FEBRUARY 13, 1994. A date that gave us the kind of soundbite that's destined to never go away.
"I'll kick your ass. . . I'll kill you!"
Those of course were some of the sentiments that John Chaney directed at Massachusetts coach John Calipari in the interview room of the Mullins Center, after his eighth-ranked Temple team had lost by a point on a late bucket to the No. 13 Minutemen. I was in the house that Sunday afternoon, as I was for much of my career, as an Owls' beat writer. There was rarely a dull moment, but that one went way beyond. It started the longest week of my professional life.
Or at least until the "Goongate" episode came along a decade later.
ESPN was to debut another one of its many 30 for 30 documentary films Thursday night. Most of them are spot-on. This one is no exception. It's about Calipari. The title, "One and Not Done," is a reference to what he's been doing at Kentucky the last eight seasons, which is basically molding some of the best freshmen in the land into something that's almost always capable of being the last team standing. Something which he probably doesn't always get the proper credit for.
As you'd suspect, the Chaney part of Cal's story line is in there. The enduring scene takes place about 35 minutes into the two-hour show, though there's an earlier clip from 1990, when Chaney pushed/grabbed Cal at midcourt at the old Curry Hicks Cage after Cal interrupted a discussion Chaney was having with the officiating crew during what became a Temple win in triple overtime.
Cal was, and is, a lot of things to a lot of people. And he admits as much in the piece, at times with a wry smile. But one thing he's not is a dummy. Quite the opposite. When he took over at UMass, the program was an absolute joke. He knew the only way to change that was to take on and ultimately supplant Temple, which had established itself as the best the Atlantic 10 had to offer. Surely he was delusional. By 1994 nobody was laughing any more.
Which brings us to the 13th. UMass had gone 0-21 against the Owls before 1992. It had since taken four of the previous five meetings, including the 1993 A-10 final. This time Temple led by eight with 71/2 minutes to go. But a botched inbounds pass with 39 seconds left didn't help, and Mike Williams nailed a lane jumper with the clock winding down to ignite a court-storming.
Temple should have won, and Chaney said as much in his press conference. I was told he said the same thing to his players. And that the officiating wasn't the reason they lost. What we didn't know was that Cal, who's as animated on the sidelines as they come, had words with the refs afterward. Either as they were walking off the floor or back in the hallway. Something about a quick whistle. And he'd won. As we later found out, someone from Chaney's traveling party had seen the exchange and relayed the information to John.
Not a wise choice, as it turned out.
By the time Cal was doing his thing in front of the microphone, Chaney had stepped back into the room. He wasn't yelling, or threatening. He was admonishing, maybe scolding, trying to give Cal a lesson in hoops etiquette. He even started out by using the word "please." Seriously. As in listen. Cal did for a moment, then was having none of it. Which was his right. But once he told Chaney that he didn't really know what he was talking about, that was it. And the rest we know. Only one camera taping the scene. It was enough.
Only problem was, I missed it. When Chaney finished speaking and was headed to the locker room, the Inquirer's Mike Jensen and I soon followed. We needed to get player reactions too. We didn't exit right away. We wanted to hear some of what Cal had to say. Then we left. As we did, Chaney was passing us on his way to the door. Little did we realize. Maybe we were naive, or not thinking. Doesn't matter.
When we reached the locker room some players were running out, partially-dressed. Eventually we found out what had gone down, detail by detail. Later, as we were waiting to talk to Chaney, who was pacing around like a caged lion, one of his assistants implored us not to make too big a deal of the incident. My response? "It's going to be the lead story on SportsCenter . . . For a week." I wasn't wrong.
I must have been on a dozen radio shows from coast to coast. That was going to include Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN in New York, until I admitted I hadn't actually witnessed the confrontation. I thought the truth was considered a valid defense in most states.
Later, when we were reliving the events, I told Jensen I felt like the guy who'd walked out of the Texas School Book Depository when Lee Harvey Oswald was walking in. Not that my presence would've made any difference in what ensued. It's still amusing to watch how Cal is sort of backpedaling as Chaney moves closer to him before others got between them.
Funny what sticks with you.
A few days later Chaney did apologize, after being suspended (by Temple, not the A-10) for the subsequent game. That meant he didn't have to make the dreaded trip to Olean, N.Y., to face St. Bonaventure (the Owls won by nine). Some penalty.
The night at UMass (our deadlines were still like 2 in the morning back then), I was able to get one of the refs on the phone. I simply asked him if he felt Cal had gone over the line. And he said yes. That in no way exonerates Chaney for what he did, which was obviously out of line. It just helps explain the precipitation angle. If nothing else, Cal could incite.
That was something he never got. And that's OK, to a degree. He was the victim, a role he played up to the fullest. UMass's next game was two days later at Saint Joseph's, and he made a point of saying that his young children were asking him if he was going to come home from Philadelphia. Seriously? The Hawks would win, by one. And Cal made it back safely to Amherst.
On the 24th the Minutemen won at McGonigle Hall for the first time ever, by one, on a long, late three-pointer Williams that went in off the backboard. When Temple had a foul to give. Two weeks later UMass beat the Owls at home in the A-10 title game, by 11.
Both would lose in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, UMass as a two seed and Temple as a four.
That's not what anybody remembers about that season. Nor should they.
Cal did what he set out to do. And in the process provoked the most imposing obstacle blocking his path at that point in his journey. You can't fault him for that. He knew what he wanted, and how to attain it. If that meant being whatever, so be it. Nothing's changed. The only difference these days is his stature. And you have to appreciate all that he's accomplished, even if his resume includes more vacateds than national titles.
Chaney and Cal reconciled. Or at least came to an understanding. It probably helped that Cal moved on, first to the NBA and then to Memphis, where Chaney's Owls were the opponent in 2000 for Cal's first game. Temple won, by five. The Tigers came here the next year and won by 10. The two also were there for each other at some charity functions. Yet their relationship will remain defined by a few snapshot minutes.
And ESPN has given us the opportunity to go back in time once again. Plus a lot more that has nothing to do with Chaney. There's also Bobby Martin ending up at Pitt (where Calipari was the assistant recruiting him) after giving a commitment to Villanova. Phil Martelli gets a fair amount of air time early on and has some interesting perspective. Of course Bruiser Flint, Cal's UMass assistant and successor, is featured prominently. So Philly is well represented. Can you really tell the Cal narrative any other way?
"You remember that," Chaney had shouted as he departed.
How can we forget?
Wonder if anyone thought about doing one of these on him?