As the story goes, in 1985, a Sports Illustrated reporter was assigned to visit the two schools in the NCAA Basketball Championship Game, Georgetown and Villanova, and interview their respective presidents.
When the reporter visited Georgetown, he noticed a golden phone with the inscription “Direct Line to God” in the president’s office. The president asked him if he wanted to make a call and explained that a call on that phone would cost $10,000 a minute. The reporter declined, claiming that he couldn’t afford the call.
The reporter then visited Villanova and noticed a pay phone in the middle of Tolentine Hall in front of the president’s office with a shoddy, cardboard sign over it with the words “Direct Line to God” written on it.
Father Driscoll saw his interest and asked if he wanted to make the call. Armed with the knowledge the Georgetown president gave him, the reporter declined, saying he couldn’t afford the call. “What’s wrong? You can’t afford 25 cents?” Father asked.
The reporter looked befuddled and asked, “Why is it $10,000 a minute at Georgetown and only 25 cents here?” Father chuckled and replied, “Because here at Villanova, it’s a local call.”
Need proof of that? Here it is: Setting the stage 20 years later, Jan. 11, 2005. After a hard overtime win against Providence in the Dunkin Donuts Center, the Villanova basketball team boards a jet taking them back home. But this jet wouldn’t physically get that far. In many cases, though, it went further… much, much further.
After taking off, the jet’s pilot informed the passengers that they would have to make an emergency crash landing, and what followed would not only change a season, but an entire team. The jet nearly crashed, and by a miracle, the crash landing was successful.
Someone upstairs was looking down on Villanova, and that miracle, some would argue, is what made this Villanova team realize what they needed to be successful, to make history: each other.
Sometimes that’s what it takes. A near-death experience, coupled with numerous injuries to key players, will get you thinking with a whole team mentality. Many believe it was just growth inside the program; that Villanova just all of a sudden, with their core upperclassmen, started winning – and winning big. Never mind the brush with mortality. Never mind their dedication to make the most of their second chance. The growth that this team experienced on that plane in January was bigger than any kind of improvement players make during practice.
The Wildcats’ new life began with tough losses to Georgetown and Boston College, while Curtis Sumpter was nursing an injured knee, and left many Villanovans to doubt, yet again, about their tournament hopes. But these ‘Cats understood that they had been given another chance – another shot at glory. Their hopes and dreams, so close to being shattered, were given a whole new pair of wings.
What followed was magic – beautiful, pure, breathtaking magic. A blowout win against the second-ranked team in the country, followed by an impressive victory against a tough Notre Dame team. Both games were broadcast on national television and set the tone for the rest of the season.
For the first time in six years, Villanova was back to normal. The Wildcats killed the Hawks for the first time in three years, knocked off two Top 5 teams in decisive fashion, and finally, after years of suffering, injuries and underachievement, made the NCAA Tournament, made it to the Sweet 16 and should have gone further, had it not been for a botched call.
It takes character to get through the injuries and disappointment of the last two years. It takes perseverance to get through the tough calls that go against you. It takes fortitude not to complain about the setbacks. But this team never quit, they never doubted, and the way this team handled adversity was, in a word, classy.
The way they silenced the critics, naysayers and doubters was absolutely magical. They themselves put Villanova basketball back on the map.
They’ve come together.
They’ve given us something to cheer about once again.
They’ve given us hope.
They’ve made us proud to be a part of Villanova.
Because this team represents what Villanova is all about. It represents determination, heart, toughness, intensity, unity, class, pride. The values we cherish are shown on national TV during the months of January, February and most importantly, March.
Second Chances. It takes character to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s exactly what this team has done, and they’ve taken us with them. To the team: enjoy the ride, guys. We’re right behind you every step of the way.
I guess it still is a local call after all.