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Frank DeFord On The Historic 1966 Final Four

A fascinating look at a very different time but one thing is the same: Duke was an elite program.

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NCAA Photos Archive
Texas Western’s Bobby Joe Hill drives to the basket against a Kentucky defender in the 1966 NCAA championship game.

In 1966, Duke was the favorite going into the Final Four but Bob Verga was too ill to contribute much and without him, Duke lost a tight game to Kentucky, 83-79.

As it turned out, all-white Kentucky lost to Texas Western (now UTEP) which started five African-Americans and Kentucky, rather than Duke, became the enduring symbol of the end of segregated basketball.

Sports Illustrated sent Frank DeFord, then a young rising star at the magazine, to cover the game.

As you’ll see here, his story on the Final Four was brilliant though not perfect. His editors may have had something to do with it, but DeFord never mentioned the immense symbolism of the game. Our guess is that when he looked back on it he probably wished he could have done some things differently.

Even so, he brings the scene to life. He talks about Duke and Texas Western sharing a hotel and how Duke seemed to overshadow the Miners there. He really captured a young Don Haskins and, to a lesser extent, a fading Adolph Rupp. And he certainly caught the disappointment that rippled through Kentucky, fans and team alike, for finishing second.

Duke fans will read this for the Duke stuff which is understandable - we did - but there’s a lot more to this piece for Duke fans than just Duke (and he does bring Duke to life in some really nice ways).

It’s a snapshot of 1966 in many ways, a time of immense change. DeFord shows his usual brilliance but it’s more than what you might expect.

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