The young men on the court aren't the only ones affected by the moments in March Madness, as Hampton coach David Johnson encapsulated in 2001. (Robert Beck/SI)
PHILADELPHIA – Of all the iconic images of first-round NCAA upsets, few encapsulate the sheer joy of that moment the way Steve Merfeld being suspended in the air does. After No. 15 Hampton stunned No. 2 Iowa State in the first round in 2001, Hampton’s David Johnson launched Merfeld so high off the ground his legs kicked above his waist. With his arms raised over his head in triumph and legs flailing wildly, Merfeld’s frozen moment has become one of this generation’s standards for unadulterated glee. “I don’t remember anything from the horn going off,” Merfled said on Saturday, “and then hearing him in my ear say, ‘I got you, coach. I got you, coach. I got you.’”
Merfeld now works as an assistant at Creighton, where he coaches the big men and is Doug McDermott’s footwork tutor. He’s been in the same arena as three of the past four upsets. He coached Hampton’s, was in Greensboro for Lehigh over Duke last year and was in Philadelphia for Florida Gulf Coast topping Georgetown on Friday. (Merfeld lives in Omaha where Norfolk State stunned Missouri last year.)
“A No. 15 seed needs to go wherever we go next year,” he said with a laugh.
Merfeld said he didn’t get to watch the Georgetown upset, thought he followed the score on his phone. He’s assigned the Duke scout, which he joked, “kept me busy and awake.”
Merfeld reminisced about some of the nuances of Hampton’s win on Saturday. He inserted his best player, Tarvis Williams, back in the line-up with four fouls with about 10 minutes left. Soon after, Hampton went triangle-two on defense and Iowa State didn’t have any answers.
In the melee after the game, he missed out on shaking hands with Iowa State Coach Larry Eustachy. He said that one of his enduring memories from that night was Eustachy making a point to find him and congratulate him.
“At the time, I felt really bad because I didn’t get to talk to him,” Merfeld said. “I learned a lot about being humble. After the game he made a point to come congratulate us. That was a big moment in my coaching career and an important learning experience.”
He has a framed copy of Sports Illustrated’s photo from that moment, and he promises there will be another defining upset moment in the near future.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve said it for years that a No. 16 is going to beat a No. 1, and we had two (this year) that went right down to the wire. It’s going to happen. The parity in college is like it’s never been before.”