Until recently, Chaminade University was best known, if it was known at all, as the little NAIA school in Honolulu that gave NCAA Division I powers a chance to burnish their suntans, egos and won-lost records on quick trips away from the mainland winter. But that reputation changed forever on the night of Dec. 23, 1982, when Chaminade, a 25-year-old school with an enrollment of 900, beat No. 1-ranked Virginia, a 163-year-old institution with 16,400 students, 77-72. It was probably the biggest upset ever in college basketball—on a par with tiny Centre College's 6-0 football defeat of Harvard in 1921.
One of the most amazing things about the upset is that for a long while after it occurred, very few people knew it had happened. It was past midnight on the West Coast and 3:15 a.m. in the East when the Associated Press moved the story—too late for most newspapers to get it into their Dec. 24 editions. Later that afternoon, a journalist who had covered the game called Ken Denlinger of The Washington Post to discuss "the greatest upset in college basketball history." But Denlinger, one of many who hadn't heard, thought the caller was referring to another unexpected outcome the night before. "Maryland beating UCLA surprised me, too," Denlinger said, "but I wouldn't go that far."
If there was shock around the country, it was no greater than that felt by Chaminade Coach Merv Lopes, who said after the game, "I must be dreaming. It's amazing what human beings can accomplish."
There was some justice in the fact that Virginia was the first national power to fall victim to the Silverswords. (A silver-sword is a cactuslike plant found only in volcanic craters in Hawaii.) The Cavaliers had been a bit gluttonous in feasting on Chaminade, having beaten the Swords twice in the previous three seasons, by 16 and 25 points, and no doubt figured on more of the same this time.
"This year we didn't even bother to prepare specially for them," said Chaminade Forward Richard Haenisch, who grew up in West Germany and didn't touch a basketball until moving to Hawaii when he was in 10th grade. "The last two times we put a guy up on a chair in practice to play the role of [Ralph] Sampson. This time we were so down, we just said the heck with it."
Chaminade was down because of a disappointing loss two days earlier. Only the week before, the Swords had pulled another upset, their first win ever over the University of Hawaii. The defeat of the Division I Rainbows not only gave Chaminade the island bragging rights but also propelled it into the fourth spot in the NAIA national rankings. The Swords' record then was 9-1, with their only loss having come 75-62 to LSU. Problem was, Chaminade forgot to show up for its next game, against Wayland Baptist, a Texas Panhandle school with a 5-9 record, and lost 64-61.
Looking on that night were some members of the Virginia team, which had hit town for a few days of R&R following the Suntory Ball in Tokyo. So much for any concern the Cavaliers might have harbored about their next opponent.
More prominent in their thoughts seemed to be Spats, a disco in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, where the team was staying. There they mingled with, among others, their female counterparts from Southern California, the top-ranked women's team in the U.S., which was in Hawaii for a fun-and-sun tournament of its own. One Cavalier player was even overheard to say, "I don't want to go back to Charlottesville."
He probably felt differently at halftime two evenings later, when Chaminade and Virginia were tied 43-all. Order appeared to have been restored soon thereafter, when, with 11:14 to play, Guard Ricky Stokes scored a basket from the right baseline to give Virginia its biggest lead of the game, 56-49. The Swords fought back with seven straight points to tie matters again before Sampson, who scored just 12 points, sank a turnaround from the right baseline. Then came the play of the game. Maybe the year.
On Chaminade's next possession, Guard Tim Dunham, the leading Silver-sword scorer, was seemingly lost in traffic to the left of the key. Suddenly he took off to his left, head down, on an arching path to the basket, similar to a post pattern in football. With precise timing, Mark Rodrigues, positioned at the top of the key, lofted a perfect lob directly above the basket without ever making eye contact with Dunham. Up soared the 6'2" Dunham, high above the 7'4" Sampson and into basketball heaven for the alley-oop of a lifetime.
"After that play, I think we all got the feeling we could actually win," said Haenisch.
"They were stunned," said Sword Forward Earnest Pettway.
"How could you tell?" asked one reporter.
"Because that play stunned me, too," Pettway replied.
Frank & Nick's is a tavern on the fringes of Waikiki where the Chaminade team goes for its postgame repast, win or lose. The game wasn't on local TV, but a Chaminade employee videotapes all home games for showing on four big screens at Frank & Nick's. The portion of the tape showing Dunham's alley-oop was replayed four times, and each time the clientele went bananas.
The man who guarded Sampson most of the way was 6'8" Center Tony Randolph, who comes from, of all places, Staunton, Va. Staunton happens to be 25 miles from Harrisonburg, Va., which is Sampson's hometown. While playing for Robert E. Lee High in Staunton, Randolph faced Sampson and Harrisonburg High five times. Lee won twice.
"I didn't do much against him as a sophomore," recalls Randolph, who transferred last spring to Chaminade from Panhandle State in Oklahoma on the advice of a brother who lives in Hawaii. "The first time he went up for an alley-oop his elbow caught me in the head and flipped me over onto the floor. I got a concussion." In their latest matchup, Randolph was able to bring Sampson outside by scoring 19 points, on 9-of-12 shooting, mostly from the perimeter.
Chaminade's success this season has been based as much on emotion as ability. "I think that's why we lost to Wayland Baptist," Haenisch said after beating Virginia. "We had so much emotion going into the Hawaii game, we forgot we're not the kind of team that can go out and win if we don't get up. But tonight shows you how good we can be when we do."
The Chaminade program has come far since it began, on the NCAA Division III level, only six years ago. Lopes took over in the Swords' second season, earning the princely sum of $2,000 annually. In 1978-79 he led Chaminade to an NCAA Division III regional championship. The next season the Swords stepped up to the NAIA. In 1980-81 and '81-82 they reached the District II finals.
Chaminade University was named after Guillaume Joseph Chaminade, who founded the Society of Mary (Marianists) at Bordeaux in 1817. The school was founded in 1957 by the Marianist order and christened Chaminade College of Honolulu. Two years before, it had opened as St. Louis Junior College, after the St. Louis High campus that it still shares. In the fall of 1977, the school expanded its curriculum—to include courses ranging from accounting and mathematics to chemistry and business—and Chaminade College became Chaminade University.
Chaminade is a pretty place, featuring buildings with white stucco facades and red-tile roofs. It is situated on a bluff overlooking Waikiki and Diamond Head. Yet, in many ways, Chaminade is a second-class citizen on its own campus. "When it comes to financial support, the high school gets most of the consideration from the order," says one longtime faculty member. "St. Louis High even gets first call on dates in McCabe Gym," says a booster. One good example of the poor standing of Chaminade's sports program is the athletic department's building. Popularly known as The Shack, it's hidden in back of the dorms at the most remote corner of the school grounds.
Lopes, who now makes $10,000 for coaching, also has a full-time job as a high school guidance counselor. Including the Swords' 14-2 season record at week's end—they won all four games on a California road trip after beating the Cavaliers—Lopes has a career mark of 119-36. He is known as a stern taskmaster and a teacher of intense defense. This doesn't mean, however, that his team always listens when he yells. At one point late in the Virginia game, Lopes was on his feet screaming for a delay. Dunham, giving him a look of disdain, turned and fired up a 22-footer. Swish.
The question remains, "How'd they do it?" It's true Chaminade contested every pass, dived for every loose ball, had at least three players leap for every rebound, played tight man-to-man defense and shot the lights out from the perimeter. But any explanation must go beyond the statistical to the spiritual. From now on, wherever athletes must face an impossible task, the cry will go out, "Remember Chaminade!" Virginia will.