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HOW KING RAT BECAME THE BIG CHEESE

Dec. 05, 1983
Dec. 05, 1983

Table of Contents
Dec. 5, 1983

Kentucky
Skins Game
Olympic
Houston-Tampa Bay
College Football
Cross-Country
Pro Basketball
Valvano
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

HOW KING RAT BECAME THE BIG CHEESE

Can V talk? Oh, yeah. Can V coach? No question about it. Jim Valvano proved that his act was ready for the big time when his North Carolina State Wolfpack won the '83 NCAA title

Yeah, well, all the stories about V are four-fifths quotes anyway, and since V's never in one place anymore and he's tired and hungry and his throat's scratchy and he says he's injured because he pulled a muscle in his tongue, the magazine guy figured he'd begin the story by trying to write the way V talks—without the f's, of course. No question. No question about it.

This is an article from the Dec. 5, 1983 issue Original Layout

Take his national championship...please. No, really. About the look-alike stuff. V says it's O.K. It's fine. It's great. Of course he loves it. No question. When V started out as Namath, he says they looked at Namath and said he was ruggedly handsome, but they looked at V and said he had a big nose. Then V was Pacino—son of Godfather, Godfather III and all that—which was O.K. because that meant he was probably Hoffman, too, so he started signing autographs "Love, Tootsie," and he loved every minute of it but then they called him Ratso Rizzo, and V didn't think that was so hot. V didn't like Ratso Rizzo at all, because how many broads want to talk to Ratso? No question about it. Zero, V wasn't no Ratso. But wait a minute. That's another paradox, because all his life V has said there were only two kinds of people: Big-timers and Rats. And V was the Rat of all Rats. So what was so different?

Here V was, a have-not walk-on who needed a bank loan to get into Rutgers. A full-blooded spaghetti-slinger who married the beautiful blonde Jewish princess. A fast-talking street guy from New York City's Borough of Queens who landed feet first in the North Carolina tobacco fields and hooked Moo U heart, soul and overalls. A non-stop BeeEsser who tells his North Carolina State players that the games are the most important 40 minutes of their lives and then afterward has to explain how meaningless they are in the overall picture of the universe. A boss who cracks wise all over his players and coaches—V says he calls a closed practice and eight guys don't show up. V says he mentions Watergate and his guys think it's a video game—and then he treats them to limos and champagne and rescues them from nowheresville. A coach/romantic who carries a book of poetry in his briefcase right next to the scouting reports and the Binaca. So what was this, no Ratso?

Big-timers are celebrities, rich and famous, powerful and full of themselves. The kind of guys who fly in from the Coast to the summer camps and don't do right by the kids. Question-and-answer artists who do 10 minutes and split for the cocktail lounge, or NBA players who dunk five times and say do that and you can play in the NBA. Phonies and frauds and guys who forget where they came from, those are Big-timers.

Rats, though, are good. Rats are great. Rats are the little people, the blue-collar guys, the workers who struggle and overcome. The world needs Rats because Rats play the great D and get in people's jocks and shuffle-cut to breakfast and double-team a tree and, yeah, Rats take the charge. Absolutely. No question about it.

Why, didn't V give out Rat shirts and make up Rat slogans and carry a stuffed Rat mounted on a skateboard to all those 90 camps that summer, and keep that stuffed Rat in his office until one day the princess threw the Rat out and said it was time V went solo and made it on his own? No question about it. Didn't V say he still was one full-fledged amazing Rat right up to and including that night last April in Albuquerque, where in the locker room before the final NCAA tournament game he ranted and raved and got down smack in their faces and, growling from deep within those sandpaper lungs, challenged every last one of those other Rats?

You, Lowe, you are going to go out and handle and dish and play the game of your life and lead us to the national championship! And you, Whitt, you are going to take those downtown J's and shoot the lights out and play the game of your life and lead us to the national championship! And you, Bailey, you are going to jump and bang and control the rock and play the game of your life and lead us to the national championship! No question.

And didn't V challenge himself, the King Rat of Rats, by telling them: Me? V? I'm ready. I've never been so ready. I'm 37 years old and I've been dreaming of this moment all my life and preparing for it maybe longer than that. Me? I'm going to go out there and X and O and think and scream and coach the living hell out of this game, and we are going to win the national championship. And when V did just that; when Rocco and Angelina's kid from Alstyne Avenue in Corona, Queens, coached the living hell out of the NCAA title game and won that sucker for the Wolfpack, didn't V complain that from then on his most difficult struggle would be to keep from being a Big-timer and remain a Rat?

Ratso Rizzo? Of course V is Ratso. And thank goodness for that, because, as another older, more westernized Rat, name of John Wooden, wrote in a letter to V following the season, "You are great for the profession...please do not change." There was no question about it.

No man an island? Well, who said that King Rat or Jim Valvano or JTV Enterprises or Jimmy V or Coach V or, if you are counting knockdowns at the bell, simply V...who said that V couldn't be a stream? A stream of unconsciousness. Because V doesn't just talk like this. This fast. This disjointed. This emphatically and non-parenthetically. V lives like this. V's a livin' stream. And funny? You want funny? Who you got—Lou Holtz? Lee Trevino? Al ("Aircraft Carrier") McGuire? You kidding? Bring 'em all out, V will give 'em two a side. V goes one-on-one with John Madden, it's a TD. V challenges Bob Uecker, it's over in three-and-a-third. Nobody's close, and we're not talking sports-funny here. V's not just a funny sports guy.

V is funny funny. Predawn funny. After-dinner funny. Talk-show funny. Sit-down, stand-up, prone-supine, in-your-face, sober-or-high, alltime hall-of-fame funny. V doesn't engage in conversation, he plays the room. V doesn't want a beer, he needs a hand mike. V doesn't live life, he collects material. V has a sense of the comedic art—precise timing, a special radar to the jugular vein. What do you expect? The man took comedy courses in college. V is a connoisseur of the greats. Benny. Burns. Mort Sahl. Mark Twain. Richard Pryor. He didn't just laugh at Jimmy Durante. At age seven he was doing Durante. Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, whereever you are. V's heroes are Allens. Not Richie and Lucius. Fred and Steve. All seriousness aside. And Bill Murray. That's the fact, Jack. And Robert Klein. We will send you. FREE of charge, EVERY single record EVER made. And, yeah, a real Rat. A lady Rat. Joan Rivers. Can we talk? Can V?

So there I was when Lorenzo Charles dunked the ball.... I told him in the time-out, Lo', make believe anything that comes near the rim is a hubcap...and I know we have won it, the national championship, and I am going to enjoy this and be famous so I start to run. Where was I running? I was running around looking for Dereck Whittenburg to hug. Because I have dreamed of this moment all my life and I know I am only the 28th coach in history to win it and 60 million people are watching and I have been hugging Whitt after all of our games because he is my designated hugger and I know the cameras are on me and I am thinking V will make some history here. No question about it. Every Sunday of my life I have tuned in Wide World of Sports and heard about The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat and watched that skier come down the mountain...boom, schuss, boom, splat...and somewhere in France some poor woman is going "Look, Pierre, here comes ton père" and I know all they have ever had to show on Wide World is the Agony of Defeat and now I, V, will be the Thrill of Victory. No question whatsoever. I know the cameras are zeroing in on me running in slo-mo, like this [feigns running in slo-mo], and the crowd is roaring aaahhhhhh and I am running and Whitt is running and Chariots of Fire is playing in the background and it is going to be history! Me! Whitt! Slo-Mo! Thrill of Victory! History! Me! Whitt! Together! Hug! Chariots of Fire! And I will be on TV forever. No question. And then I get out there in the middle of nowhere and there's Whitt...hugging somebody else! [Pause for laugh from portion of audience which has not fallen off chairs in delirium.] So I run left, looking for somebody to hug. Everybody is hugging somebody else. I run right, looking. Everybody is hugging. There is nobody left to hug! I have just won it all. History, 28th coach, 60 million watching. And I got nobody to hug! Where am I running? I finally find our athletic director, Willis Casey, a bit old and fat but a nice man. My boss, Gave me my break. He grabs me. He hugs me. Wonderful! Great! Finally, a hug! He's not Whitt. He's old and fat, but a hug's a hug. Slo-mo hug. Chariots of Fire hug. History. No question. And then Willis Casey kisses me square on the mouth! [Pause for screaming.] I have just won the national championship, 28th alltime to do it...60 million have watched me running around like a maniac...and then I fall into the arms of a fat old man who kisses me square on the mouth! The guy watching in Dubuque puts down his beer and says, "Mabel, come look at this." And me, V, the champion-of-the-world coach, running slo-mo, history, forever. I feel the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat all at the same time! No question about it.

For years Jim Valvano was known as just another young coach who could talk, recruit and, as they say in the trade, "turn the program around." The distinguishing feature of his personal program was that he could also make an awful lot of people laugh awfully hard. His are not gags out of Abe Lemons' twang bag of Will Rogers country tricks. Nor are they of the Al McGuire stripe: The Bowery Boys Visit High Mass. No. Valvano embellishes real-life situations with absurdity and threads whole wardrobes of hilarious routines out of incidental sackcloth. Thus: Bob and Ray and V. To this day Valvano claims he has never uttered an actual joke. "I'm not Myron Cohen," he says. But lines? Ah! Valvano seems to have blurted out a line or two—or 10—for literally every aspect of his life; moreover, throughout the monologues he has the true comic's saving grace of self-deprecation.

Nationality: "But really, I thought it was impossible to retire from being an Italian. But then my mother joined the bridge club, got her driver's license and refused to make my father his sandwiches."

Marriage and the Family: "Yeah, and I've got a great home life. My wife is the former Pamela Susan Levine, the first girl I dated who didn't have a mustache. She saw my nose and thought I was Jewish. I saw her name and thought it ended in i. It was three years before we realized we had a mixed marriage. Now we have three great kids: Angelo, Irving and Scott. What does my wife make for dinner? Reservations."

Education: "So, I gave a scholarship to Rutgers but the recipient must have a higher average than I did. That lets out about three people on the East Coast."

The South: "But seriously, I really love the South—the pace, the quiet. They have the traffic report on the radio, and it might as well be the civil defense alert. Nothing. No traffic. And the food. I started going to the old barbecue, which they call a pig-stickin'. Yeah. I get up in the morning and say, whoa, boy, there's nothin' I'd like better today than go stick a pig. I went to about 40 pig-stickin's one April and set the world's record for going to the john the following May. Now the ugliest four-letter word I know is p-o-r-k. And they drink that ice tea, right? The first year that I was in Raleigh I drank so much ice tea I started to feel like I was Arthur Godfrey."

That Championship Season: "And you wouldn't believe all the people complaining about me commercializing the NCAA title. Well, yeah. But why shouldn't I milk it? We're an agricultural institution. I just hope they don't invoke the fluke rule on us this year."

Angelina Valvano says her middle son, James Thomas Anthony, "never woke up unhappy"; that he "hit the floor singing." But at St. Leo's grammar school the nuns hit the roof. Mr. Valvano, if it's so funny, why don't you share it with the rest of us? So he did. Do Durante, the third-graders wailed. Hey, driver, does this bus go over the George Washington Bridge? [gravel voice] If it don't, we'll get awful wet. Bob Lloyd, V's All-America backcourt teammate at Rutgers, says rooming with him for two years was like "living with Henny Youngman."

Just as all the yuks have overshadowed his coaching abilities, his effervescence tended to obscure the young Valvano's athletic talents: all-Nassau County (Long Island) three-sport star at Seaford High; defensive stalwart and eighth-leading career scorer at Rutgers who once, on a night when Lloyd was injured, scored 38 points, and then in his swan song in 1967 made all-NIT. "I got in guys' jocks. I stuffed guys," says V. "No question." How did Wes Bialosuknia (Connecticut) get 51 and Jimmy Walker (Providence) get 58 off you, V? "Hey, you ever get writer's block? That's called a bad day. Two bad days. Bialosuknia was great-looking. I didn't know whether to guard him or ask him for a date."

That last season was a magical one at Rutgers—the Scarlet Knights went 22-7 and finished third in the NIT—but after graduation Valvano was remembered possibly as much for pledging four different fraternities ("Free lunches at every one," says V) and his bizarre pranks in the back of the bus as he was for his skill with the basketball. "He's never changed," says Bob Greacen, a teammate back then. "Jimmy's just riding a bigger bus."

It is difficult to ascertain whether Valvano's stops along the road from third place in the NIT to the championship of the NCAA were legitimate coaching posts or mere gigs in community theater. He collected basketball experience in assistantships at Rutgers and Connecticut and in head coaching positions at Johns Hopkins and Bucknell, all the while developing solid and fundamental teaching, recruiting, working and communicating habits. Johns Hopkins hadn't had a winning season in 26 years before Valvano's only year there (1969-70) when Hopkins finished 10-9. And last year, when the Blue Jays' old coach won the national championship, an alumnus of that Hopkins team, George Apple, named a newborn daughter Val.

When he was an assistant at Connecticut (1970-72) Valvano's wit and personality "kept me sane," says Dee Rowe, head coach at the time. "Of course, everybody Jimmy ever recruited led the strikes on the Student Union."

(Aw, come on. Can't anybody here get serious.)

And then, yes. Bucknell (1972-75): Valvano starts his own campus radio call-in program, on which, logically enough, they open the show with The Godfather Love Theme. Valvano suits up for pre-game layups with the team. But also: Valvano schedules South Carolina and Wake Forest; plays a near-great Rutgers team to within three points at the half; leads the Bisons on a nine-game winning streak and makes the East Coast Conference playoffs.

Valvano's record as a head coach was a meager 43-51 when Iona hired him in 1975, but the New Rochelle, N.Y. school, situated in a suburb of New York City, was seeking an image to sell more than a savior to help its basketball team win. Iona was, in fact, in desperate competition for students with other Catholic schools in the area—St. John's, Fordham, Manhattan—and the Christian Brothers knew a good basketball team was the easiest way to attract them quickly. "This program was in the worst shape of any of them," Valvano says. "But I knew I was home. The Iona kids were second-generation ethnics, commuters who pumped gas at night so they could afford to pay for their books in the morning. They were me."

To the target-shooters who think that Valvano's recent forays into commerce and merchandising are a nouveau riche reaction to winning the national championship, let it be known that the fellow is no Jimmy-come-lately. Valvano partook heavily of money and the media long before he arrived in Raleigh—in fact, right there in New Rochelle, the place where Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore once found heavenly wedded TV bliss.

It was at Iona that Valvano (now V) plunged into full-time radio and TV commitments and it was there that he wrote a newspaper column for the Gannett chain—no, he didn't invent USA Today, but he could have. No question about it. It was at Iona that V got into a restaurant partnership and advertising and sales and speeches and clinics and camps and appearances and conglomeratized himself and prepared for the future. He was barely 30 and preparing for the future. At Iona he incorporated JTV Enterprises and cultivated Manufacturers Hanover bankers, wealthy Gael grads who set him up in advantageous business deals and tax shelters. At Iona V became closer than ever to his players. He hung out with them at The Fonz's, tended bar, sang '50s oldies and drank amarettos till they had to drag him out of the place. At Iona he also began to win. Big.

You think V won at N.C. State? You think that V discovered the NCAA tournament in Raleigh? You think V took advantage of the free-throw line last season? In Valvano's final two seasons at Iona the Gaels won 51 games and played like positive murder in the NCAAs, losing only in the last minute to Penn one year and Georgetown the next. Penn went to the Final Four in 1979; Georgetown, the best team in the country in March 1980, choked in the regionals. It might be recalled that Louisville won it all that season. On Jan. 21, 1980, Iona welcomed Louisville to Madison Square Garden. Final score: Iona 77, Louisville 60. In V's last three years at Iona the Gaels' power offense, built around the massive center, Jeff Ruland, created such havoc inside that the team ended up making almost as many foul shots as the opposition attempted. Ponder that stat a while.

Valvano loved Iona, The Big Apple, the second-generation ethnics. He had his portfolio ready, 8 X 10 glossies included, to take down to Madison Avenue. He was a hero around New York, set for life. No question. Then, in March 1980, N.C. State called. The ACC. And, as Valvano says, "My ego got the best of me." Way back, V had dreamed of the ACC. At Rutgers, just before he graduated, he told Greacen that someday he would coach in the ACC. On his coaching ladder of life the final rung was the ACC. His Rutgers coach, Bill Foster, had made it at Duke in the ACC. At Iona, V used to sit in an empty gym, introduce himself and sprint out on the court to a standing ovation at the Final Four. V knew the easiest path to that reality was via the ACC. No question.

Amid the chaos surrounding V's departure from Iona, the administration announced the news before Valvano had a chance to explain himself to those players to whom he had grown so attached. The closest was Ruland, a junior who soon was discovered to have an agent and was declared ineligible for his senior season. Subsequently, rumors of improprieties surfaced, alleging free meals, taxi rides and phone calls for the Iona players, but nothing was proved. Valvano says he never knew anything about Ruland's agent. "When you have the truth on your side, you don't worry about it," says V, who follows Ruland's pro career with the Washington Bullets, checking out the box scores every day. But Ruland has not spoken to Valvano since the coach departed from New Rochelle.

N.C. State's Casey (remember the old fat guy in the Chariots of Fire slo-mo?) initially wanted DeMatha High School's Morgan Wootten as coach, but Wootten wouldn't bite, so Valvano ripped off his coat and tie in the interview with Casey and began: "Here's the premise...I...want...this...job.... I...can...win...the...national...championship.... At...North...Carolina...State."

Three years later, sure enough.

As if Valvano's outrageous wit was not enough to disguise his bench acumen, the Pack's incongruous storybook trip to all the marbles in New Mexico—CHARLES IS NABBED FOR PINCHING PIZZA...WHITT CRACKS AN ANKLE, OUT FOR YEAR...PACK FALLS TO 9-7...VALVANO SIGNS 10-YEAR CONTRACT...WHITT RETURNS...STATE FINISHES SEASON 4TH IN LEAGUE...PACK UPSETS HEELS...STATE TOPPLES RALPH, ACC CHAMPS...MIRACLE COMEBACK STUNS PEPPERDINE...V AFTER VEGAS SURPRISE: "THE DREAM CONTINUES"...WOLFPACK ENDS SAMPSON CAREER...CHARLES DUNKS, IT'S OVER—became so compelling that it seized the emotions of even the most jaded among us and left Valvano's astounding coaching performance lying there practically hidden in the New Mexico sagebrush.

In Wooden's cherished letter to Valvano, which V had laminated and put up on his office wall, the UCLA wizard says, "...your effort in the tournament this year and that of Don Haskins in 1966 are the two finest NCAA tournament coaching jobs I have ever seen." With all due respect to Texas El Paso's Haskins, as well as to the Rupps, Woodens, Knights and Smiths, the truth is simply this: No man ever cajoled, connived, whipped, sawed, laughed, sobbed, held together, led and willed his young wards to the national championship in precisely the manner Valvano did. No one ever won the thing strictly by coaching as much as this man. In the ultimate coaches' sport, V was the ultimate. No question about it. Never has a mentor used the rules and the personnel at his disposal with such effectiveness. In the regular season the three-point basket and the 30-second shot clock were twin six-guns that V spun out of his holsters. In a preseason game the Wolfpack had taken 23 shots from three-point range and made 13. "I'm not saying 19 feet is too close," V said, "but at halftime my mother came down and hit three of four from there." In their last regular-season game the Pack scored 130 points against Wake Forest (including 16 of 25 three-pointers), the most points for any college team in a game all season. In between, State used the various clocks to control the tempo and limit Louisville, West Virginia and Memphis State to fewer than 60 points each and Michigan State and Missouri to fewer than 50.

Whittenburg's midseason injury dictated that Valvano coach three separate and unequal teams in one season: running and guard-oriented; half-court, no transition and set up inside; then a mishmash of both. The mishmash went 10-0 and won the title, but Valvano's best job may have come after the Pack lost four of its six games following Whittenburg's injury. State then won seven of eight against the canine likes of Georgia Tech. Duke and The Citadel. Plainly, State itself was a bad team. But playing well. Being coached brilliantly.

V was somber. The day after Whittenburg went down, V read A.E. Housman's poem To An Athlete Dying Young to the squad. "Here it was, it was happening," V says. "The name died before the man. Wow, heavy."

V was also sardonic. "Cozell McQueen, Big Co, our center, what a surprise!" he said. "Co's from Bennettsville, South Carolina. I couldn't believe we got him. I asked Co why he wanted to come to State. He said, 'Coach V, I always wanted to go to school in the North.' "

Valvano is the hot-blooded Italian loudmouth, right? At State he has never been assessed a technical foul. In two enormous games last year, two techs called on North Carolina's revered Dean Smith and one on Virginia Assistant Jim Larranaga reversed the momentum drastically, leading to a Valvano-coached State team's first-ever win against archrival Carolina and the Pack's ACC tournament championship victory over UVA. By that time Smith not only was borrowing V's lines—"Uh, heh-heh, looks like Jimmy's foul-shot defense again"—he was stealing that very strategy. Except that Valvano fouled only when behind. In the ACC semis Smith had his Tar Heels foul State while ahead. Six points ahead. It didn't work, and the Wolfpack pulled off another upset.

"Dean was smart," V says. "Hey, the guy doesn't win 400 games every year or get a statue of his head put in an eight-million-seat arena by having Cream of Wheat upstairs. Hey, with that three-point sucker staring you in the face, don't think I didn't mull fouling on the lead. Give up two to get a three, or two to get back a deuce, it's a push. Hope they miss and you don't. Hey, I want the rock. I want control. Don't let the other guy hold it and take the last shot. Foul 'em. Immediately. I got to have the jewels to put you on the line, put the winning run on base. Then I get the ups. You don't determine the game, I do. Listen, this is not a complicated game. It's simple. No question about it. Coaching is treatment of players—putting your guys in position to win. I dig into the anatomy of the game. That's the kick, the rush. From there it's execution, and I got no part in that. But getting there. Yeah. I want the hammer. We had two automatics at the ends of games. Foul fast, don't waste any time on the clock. And foul the guy who missed from the line before. If you missed, we tackled you. No question about it. The rule? [In the off-season the NCAA rewrote the end-of-game foul rule, making all fouls within the last two minutes of the game worth two shots when the bonus rule is in effect. Call it the Valvano Equation.] If the other was such a bad rule, why didn't anybody ever foul us back? Fast?"

ACC Final, State-Virginia. Othell Wilson drains a three-pointer to cut the Wolfpack lead to 79-78 with 20 seconds left. Virginia lets 14 seconds elapse before fouling State's best free-throw shooter, Whittenburg, who nails the one-and-one. Needing a three-pointer to tie, the Cavs' slowest player, Doug Newburgh, dribbles up court. State wins 81-78.

NCAA West Sub-Regional, State-Pepperdine. In the first overtime the Wolfpack is behind 59-55 and the other guys have the ball. But in the last 29 seconds State fouls Dane Suttle, an 84% free-throw shooter, not once but twice. Suttle misses both one-and-one chances. State wins in double OT, 69-67.

NCAA West Regional, State-Virginia. Whittenburg hits from 25 feet to tie the game at 61 with 1:26 left. State immediately fouls Wilson. He makes the first but misses the second. UVA 62-61. A year before in Raleigh, same situation, State had played for the last shot and Whittenburg had missed. This time State takes the first available shot at :23. Whittenburg drives and feeds Charles, who is fouled. He makes both. State 63-62. In Sampson's last college sequence, Valvano has the Pack sandwich Ralph with a 1-3 defense and a chaser on Wilson. Both are harassed, and Tim Mullen, who has played only six minutes and taken not a single shot, ends up having to shoot. Mullen barely finds iron. Wilson's rebound is followed by a panicky half-pass, half-prayer air ball. State wins 63-62. Goodnight, sweet prince. "I'm not gonna let the great player beat me," says V. "If Ralph beats me, I don't sleep for six years. If Mullen beats me, I sleep like a baby. Only Mullen ain't gonna make that shot. No way. No question."

NCAA Final, State-Houston. The rout. The laugher. Phi Slamma Jamma can mail it in. One guy writes (Valvano's favorite): "Rain would make it perfect. It always rains at an execution." Only V remembers that Houston lost to a Virginia team that was playing without Sampson. V knows Houston can't shoot free throws. V says stuff like "We'll hide the ball till Tuesday" and "even Angelina is taking Houston and giving the seven." But V knows he's ready. Houston's the Big-timer, remember. But V's the Rat. You kiddin'? This is a lock.

What happened was that the Houston bench simply wasn't ready for this visceral, even intellectual, approach to the fray by the attack Rat down at the opposite end. The Phi Slams had prepared for a day. The Rat had prepared all his rodent career. Everyone remembers how Houston held when it should have run—ahead 42-35 after a 17-2 spurt. But Houston also shot when it should have held, and that may have been equally damaging. With his team ahead 52-50 at 1:59, Akeem Olajuwon forced one up from the baseline, enabling Whittenburg to answer again from somewhere on the outskirts of Santa Fe. It was 52-52, and V was in heaven, or the vicinity of déj√† vu.

At 1:05 State fouled Houston freshman Alvin Franklin, who hadn't been on the line all night. Franklin's free throw never had a chance. McQueen rebounded, and State called time with 44 seconds to go. The Pack held, Whitt shot the golden knuckler, Charles slammed and, just like that, V became a genius looking for somebody to hug.

Yeah, well, O.K., so V's got the TV stuff and the newspaper column and the radio talk shows.... Somebody called in the other night and wanted to know who's going to the Super Bowl and V said his uncle, Bruno, he's got tickets. So he's got the Coach V clothes line and the bank ads and the health spa endorsements.... V says he'd love to work out but every time he steps into the whirlpool he breaks out in a rash.... And so he did the clinics and seminars for Hardee's hamburgers and the shills for Mountain Dew and the speeches for IBM and Encyclopaedia Britannica and the personal appearances and his fee's gone up to $3,500 a shot. So what? The guy does so much charity work for free some lady came in the other day from the committee to aid teenage pregnancies or something and V said wait, I had nothing to do with her. I was robbing the liquor store at the time, and anyway, she told me she was 22.

Everybody gets on V for selling himself and compares him to Deano low-profiling it over in Chapel Hill, pushing his nuclear freeze bit. Well, yeah, V says, I know, I know, Deano is really hurting over there in his motor home, barely surviving on hot dogs and beans, but hey, wait, V's gonna have more impact because when everybody gets nuked we're gonna need us a little Mountain Dew with our char-broiled burgers. No question.

And anyway, if V isn't the embodiment of the American Dream.... Grandpa over from Naples on the boat to Ellis Island.... Grandson grows up to live in the castle on the golf course and meet the President.... Which reminds V that when Ronnie asked him if it was Val-vah-no or Val-vane-o, V asked Ronnie is it Ree-gun or Ray-gun? V also met his alltime guy, Sinatra, posed with him even, and Frankie said, "Hey, Paisan, you've made all Italians happy." Him, V. Yeah.

And V's worked for all this, being away from the gorgeous Pam and the three gorgeous daughters all the time. Why, he looked up the other day and his oldest daughter, Nicole, was 14 and he didn't even know who Rick (sic) Springsteen was. Aw, so what, V says, Rick couldn't carry Dion's jockstrap anyway. Of course Pam never liked the limelight either. She always wanted to go out with just a few couples, and V wanted a crowd of 100 and now she feels as if she's "sharing him with America." Like V's as big as Michael Jackson or something. So maybe he is and, well, is V the American Dream or what? Raking in the half million a year, with the silver sports car and the Mark VI Continental and the beach house. No question whatsoever.

The thing about V is, he doesn't take himself seriously. V knows it's only a bouncing ball. V makes it reasonable to believe that a good coach can be a great clown and still get the job done; that a guy can joke and jive and X and O people to dust all in the same sentence; that a game isn't war or even life and death, it's simply grist for another laugh track. People think V is such a winner, but they ought to see him losing. V is gangbusters on the short end. It's like Casey said, "Valvano knows how to lose better than anybody in the history of this league." No question.

You figure it out. The magazine guy wants to eat. Hanging around with V means never having to say you're full. All you get is fast-food junk and popcorn five times a day. V keeps going on diets. Of course, V's an insomniac, never sleeps a wink, A waste of time and all that. And that's a cinch fat-loser. But popcorn all day and amarettos all night and no pasta? What kind of paisan is that? And V hates breakfast because he says it makes people sick to their stomachs, which is probably right on.

V's old coach, Foster, down at South Carolina now, had a heart bypass last year, and after V visited, Foster says he had to get "re-stitched," he was falling off the bed. It's just like V's buddy Frank Dascenzo wrote in The Durham Sun last year. It's there in V's book about the championship, Too Soon To Quit. V will point it out to you. No question. "Valvano lights up a day, a week, a season. He is never dull. He is fun...entertaining...intelligent. Stay around him long enough and you become smarter."

Yeah, and a whole lot happier. Which, when you think about it, whether you're a Big-tinier or a Rat or even a magazine guy, is a lot more important. No question about it.

PHOTOSIX PHOTOSValvano was a maestro who coaxed greatness from a mishmash of a team to beat mighty Houston. V couldn't find his designated hugger, but the Pack collectively took care of its coach in the end.PHOTOThe beautiful Pam thinks her man is as big a celebrity as Michael Jackson, and she may be right.PHOTOV, the radio wise guy: Who's going to the Super Bowl? My Uncle Bruno, he's got tickets.PHOTOValvano juggles his spare time between selling hamburgers, soft drinks, encyclopedias and, yeah, V.PHOTOValvano, who knows a little of everything, makes a point to soccer Coach George Tarantini.TWO PHOTOSPutting your players in position to win, says Valvano, is the key to successful coaching.PHOTOFoster (left) coached V at Rutgers. Lloyd says life with V was like "living with Henny Youngman."TWO PHOTOSValvano can be deadly serious when it comes to coaching, a fact borne out in Albuquerque.