Today, thirty years ago — February 14, 1983 — things were looking bleak for the NC State Wolfpack.
The Pack had just lost to Notre Dame 43-42 the night before and the team’s record stood at 13-8. They definitely were not in the conversation for the NCAA tournament, and were an afterthought for the ACC tournament that was about to be played in the Omni in Atlanta. Injuries had plagued the team during the middle of the season and a year that had started with promise looked like it was on the brink of ignominy.
Little did we know that State was about to beat a Michael Jordan-led UNC team in Reynolds Coliseum the next week, and that it would follow up that win by going to Durham and obliterating Duke 96-79. They would go on to lose to Ralph Sampson and Virginia on the road, and just after that, they lost to Maryland.
What happened next is myth, is history and is a very large part of the Wolfpack’s identity not only here in ACC country, but all over the world: first they crushed Wake Forest at home 130-89, and slipped past them 71-70 in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. Then they’d beat Carolina again and to ensure a trip to the NCAA they’d find a way past Ralph Sampson and the Virginia Cavaliers.
All of those games weren’t just roller coaster rides emotionally, they were like suborbital rocket trips where State fans everywhere were physically feeling the gut-wrenching games. One could read the game threads of today but they’d never come close to the range of emotions that would happen in nearly every one of the following tournament games. Watching a game at Mitch’s Tavern or someone’s apartment was group therapy. State would play well, then all would seem lost, the season would seem over, but each and every single time the Pack would find a way to come back and to win. The Cardiac Pack was born and it was about to make history.
On March 11 at 7PM, there will be a showing of an ESPN documentary of the story of that magical year: “Survive and Advance.” It’s free, at 7pm, and very fittingly, in the place where the journey to glory started. Members of the ’83 team will be there, as will many of us: the students who lived through it, who will always look to that spring as one of the best of our lives.