his services are on Saturday morning in his hometown Pelzer S.C. Having gotten to know Hopkins in the years after his Western Carolina tenure ended up as the archetype for March heartbreak, it’s safe to say his affinity for rooting for the underdog would stay strong in the afterlife.
With Purdue again on the cusp of infamy on Friday night, it was hard not to think about Hopkins. It was Gene Keady’s team back in 1996 that got scared to the brink, as Western Carolina’s upset bid rocked the The Pit in Albuquerque to unmatched decibels. Hopkins’ pluck