Thursday, October 15, 2009

Saint Peter's, ESPN share Hoops History

This November 17th, the Saint Peter's men's basketball team will be part of television history. The Peacocks will play in a 6 a.m. game, hosting Monmouth, with the contest to be televised live as part of ESPN's 24-hours of College Basketball Tip-off Marathon.

The game will mark the first time that ESPN has televised a live college basketball game in the 6 a.m. time slot.

The Peacocks very nearly held an historical distinction related to ESPN for another reason.

For that, one has to recall the 1979-80 season when, to use a basketball phrase, ESPN "tipped off" its college basketball coverage.

That was the initial season for ESPN, its first season of televising college basketball.

Jimmy Carter was president back then. The Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Earth, Wind & Fire dominated the popular music industry. The "Deer Hunter" was 1979's top movie. McDonald's introduced the Happy Meal ...

And, ESPN's first televised college basketball game came on Dec. 1, 1979 when Valpariso played at Notre Dame.

Three days later, on the evening of Dec. 4, Saint Peter's College hosted Holy Cross at the Yanitelli Center. It was the second game ever televised by ESPN.

Back then the MAAC hadn't yet been formed. Saint Peter's, then a member of the ECAC, became one of the MAAC's charter members when the league came into existence for the 1981-82 season.

Back then ESPN was hardly the worldwide leader in sports coverage that it is today. Very few homes, had cable TV in those days. Jersey City, N.J., where Saint Peter's is located, did not have a cable package that included ESPN at that time.

ESPN was hardly the first-rate operation back then that it is today. Saint Peter's administrators at the time recall that ESPN's broadcast truck broke down on the way to the game and had to be towed several miles to be placed outside the Yanitelli Center in order to televise the contest.

Neither the game's participants, nor the near sell-out crowd on hand were aware of that. They just showed up to play in and watch a good basketball game, to watch a very good Saint Peter's team play against a Holy Cross unit that still had national-level aspirations and was led by Ronnie Perry Jr., one of college basketball's best players that season.

"I did not know the game was on ESPN until we came out for warm-ups and I saw the ESPN banner and recognized Bucky Walters (the game's color commentator)," said John Krotulis, a freshman reserve for the Peacocks that season who is now a controller for a regional trucking company.

"Since Jersey City did not have cable TV at the time, most people (there) did not know anything about ESPN. The only reason I knew of ESPN was because my hometown had just gotten cable TV and I thought it was pretty cool that there was a channel dedicated to all sports programming."

Saint Peter's top players back then were Kevin Rogers, William Brown, Mark Murphy, Jim Brandon, Cliff Anderson and Mark Schroback.

Schroback, now a teacher at High Tech High School in North Bergen, N.J., was a starter at guard and had the unenviable task of guarding Perry in the contest.

Perry was held in relative check and Saint Peter's, which had lost the first game it played that season (to Division III-level Jersey City State College), upset the Crusaders, 73-62.

"We all played our role that game," said Schroback. "That's how we upset them in that game. I just remember it was a great game. The place was packed. We ran our offense to the letter and we played tough defense the whole game.

"ESPN? I just remember that they were there. It wasn't any big deal. A lot of our games were televised on local outlets back then, and this just seemed like another one of those televised games, just another little TV station."

But, it wasn't. That was the start of something big for ESPN. The "Worldwide Leader in Sports" is now a multinational, multimedia sports entertainment company. Over the years it has televised more than 8,200 college basketball games.

The Holy Cross of Saint Peter's game on Dec. 4, 1979, was No. 2 on that list.

It was also the start of something big for the Peacocks, at least in that season which turned out to be one of the best in the program's history.

Saint Peter's finished 22-9 in 1979-80. Besides the season-opening setback to Jersey City State, other losses included two to the Jeff Ruland/Glen Vickers led Iona team, an overtime setback at Canisius, a loss at Vermont and losses to Georgetown, Villanova and Rutgers.

A 20-8 regular-season mark was enough to get the program to the NIT, which was still highly regarded. There Saint Peter's beat Connecticut and Duquesne before a season-ending 67-62 defeat at UNLV.

"As I look back ... we had some pretty talented players," said Krotulis. "I know the game has changed, but we had a group of very good athletes who played a Princeton style. We just blended well together.

"The key for us really was that win over Holy Cross. At the time, we considered them a major power, but all of a sudden everything clicked for us. That game kind of springboarded us. Everything that coach Dukiet (who passed away this summer) was trying to teach us just clicked ... the plays, the style, the offensive and defensive schemes ... everything came together."
Schroback remembers driving to a North Bergen establishment after the game to watch a replay.

"A friend of mine actually taped the game and gave me a copy," added Schroback. "I was looking for it recently and found it. But, I couldn't watch it. It's on a reel-to-reel tape and I haven't been able to play it."

Clearly, things have changed since then. Reel-to-reel has given way to considerably more modern recordning technology, and ESPN has grown far beyond anyone's expectations from those early days.

But, Saint Peter's is a coincidental partner again, creating history with ESPN, serving as the host team Nov. 17 for the first live telecast of a college game in the 6 a.m. slot ... 30 years after being host for the second game ever telecast by the all-sports network.

1 comment:

HudsonJoe said...

Thanks for the great post, a little history is always appreciated.