Northwestern State’s “Demons of Destiny” were the talk of Natchitoches, La., and beyond after stunning No. 3-seeded Iowa 64-63 in the first round of the 2006 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The Hawkeyes built a 54-37 lead with 8:29 remaining in the game when NSU’s Clifton Lee scored 16 points in a 20-6 run that narrowed Iowa’s advantage to 60-57 with less than two minutes to play. A free throw gave the Hawkeyes a 63-61 lead with 14 seconds left, leading to one of the greatest moments in NCAA Tournament history.
Jermaine Wallace heaved a fade-away 3-point attempt with three seconds remaining that found nothing but net to complete the greatest NCAA Tournament comeback.
Everyone seemed to talk about it, including characters on a CBS soap opera. It was selected in 2013 as the Southland Conference’s greatest moment in basketball, featured in a 2014 Buffalo Wild Wings commercial and listed by the The Wall Street Journal in 2015 among the 32 best first-round games in NCAA Tournament history.
It’s also the sports moment judged the greatest in school history, a “where were you?” moment captured by NSU Sports Information Director Doug Ireland on the school’s website in 2015.
A chorus of car horns erupting as one, as if there was a massive traffic jam gnarling the entire town.
Drivers yanking their steering wheels so hard in exultation that they pulled over to the shoulder to take in the moment.
Shouts erupting through law offices, medical buildings, shops, lobbies and classrooms.
Students, faculty, staff at NSU leaping and laughing and running inside, outside and all around the Friedman Student Union, literally jumping for joy.
An ecstatic Jermaine Wallace ripping off his jersey — and hastily pulling it back on because Coach Mike McConathy said so.
Where were you when The Shot went through?
As for my little world, it expanded exponentially in the blink of an eye — actually, the flick of a wrist.
I’ve never been on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in a trading frenzy, but after March 17, 2006, I have a pretty good idea what that feels like.
The Demons’ 64-63 victory over Iowa in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, with Wallace’s spectacular last-second 3-pointer capping a sensational 18-point rally in the final eight minutes, ignited what can only be described as a tsunami of media requests from points far beyond The Palace at Auburn Hills.
There was no time for celebration at the arena for me or SID intern Brian Seiler, who displayed remarkable speed scurrying to the locker room to retrieve Wallace for on-court interviews with Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery of CBS Television and their counterparts from CBS Radio. As those interviews started and I caught my breath, I realized that my mouth was absolutely paper dry. I don’t know whose cup that was at the CBS Radio location, but that swig of soda allowed me to be able to speak again.
Within 10 minutes after the shot swished through, back home assistant SID Matthew Bonnette and administrative assistant Ronnette Pellegrin were besieged by calls from newspapers, radio stations, and radio networks around the country. The office voice mail was stuffed full with interview requests. So was the voice mail on my cell phone, in between the endless stream of ecstatic messages from friends and classy colleagues around the country.
We drained three cell phone batteries — mine, Seiler’s and coach McConathy’s — and were saved by the superpowered cells of Demon play-by-play announcer Patrick Netherton (who invented the “Demons of Destiny” tag, by the way) and La. State Trooper Steve Pezant during a wild two-hour span fielding and fulfilling interview requests in the locker room. (Never again will I leave my wall charger in a hotel room!) Whether it was McConathy or Wallace, media such as NBC Radio, WFAN-AM in New York City, ESPN Radio’s The Dan Patrick Show, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News Radio and countless major market sports talk shows wanted their 3-5 minutes. Louisiana legends like Dale Brown and Billy Allgood called to congratulate coach Mike.
Thanks to McConathy’s willingness to embrace the opportunity for Northwestern State University, and the state of Louisiana, to enjoy such incredible exposure, we didn’t leave a single request undone, as the interviews continued into the evening. We also made sure all of the media back home got what they needed, all the way down to a talk show in Monroe. It was surreal to make it back to coach Mike’s hotel suite just in time to see our game highlights and interviews as the lead story on all of ESPN’s late afternoon programming.
I’m Irish, and it was St. Patrick’s Day, but I didn’t have time to savor even a swallow of green beer. My work extended throughout the night. Game notes for Sunday’s second-round game against West Virginia were finally completed at 7:15 a.m., so they could be duplicated and available in the press room by 10. I got 75 minutes of sleep before getting back to action Saturday morning.
Ahead: an 11 a.m. CBS Television live interview with coach Mike and Clifton Lee on “The Road to the Final Four” with Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg, background sessions with several players and the very, very personable Lundquist, Raftery and their CBS colleagues; along with what proved to be the tour-de-force players’ press conference at The Palace and a late afternoon live ESPNNews interview with coach Mike. Sports Illustrated assigned a reporter to us and in a 24-hour period, he took a crash course in NSU Demon basketball, talking with as many players and coaches and staffers as possible, in case we pulled off another win, which suddenly seemed very plausible to people not wearing purple.
Early Sunday, McConathy took time to craft handwritten notes of appreciation to the CBS crew, and a select number of key staff, which he asked me to deliver when we arrived at the arena. That gesture, I am convinced, continues to pay dividends even today, beginning the next fall every time we saw the 20-second CBS promo for the 2007 NCAA Tournament with four different images of the Demons, including Lundquist’s “Northwestern winnnnns!” call. There have been other shots of the Demons in other CBS promos and even the intro to the following year’s tournament games.
When you’re caught “in the moment” you try to suspend emotions and do your job, because others are depending on you. It wasn’t until five days later, sitting in the office in Natchitoches watching tape of the local television reports after the Iowa win and seeing for the first time the jubilant reaction around the area, that I fully appreciated, and enjoyed, what had happened. A year later, I was still hearing the stories, including those atop this column. Today, I can look to a three-inch thick file of clippings and stories collected online from around the nation, and try to quantify that incredible weekend’s impact. Our office fielded nearly 250 media requests in a 24-hour period.
It continues to resonate, far beyond the CBS promos. The Wallace shot has been anointed by observers around the country to stand alongside a select few as the most dramatic endings in NCAA Tournament history. …
It unfolded right in front of me and my friends Jeff Matthews of the Alexandria Town Talk, Patrick Netherton and Seiler, from our seats on press row directly behind where Wallace picked up the long rebound.
As soon as he snagged the ball, having watched this team and that clutch player for four years, I had no doubt he’d make it.
I had no idea what was about to happen, or how indelible the impact would be.
On the cover and above: Jermaine Wallace takes the game-winning 3-pointer that lifted Northwestern State over 15th-ranked Iowa 64-63 in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. NSU celebrated the 10th anniversary of the game this year. (Courtesy Doug Daniels/NSU Athletics)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Northern Michigan and North Texas
• Tuesday: Northwestern State and Oakland
• Wednesday: Ohio and Old Dominion
• Thursday: Penn and Presbyterian
• Friday: Princeton and Providence