UCLA Bruins 69-71 Houston Cougars (partially lost footage of "Game of the Century" NCAA game; 1968)
Houston Cougars' Elvin Hayes celebrating with the crowd following an upset victory.
Status: Partially Lost
On 20th January 1968, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams the UCLA Bruins and the Houston Cougars played a regular season NCAA game at the Astrodome. Billed as the "Game of the Century", the Cougars defeated the Bruins 71-69, handing UCLA its first defeat after 47 consecutive victories. Occurring in front of a then-basketball record audience of 52,693, the encounter became the first NCAA regular season to receive live primetime national television coverage, courtesy of the TVS Television Network. The broadcast ultimately convinced other national television networks on the viability of continually airing regular-season college basketball games, inspiring the March Madness coverage.
Heading into the game, the UCLA Bruins were enjoying a reign of dominance under head coach John Wooden. For two and a half years, the Bruins achieved a 47 game winning streak, and had also won the 1964, 1965, and 1967 NCAA Tournaments. Such was the Bruin's dominance that UCLA center Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) noted many followers of college basketball had begun to tire of the team's dominance, and were seeking a fresh challenger. But whereas UCLA had been achieving a perfect start to the 1967-1968 regular season, so too had the Houston Cougars, who had won their first 16 games. Both teams were now 1 and 2 in the national polls. In the previous NCAA Tournament, the Bruins beat the Cougars 73-58 in the National Semifinals on 24th March 1967.
Seeking to avenge that loss, and confirm his team could beat the top side in the country, Houston Cougars coach Guy Lewis met with Houston athletic director Harry Fouke to discuss hosting a regular season game. Fouke dismissed Lewis' first two pitches, but reluctantly accepted the proposal on the third attempt when Lewis claimed he could get at least 35,000 in-attendance, even offering to pay both sides $10,000 each for the game. The two men then met with Judge Roy Hofheinz, to convince him to host the game at the Astrodome. Hofheinz's concerns that putting the court in the middle of the Astrodome would make the action difficult to view from afar was rebuked by Lewis, who pointed out baseball had achieved success at the Astrodome despite featuring smaller balls and players. The issue surrounding obtaining an arena floor was resolved by transporting the one situated at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
The next step involved getting UCLA's agreement. Upon receiving the proposal by a now-convinced Fouke, UCLA athletic director J.D. Morgan also began to realise the potential gigantic business a contest between two top teams could generate for college basketball. He therefore approached Wooden on the possibility of hosting a regular season game between the pair. Wooden was initially reluctant; harnessing a business-first philosophy, the head coach was concerned the game would be an overly spectacle affair, being concerned with the unusual stadium for basketball, the lighting and the much larger anticipated crowd. He was also worried that it would deemphasise teamplay in favour of a duel between Alcindor and Houston's Elvin Hayes. The fact this clash would be a challenging regular season game was also a pressing issue. However, Morgan successfully convinced Wooden on the game's commercial viability, particularly how both schools would receive at least $80,000 for the encounter.
The game was set to take place on 20th January 1968. Ted Nance, Houston's sports information director, was responsible for scheduling the encounter and was tasked by Fouke with attracting at least 30,000 into the venue. Nance's first point of order was to produce a full-page advertisement in Houston's upcoming football program, predominantly featuring Alcindor and Hayes competing in the 1967 NCAA Tournament game. He was also responsible for coining the encounter as the "Game of the Century". After ticket sales were initially poor as Houston residents generally flocked to see the Houston Cougars football team, business ramped up during November, when basketball practice sessions indicated a promising Cougars team. This, combined with constant radio promotions and growing media interest, led to a huge surge of ticket sales in the weeks leading up to the clash. Eventually, 52,693 were in attendance that day, a record for any basketball game at the time.
Finally, the search for a national television outlet began. The Bruins-Cougars clash was not the first televised NCAA encounter; in 1961, a Finals match between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Ohio State Buckeyes was "nationally" televised, although in reality, it was only aired in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio. The major television networks, including NBC, ABC, and CBS, were uninterested in televising college football games beyond post-season encounters and had never aired one live on primetime slots. However, one fledgling network was intrigued: the TVS Television Network. TVS was formed as a regional network in 1965, before going national in 1968. TVS was seen as independent compared to the major networks, and its business model was equally unique. Rather than depend on its own affiliates, the network syndicated broadcasts across America to independent television stations.
TVS was operated by Eddie Einhorn, who had already achieved some success broadcasting college basketball regionally. However, the obscurity of the sport meant he had lost $450,000 during the 1967-1968 season. Thus, upon hearing the proposal, Einhorn fought a bidding war with Hughes Sports Network, eventually winning the broadcasting rights for $27,000. His next objective was to sell the broadcast to the independent stations. There were two main obstacles to overcome: Firstly, as a primetime college basketball game broadcast had never been conducted before, it was unclear whether the airing would attract a large audience, especially since even NCAA Tournament games had not been televised for six years. Secondly, many of these stations aired content from other major networks; in order to air the game, these stations would have to pre-empt the other networks' programming, and risk offending them in the process. Strong media coverage, combined with growing fan demand, helped convince many stations to air the game in-full. In total, around 120 stations across 49 states broadcast the Game of the Century, with Einhorn being so overwhelmed with the requests that "At the end, I couldn't get them all on."
Commentary was provided by play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg, and colour commentator Bob Pettit. Enberg's appointment came thanks to an assist by Morgan, who persuaded Enberg that the then-Bruins play-by-play commentator would be a valuable asset for the broadcast. The broadcast marked Enberg's first instance commentating for national television. With the television coverage being sorted, Nance began brainstorming ideas for the half-time show, knowing that it would need to be substantial for an historic first broadcast. He made contact with Evan Peskin, a photographer and music promoter, who was able to provide the band Jay & the Techniques for free as they were seeking more exposure. This turned out to be a well-negotiated agreement, as a month prior to the broadcast, Jay & the Techniques released the record Apples, Peaches, and Pumpkin Pie, which became a hit and allowed them a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. This further stirred interest in the upcoming airing.
Ultimately, the broadcast was a major success for both TVS and college football. It drew around 12 million viewers, prompting advertisers to desperately bid for crucial air-time. Einhorn, therefore, spent most of the first-half agreeing deals that would allow these brand names to be broadcast during the second-half. Notes were then sent to Enberg, who plugged the items in 10-second intervals. The Game of the Century has since been deemed as the first real made-for-TV college basketball game, and was the catalyst towards the other major networks taking the sport seriously. For instance, NBC bid over $500,000 for the rights to air the 1969 NCAA Tournament Final, whereas the regular season became a staple for TVS on a national basis. It has since been cited as the inspiration for NCAA's March Madness television coverage, with modern television package deals now being worth billions of dollars.
As for the game itself, UCLA faced problems when Alcindor suffered a scratched left eye during a game held a week prior, causing him to suffer recurring corneal erosion syndrome. While Alcindor competed, not only did he require a large bandage on his affected cornea, but the injury had prevented him from competing in two games held before the clash, making him lose focus and conditioning. While all players were certainly nervous heading into the event, Hayes helped calmed nerves among the Cougars, completely outpacing Alcindor throughout much of the game. He, therefore, contributed towards the Cougars achieving a narrow 46-43 lead when the first-half ended. In contrast, whereas Alcindor would go on to have a successful NCAA and later NBA career, this clash was declared one of his worst performances, converting only four of his eighteen scoring opportunities with some blocked by Hayes. Thus, the Bruins mainly relied on Lucius Allen, whose long-range shooting kept UCLA within touching distance of the Cougars' score.
The predominantly Houston audience (10,000 were supporting UCLA) was now firmly behind the Cougars. Houston guard Don Chaney recalled that the support was so extremely noisy that it marked the only instance where he failed to hear the basketball bounce. Alcindor meanwhile faced fatigue, though was kept on throughout the game as the others players and coach believed removing him from play would further impact proceedings. Nevertheless, while UCLA was not up to its full strength, the team kept up with Houston, equalising at the 54, 65, and 69-point marks. Allen again was credited for the comeback, tying the game via two free throws leaving just 44 seconds remaining. However, sixteen seconds later, Hayes was fouled, allowing him to score two free throws of his. In total, Hayes converted 17 of his 25 shots and scored 39 points. Behind again, UCLA's final equalising opportunity was squandered when an Allen pass towards Jim Nielsen ending up going over the line after Michael Warren deflected it. With 12 seconds remaining, Hayes ran towards the UCLA's hoop, before passing to George Reynolds. Reynolds held onto the ball until time expired, giving the Cougars an upset 71-69 victory.
Post-game, the delighted Houston crowd ran over one hundred feet to celebrate the Cougars breaking UCLA's unbeaten streak. Meanwhile, Wooden conceded defeated and refused to blame Alcindor's eye injury for his team's defeat, while also deemphasising the importance of the game by noting the ongoing Vietnam War. Lewis would consider the encounter as his favourite game. Despite losing the game, the Bruins ultimately had the last laugh. Both sides rematched during the Semi-Finals of the 1968 NCAA Tournament on 29th November that year. Here, the Bruins outmatched the Cougars by 101-69, and would later claim the 1968 title. Remarkably, the Semi-Final game's television rating was almost half the Game of the Century's number. UCLA's long-term dominance continued from there, winning every NCAA Tournament from 1967 to 1973. For the Game of the Century, both teams received $125,000, which was more than the University of Houston had earned throughout the 1966-1967 season. Some, like UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian, believe both sides were actually underpaid for the game when considering the rapid development college basketball has experienced since.
While the Game of the Century broadcast is a historic milestone for college basketball and its television coverage, a sizeable proportion of the TVS broadcast is missing. It is not the only TVS broadcast to have suffered in terms of preservation, as its airings of IndyCar and the World Football League are also mostly lost with many tapes having been destroyed. A partial recording of the game was presented by Enberg, which contains all of the second half, but only the final few minutes from the first. Aside from a few commercials, the half-time show and post-game analysis are completely lost. This incomplete recording lasts for just over 30 minutes and can be watched on Dailymotion. Additionally, Davenport Sports Network uploaded some TVS coverage that contained further footage of the post-game celebration. Behind-the-scenes film footage, including a 1982 news segment from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, is also available on YouTube.
- Cartoon Network NBA All-Star Slam (found interviews of marathon; 2003)
- Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (lost video footage of Filipino basketball games; 1938-1981)
- The Mid-Majority (partially lost basketball blog; 2004-2014)
- NBA Elite 11 (found builds of unreleased PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 basketball simulator; 2010)
- NBA Powerdunkers (lost PC port of PlayStation sports game; 1997)
- New Jersey Turnpikes (lost unreleased mockumentary basketball film; 1999)
- Philippine Basketball Association (partially found broadcasting footage of Filipino basketball games; 1975-present)
- Shaquille O'Neal Presents: His Superfriends Vol. 1' (partially lost album; 2001)
- Slam Dunk (partially found Canadian English dub of anime series; 2005-2006)
- Texas Archive of the Moving Image's full 1982 news segment.
- Davenport Sports Network providing some additional TVS coverage of the game.
- Go Coogs providing various newspaper articles reporting on the game's result.
- University of Houston Libraries summarising the game and television coverage, and noting previous games receiving "national" coverage. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Los Angeles Times documenting the game, Alcindor's situation, and how the subsequent Semi-Final game drew almost half the rating the Game of the Century received. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Los Angeles Daily News reflecting on the game's impact 50 years on. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- NCAA providing various anecdotes regarding the game. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Sports Reference summarising UCLA's strong performance record during the 1960s and early-1970s. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Go Coogs detailing the build-up towards the Game of the Century. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Los Angeles Times reflecting on the major success of the game and its future on college basketball. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- How March Became Madness where Lewis discussed conceptualising the game (p.g. 37-43). Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Archived Houston Chronicle Archives providing detailing the game itself, the television coverage, and the commercial reception. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- How March Became Madness where Nance explained how he put the game together and coined it "Game of the Century" (p.g. 55-59). Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Sports Emmy documenting how TVS achieved the broadcast. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- How March Became Madness summarising the history of TVS (p.g. 195-196). Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- The Cubs and the White Sox summarising Einhorn's successful attempts to win over independent stations on the broadcast. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- Go Coogs noting the lack of available footage surrounding the game. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- nascarman History video noting all TVS broadcasts of IndyCar races are lost. Retrieved 17th Apr '23
- NFL Films documentary noting most of TVS' World Football League broadcasts are lost. Retrieved 17th Apr '23