The above is the headline from Tony Kornheiser's column in the Washington Post, November 27, 1993. This was his lead:
By all means you want to see this again. Oh, sure, absolutely. You want to see Maryland play Georgetown next year. You surely don't want to wait another 13 years for this. Thirteen years between games. What was that, bar-mitzvah scheduling?
Typical Tony when he was still carrying a typewriter (and for that matter, a comb). After what he and an announced crowd of 13,761 had seen the day before at the Capital Centre, you would have been crazy to think that nearly 20 years would pass without a scheduled rematch between the two local college basketball powers. Well, think crazy because two decades later we're still waiting for it to happen.
Yes, they've met in the NCAA tournament and a holliday tournament, but only because of the way they were bracketed. The 13-year gap that Tony talked about in the column was the time between their previous meeting that also was not a scheduled event. It was a meeting in the NCAA tournament in 1980. The fact of the matter is, it's been nearly 20 freakin years since the game every local college basketball fan has wished for, was scheduled.
Money was a big factor behind the Thanksgiving weekend meeting in 1993. Russ Potts, who had made his living setting up big events, was behind it. A decade earlier, he made one of the biggest regular season college basketball games happen when he set up a matchup of the game's two premier big men - Georgetown's Patrick Ewing versus Virginia's Ralph Sampson. Everybody stopped what they were doing for the Saturday-night extravaganza. Off the success of that, Potts was able to convince the usually unconvine-able John Thompson to schedule Maryland. It seemed like a relatively safe play for Thompson. Maryland was still reviving itself from probation, while Georgetown was an annual NCAA tournament participant with a steady stream of big men coming to the hilltop. Dikembe Mutumbo and Alonzo Mourning were both in the NBA, but Thompson still had future NBA'ers Othella Harrington and Don Reid in uniform, which helped give the Hoyas a number 15 preseason ranking. All Maryland had was an obscure freshman in the middle - the aptly named Joe Smith. None of that mattered to Maryland coach Gary Williams, who was happy to get the chance to play the top dog in town.
The game was played on Georgetown's home court, which they shared with the Bullets, Caps and everything else that was scheduled around the games. However, ticket sales were evenly split between Maryland and Georgetown. Those two points would become a source of contention for years to come. More on that coming up. The fact that the game wasn't a complete sellout was blamed on the ticket price, $25 dollars, pretty steep for those days.
With 12 and a half minutes left in the game, Maryland trailed by 14. But the scrappy Terps fought back with Smith holding his coming out party. Harrington and Reid had no answer for him. In the final seconds, Maryland actually led by three, only to see Georgetown tie it at the buzzer. But in a shocker, Maryland won it overtime on a shot by freshman Duane Simkins at the buzzer, 84-83. Williams, still in his 40's nearly jumped over the scorer's table.
Smith finished the game with 26 points and nine rebounds, kicking off a two-year career that would make him the number one pick of the NBA draft in 1995. Said a stunned Thompson, "he was probably a little bit better than I had anticipated." Thompson also made it clear that he had no intention of committing to a rematch.
As the years rolled by, both teams had their share of success. Allen Iverson arrived a year later and spent two thrilling years at Georgetown, before becomming Thompson's first player to leave early. A year after Smith, Iverson was the number one pick of the NBA draft. Maryland went to back-to-back Final Fours and won the national championship in 2002.
Thompson left Georgetown in the middle of the 1998-99 season, but still exercised considerable influence over the program when he was succeeded by his longtime assistant Craig Esherick and later his son, John Thompson III. Williams stayed through the end of the 2010-11 season, winning more games than any coach in Maryland history.
Through it all, each dug in his heels on resisting a rematch. Williams maintained that since the 1993 game was played on Georgetown's home court, the Hoyas would have to agree to a rematch in College Park. Thompson said since the ticket sales were split for the '93 game, there was no obligation to play at Maryland.
Well, now that the two legendary coaches have moved from the bench to the broadcast booth, there could be some signs of hope for a rematch. In a podcast interview with ESPN's Andy Katz on Monday, both JT III and Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said they were open to playing at some point. Thompson said he and Turgeon were friends and mentioned that his brother Ronnie had coached with Turgeon at Oregon. Turgeon says he's interested, but neither coach believed it would happen anytime soon.
As my partner Steve Czaban likes to say, you have to get the Coke machine rocking before you push it over. And now may be the best time to get it rocking. Maryland has likely played it's last home game against top rival Duke with a move to the Big 10 coming the season after next. With Syracuse headed for the ACC, their last conference game against Georgetown is this weekend.
Rival games for the two powers are going away. The distance between the schools is not. Each team may now need each other more than ever. The legendy coaches have left. Tony doesn't even write anymore. Times have changed, but the hunger for a meeting hasn't. So, twenty years after Tony wrote, "Play it again, man," let's do it. Play it!