Mo Howard hadn't seen the whole game since he'd played in it. It had been a couple of decades — people were still calling it possibly the greatest college basketball game ever played — but he knew all about it, glory and pain, how back in his day losing the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final in overtime meant North Carolina State got to go on and win the NCAA championship, while his Maryland Terps went home. Mo hadn't needed to watch it.
"I remember it like it was yesterday,'' Mo said.
They changed the rules mostly because of it, because maybe the second-best team in the country couldn't go to the NCAA Tournament. One team per league. Maryland skipped the NIT. What was the point?
Here it was, like midnight — Maryland-North Carolina State, 1974, popped up on a classic sports channel.
"You've got to come see this,'' Mo Howard remembered telling his oldest son. "Ash was asleep. He might have been 12 or 13 years old. He came in. He looked at it, all bleary-eyed."
If the past was right there on the screen, Dad playing with the greatest Maryland team ever against N.C. State featuring David Thompson — "absolutely the best college basketball player of that era" — they would have no way of knowing, even watching that night, how history can loop around, how the son would end up as an assistant coach when Villanova played another classic, maybe the greatest NCAA final in history, down to the last Kris Jenkins jump shot.
You know the latest revision to the family history: how Villanova won again last spring, Ashley Howard as Jay Wright's top assistant, before he signed on the next week as La Salle's head coach. That put Mo in the front row of Tom Gola Arena recently as the Explorers played their first home game. He'd already lived through his son's debut down at Temple.
"I was nervous as all get out,'' Mo said. "I'm telling you, I was soaked in perspiration. I'm not as nervous today as I was."
For Mo Howard, who grew up in Philadelphia basketball, starred at St. Joseph's Prep — his point guard was a guy named Phil Martelli — and had brief NBA stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Jazz after Maryland, this whole thing now is just so special. He can remember coming into this gym at La Salle the week it opened, getting in there with his best friend in those days, Joe Bryant. He pointed to the track high above the edges of the court. He's been on that track.
"I would say we've been in this building no less than 1,000 times,'' Mo Howard said.
For Ashley Howard, having his dad around makes him think of family members gone, especially his mom, who died in 2011.
"The fact that he and I are still here together to share those moments,'' Ashley said. "Him being in the room, honestly, it's like having everyone with me at the same time. It just becomes way bigger than basketball."
Mo knows this latest chapter won't be all laughs, how his son had gotten used to winning — "he's been on such a winning streak" — and the adjustment now is hard. He also knows Ashley has experienced enough in his own life to handle it, like the time a cardiologist told them that Ashley's basketball career at Drexel was over because of a heart condition.
"He lets out a scream that I can hear now,'' Mo said. "I felt so helpless for the guy because there was nothing I could do. He sort of turned inward."
Neither could know Ashley's career would get a head start from that early retirement, how then-Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint would turn Howard into a coach right then.
"Every time I see Bruiser, I thank him,'' Mo said. "I've known him since he was a little guy. Because he did take care of Ashley."
At the time, the family wondered if maybe this doctor had it wrong.
"Bruiser told me, 'You can get a second, third or fourth opinion; I'm not signing the release, because if something happens to him, I'll never be able to face you,' " Mo remembered.
Sitting there at Gola, memories seeped back with little prodding, like when Maryland made it to the 2002 Final Four in Atlanta.
"I decided to jump in the car and drive to Atlanta,'' Mo said, adding that Ashley and his younger son, Ky, 9 years old at the time, went along. No tickets? No problem.
"I'm Mo Howard,'' Mo said. "I'm going to use Mo Howard muscle, get us some tickets."
Semifinal night, no tickets to be found.
"We stayed at a roach motel and ate Popeyes chicken,'' Mo said, laughing at the memory.
Maryland moved into the final, to play Indiana. Tickets for the final usually are easier to get because two fan bases are going home, looking to sell. Mo had put the word out. He got a call: You still looking? The person had two.
Mo took his sons over to the Georgia Dome, and he told them he had only two tickets to pick up at will call.
"I want you to go,'' he told them.
He remembered Ashley, then at Drexel, saying, "Dad, there's no way I'm going to go. This is your school. This is your moment. You're part of all this."
Dad's response: "Well, son, if you feel that way about it, you should go."
As for the other ticket, "My little guy, Ky, I said, 'You want to go?' He said, 'No, man, I don't want to go.'
"Well, what are you going to do if I go to the game?
"I'll sit in the car and wait until you come back."
Dad said, "Well, you've got to go, for sure.''
Mo went back to the hotel — they'd gotten in a nicer one — and watched it on television.
"I love my boys — that was a highlight of the relationship,'' Mo said, wiping at a tear.
Fast-forward to the 2016 Final Four. Ashley, who had worked as an assistant at La Salle, Drexel, and Xavier, had the scouting responsibility for Villanova's semifinal against Oklahoma. Mo went to the room, sat there quietly.
"It was the first time that I really got a sense of his basketball intellect,'' Mo said. "His attention to detail, how focused he was."
Dad doesn't try to give his son coaching pointers, although he did point out, he said, that his own mother just loved Terps coach Lefty Driesell, and so did the mothers of his teammates.
"I said, 'You get my point? Recruit the mother. Any good boy doesn't want to disappoint their mom.' "
Mo punctuates the sentence with a laugh. If they gave trophies for laughs, Mo Howard would have a room full of them. Not that there was any shortage of hardware. His Terps had gone to the NCAA Elite Eight the year N.C. State was ineligible for the tournament. They'd blown out North Carolina in the 1974 ACC semifinals.
"In my mind, that's what it was supposed to be,'' Ashley said, remembering seeing all his dad's trophies in his grandparents' house in North Philadelphia. "Play ball — you're supposed to be good; you're supposed to get trophies. It was just normal, until I got older, when I realized it's not normal."
His grandfather hadn't been a ballplayer really, but had befriended the best player at Ben Franklin High, John Chaney, and they stayed in touch for a lifetime. Every summer, Eddie Lee Howard was the chef at the John Chaney-Sonny Hill camp. As a child, Ashley was a Temple Owls ballboy.
As for that N.C. State game, Ashley said, "It wasn't until I got to high school, I got an understanding of the magnitude of that game. It wasn't until I became a college coach I really understood the magnitude of it, expanding the field. I remember as a child, my dad taking me to Maryland games. That atmosphere down there live was something. As a child, even to this day, people always come up and say how great my dad was."
"I get a lot of static from both my sons, because everybody always tells them about me,'' Mo said. "They're like, 'I've heard the story.' "
Ky Howard scored 1,139 points for NJIT and has played overseas and in the G League, a 6-foot-4 guard. The family keeps adding hoops chapters. There are just no delusions that this latest one for Ashley Howard is a dream. He's still trying for his first Explorers win.
Was Mo, hands clasped, head down, praying there late in the game?
"No prayer,'' Mo explained later. "At least not for a basketball game."
When the Explorers lace them up again, he'll be there.