It Happened on . . .
. . . March 4th, 1992 …
Picture if you will . . . a sellout crowd of over 16,000 to see the UConn Huskies vs. The Syracuse Orangemen in a Men’s Big East Basketball Game at the Hartford Civic Center, late in the basketball season.
It’s an exciting game and for halftime entertainment, the UConn sports marketing department selects 3 contestants to shoot foul shots and the person who makes the most in 30 seconds wins a chance to shoot for additional prizes. The first two spots are filled by people who had stickers in their programs – but they needed a third person – and Dave Wheeler volunteers. (Sometimes it just helps to be in the right place at the right time).
The UConn and Syracuse players leave for halftime and the three contestants take the court. Since Dave was selected last, he has to shoot first. The first few foul shots go in easily, then the pressure of the screaming fans sets in, his knees lock up and he misses the next few shots. One voice can be heard distinctly – calling out of the roar of the crowd – “BEND YOUR KNEES” – it sounds like Dave’s Dad, but he’s not there.
Finally Dave makes his last couple shots to end with 6 in 30 seconds (really pretty pitiful, but wait until you see the competition).
Next to shoot is a middle aged Housewife. She has trouble hitting the backboard at all and doesn’t make a single shot. [A sigh of relief].
Next up is the real competition – an 8 year old boy (with his Dad standing by as a coach). The kid can just barely get the ball to the rim, but one rattles into the net, he misses a few more, then another falls in, a few more topple in and, as the 30 second buzzer sounds . . . [most impartial observers agree the ball was still in his hands when the buzzer went off] . . . he fires up one last prayer, it rolls around . . . AND IT GOES IN ! It’s all tied up.
It’s time for a Sudden Death shootout between Dave and an eight year old.
Dave shoots first and makes his first shot. Dave certainly doesn’t want to be embarrassed by losing to this little kid.
The 8 year old steps up to the foul line and makes his first shot – The crowd goes wild !
Dave steps up for his second shot and the crowd is starting to turn nasty. It is hard to imagine what it is like to be boo’d by 16,000 people, but Dave makes his second shot and feels pretty confident. The pressure is really on the kid now.
The 8 year old steps to the line, pauses, heaves the ball to the basket – and it hits the front of the rim and bounces up, over, and IN ! [Needless to say the crowd is ecstatic!]
Dave’s third shot. Now he gets to see what visiting players experience when they are shooting foul shots – facing the rowdiest fans in the building – the student section. The BOO’s are raining down from all corners of the arena since everyone wants the 8 year old to win. Dave steps up, shoots, follows through and . . . it goes in.
By now Dave (and the rest of the 16,000 fans) are pretty impressed by this 8 year old – to make two shots in a row is quite an accomplishment – especially against someone who played basketball all his life and competed at the college level.
Now the crowd is cheering for the 8 year old to make a third shot – he bounces the ball a couple of times, eyes the rim, takes a deep breath and lets it go. It gets to the rim . . . bounces from side to side . . . and falls out. The crowd moans.
Now Dave gets to shoot for prizes:
Since he won the shootout, he gets to go for the prizes. If the first shot (from the foul line) is made, Dave gets a pair of Reebok sneakers and everyone in the arena gets a free order of bread sticks from Pizza Hut.
Strange as it sounds, it is almost like the pressure is off. Dave steps up and makes the free throw.
The second shot is from the Three Point Line – top of the key – about a 20 foot shot. Dave starts to get a little cocky and asks the guy running the event if he should shoot from the College or the NBA 3 point line. [Quite the smart aleck!]
He concedes that the college line will be fine, while the announcer is explaining the prizes . . . “If Dave makes this shot he will get a SNET Cellular phone and, instead of bread sticks, everyone in attendance will get a Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut! Good Luck Dave.” Upon hearing this the crowd quickly forgets that they were booing him only minutes before and the noise and cheering starts. Dave tracks down the same (good) ball as before and steps up. With a nice easy jump shot, the ball sails toward the basket and splashes through the net. The crowd lets out a huge cheer [since they had just won some pizza]. Now the real tension starts.
The last shot is for two round trip tickets anywhere in the Continental U.S. and “Pizza for a Year” for Dave and a medium Pizza Hut pizza for everyone in the Civic Center. Needless to say, all 16,000 fans are on their feet – anyone who had left for intermission has come back in to see what the commotion is all about.
The next shot – from half court – has what seems like an eternity of buildup by the announcer, giving Dave some time to decide how to try to make this shot. He thinks he could throw it, but he wouldn’t have enough control. He could try to shoot it like a regular shot, but probably wouldn’t have enough distance to get it there. Dave decides to shoot it with two hands – kind of like a chest pass.
There is only one over-riding thought – Don’t let it be short. The UConn crowds are merciless with their chants of “AIR-BALL, AIR-BALL” when opposing teams miss the rim on a foul shot – and that’s when there isn’t even any pizza involved !
Dave figures at the very least by trying to bounce it off the backboard it might compensate for the weakness that has started in his knees and is now spreading to his arms and the rest of my body.
The announcer gives Dave his cue to shoot, ” . . . Good Luck Dave”.
It looks straight.
It’s hard to tell if it will make it until he sees it hit the bottom of the net -
Straight in -
Nothing But Net !
The crowd erupts. The UConn mascot runs over to congratulate him. A standing ovation from 16,000 of his closest friends [remember. . . there was pizza involved].
People from the courtside UConn band are asking for Dave’s autograph before he can even leave the court. He must have signed about 20 or 30 programs before finally walking back up to his seat with all the coupons for the prizes. . . shaking hands with everyone as he makes his way up the steps.
Needless to say – the rest of that UConn/Syracuse Big East Basketball game on March 4th, 1992 was kind of anti-climatic. Some people even say they heard a chant near the end of the game “Put in the Pizza Guy” !
That’s the story of TheShot92 !
We hope you enjoyed it.