At the end of Monday night’s NCAA final, with Villanova’s thumping of Michigan beyond a reasonable doubt, Jim Nantz informed the viewing audience that the city of Philadelphia had pulled off an unprecedented parlay—to win the Super Bowl and Final Four in the same calendar year, within a couple months of each other. That’s true, but there’s a caveat.
We should remember that most major college programs are not situated in a major city that has an NFL team. There’s no major league franchise in places like Durham, Chapel Hill, Lawrence, Lexington or even Louisville, all of whom have won recent Final Fours. Therefore, I submit that a better way to look at this is to see what fan base has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in winter and cut down the nets come spring.
A review of the historical record shows that the Villanova-Eagles parlay is still in very unique company. The closest any fan base came to directly matching it was Washington D.C. in 1984. The Georgetown Hoyas of Patrick Ewing won the NCAA title and made John Thompson the first African-American coach to win it all. A couple months earlier, the Washington Redskins had been in the Super Bowl and were a slight favorite to win a repeat championship.
But the ‘Skins had a bad day, Marcus Allen ran wild for the Raiders, Joe Theisman threw a hideous interception in the shadow of his own goal line and Washington was blown out. And yes, as a Redskins fan, I’m going to admit part of my motive in including this example was to jump on any chance I can to jam a mention of the long-gone Joe Gibbs era into a post.
The good people of Arkansas made their own case ten years later. The Razorbacks of Nolan Richardson, using their “40 Minutes of Hell” attack style won the national championship when Scotty Thurman hit a rainbow trey in the closing minute to beat Duke. Arkansas, of course, does not have an NFL team. But I think it’s fair to say that the local team of choice for the Razorback fan base is the Dallas Cowboys. And that January, the “Big Three” of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, coached by Jimmy Johnson, won the first of their three Super Bowls.
Johnson and Cowboy owner Jerry Jones are former Arkansas football players, adding to the connection. Former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton had been recently elected president of the United States. So the people of Arkansas took a Final Four, Super Bowl and the White House in one fell swoop.
One thing to note here though, is that it’s only the Razorback side of the Arkansas-Cowboys parlay that gets to claim the success. Those from Dallas presumably root for Texas or some other Lone Star State school in college hoops.
So the ‘Nova-Eagles Parlay still has a historic uniqueness. It used to be that 1980 Philadelphia sports was the gold standard for the city. In that year, the 76ers, Flyers, Phillies and Eagles all reached the championship round of their respective sports. That achievement, “The Philadelphia Story”, if you will, remains unprecedented. Philadelphia Story II is likely to stand the test of time for a while as well.