The do-gooders can wipe away from the record book many of Clem Haskins’ accomplishments as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Minnesota. They can try to render Clem’s Gophers invisible as participants in the 1997 Final Four, and harrumph over Clem’s awards as National Coach of the Year for that season.
What the do-gooders can never take away from Clem is that big, sweet kiss he exchanged with his hometown sweetheart, Yevette, in San Antonio’s Alamodome on March 22, 1997.
“I gave her a hug and a big kiss,” Clem said. “It was one of those 16-year-old’s kisses.”
Then, he looked toward a couple of minicams from Twin Cities TV stations and said, “If you want me to explain what a 16-year-old’s kiss is, you’re going to have to turn off those cameras.”
Yevette had made it through the congratulations being offered by the mass of maroon-and-gold zealots to embrace her husband as the Gophers were cutting down the nets.
Before that, she had stepped into an open space on the court, taken out a tiny camera and snapped a photo of a scoreboard bearing this information: Minnesota 80, UCLA 72.
“Minnesota beat UCLA,” Yevette said. “My goodness … UCLA. Minnesota is going to the Final Four. Do you believe it?”
Yes, Yevette. I believe it to this day, and so do the 12-to-15,000 U faithful, who made the trek to the underrated party city of San Antonio, to share in an all-time great Gophers party.
I was a kid watching from the Twin Cities when the football Gophers went to back-to-back Rose Bowls in the new years of 1961 and 1962, so it can’t be stated definitively that what took place in San Antonio is unmatched as a display of Gophers madness … only that I’ve never seen anything like it.
The other teams in the Midwest Regional were UCLA, Clemson and Iowa State. You’re always going to get a solid outpouring of Cyclones faithful, but it was the Minnesotans that took over the Alamodome, and the River Walk, for those four days deep into Texas.
And while I can’t guarantee this was the greatest Gophers party, I can tell you this:
The Midwest Regional offered the greatest Gophers basketball game ever played. For all the wonderful ones in Williams Arena, nothing equals the two-overtime regional semifinal — the battle of the big hearts of the Gophers and of the Clemson Tigers.
The bristles on my arms have stood up twice in a basketball arena:
When the Dream Team first was introduced for a game in the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, Ore., in 1992, and late in the second half and through the overtimes of Gophers-Clemson.
Kirby Puckett in Game 6. Kevin Garnett and Jack Morris in Game 7s. Rookie Adrian Peterson vs. the San Diego Chargers. And Bobby Jackson vs. Clemson. That’s my top five in efforts for the ages among our guys.
The Gophers had led by 15 points in the first half, but even a group as muscular as Clem’s bunch was being worn down by Clemson’s ruggedness.
Early in the second half, Jackson was being mugged in a fight for a loose ball. As he came away from the mess with the basketball, he hollered, “Gol-lee, ref,” and David Libbey slapped him with a technical.
“I didn’t even cuss this time, like I did getting that ‘T’ in Wisconsin,” Jackson said. “I had been slapped in the neck, hit in the back, and I just wondered what was going on.”
Haskins sat Jackson for a couple of minutes, and Clemson started to gain an edge with the lightning quickness of 5-8 guard Terrell McIntyre. He put the Tigers in front 52-50 with nine minutes left, and 30 seconds later, Jackson drew his fourth foul.
Another minute after that, point guard Eric Harris was knocked to the floor on consecutive hard screens, and on the second, he suffered a separated right shoulder.
Now, it was up to Jackson to play the final seven minutes, run the offense, play intense defense and do so with four fouls, while notorious referees Libbey and Don Rutledge engaged in a whistle-blowing contest.
Bobby lasted through those seven minutes and a 72-72 tie. Then, he was all-world through 10 minutes of overtimes, and Gophers finally survived 90-84.
Gol-lee, that was the sweetest of Sweet 16 games … almost as sweet as the embrace of Clem and his sweetheart Yevette two days later on the same court.
A maroon-and-gold jam of foot traffic on River Walk. Bobby Jackson over Clemson in two OTs. Minnesota beating UCLA, my goodness. And the 16-year-old’s kiss.
Oh, yeah. Forget what the record books want to tell you. This happened. And Minnesota has plenty of eyewitnesses.