For one week, they were the talk of the basketball world. Mercer, taking on the role of David and going up against the Goliath known as Duke. Yes, that Duke. The one with the basketball program, the same Duke where you have to have a 4-digit SAT score just to get looked at.
It was not going to be an easy battle for the litter school from Macon, whose most famous alumni are former NBA star Sam Mitchell and Nancy Grace, who attended Mercer Law School. This wasn't Mercer going up against just anyone. This was Duke. It would like Jimmy Stewart going up against Liberty Valance without a gun.
Everyone that made out a bracket when the selections were announced picked Duke. No one gave Mercer, who has just a little under 2,500 undergrads (making it one of the smallest Divison 1A programs in the nation), who had to play against Duke, who had tradition, not to mention over 8.500 undergrads. Duke had a lot of history behind it, winning their last NCAA title in 2010 against Butler, which meant they had some experience against upstart programs under the leadership of Mike Krzyewski. Mercer? This was only their second trip to the big dance and their first since 1985.
The last time Mercer was in the NCAA Tournament...
Ronald Reagan occupied 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
the number one television show was The Cosby Show
the cost of a new house was $100,800.00
Cost of a first-class stamp: $.20 ($.22 as of 4/3/88)
Cost of a gallon of regular gas: $1.20
Cost of a dozen eggs: $.80
Cost of a gallon of Milk: $2.26
NFL: Chicago "shuffled" its way to the Lombardi Trophy, beating New England 46-10
NBA: The Lakers beat Boston in 7 games
MLB: Kansas City beat St. Louis in 7 games
Life expectancy: 74.7 years
Federal spending: $946.39 billion
Federal debt: $1817.5 billion
Consumer Price Index: 107.6
The top five movie money makers:
Back to the Future - $210,609,762
Rambo: First Blood Part 2 - $150,415,432
Rocky IV - $127,873,716
The Color Purple - $94,175,854
Out of Africa - $87,100,000
Best Actor: William Hurt: Kiss of the Spider Woman
Best Actress: Geraldine Page: The Trip to Bountiful
Best Director: Sydney Pollack: Out of Africa
Best Picture: Sydney Pollack: Out of Africa
Best Supporting Actor: Don Ameche: Cocoon
We also got introduced to the "Brat Pack" that year, as they came out with "St. Elmo's Fire" and "The Breakfast Club." The number one song in 1985 was "Careless Whisper" by "Wham!"
The players for Mercer weren't even born or were in kindergarden when the Bears, led by Bill Bibb, lost to Georgia Tech in the first round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament. For the most part, the students from Mercer that attended that contest weren't born or even concieved either.
It was one of those contests that few will ever forget, whether they were wearing the blue and white for Duke or orange and black of Mercer. Both teams had their squads ready to go and it was a contest for the ages for Mercer fans. The Bears did trail but managed to chip away at Duke, like a prize fighter giving their opponents body blows instead of going for the knockout. For Mercer, their patience was rewarded and when the clock struck 00, Mercer fans could finally exhale. For Duke, they were in shock.
Mercer had beaten Duke. David had beaten Goliath with one well-placed rock. Popeye had just opened a huge can of spinach and taken Bluto to the woodshed. The basketball world was shaken to its very core. Brackets that had Duke going all the way were tossed in the garbage can, like love letters from a ex. People all over the nation were immediately Googling to find out where Mercer was located and the visit to the school's website spiked when the score was announced to the sports world. Little Mercer, located about 90 minutes south of Atlanta, in a city that was home to Little Richard, the Allman Brothers and Otis Redding, where Pete Rose got his start in pro baseball, became the center of the world of sports last Friday.
As quick as they went to the top of the mountain, they fell back to Earth Sunday against Tennessee, trailing the Volunteers by as much as 12 at one point in their Sunday meeting. But with that, they had nothing to be ashamed of. Upon their return from Raleigh last Monday, they were welcomed as heroes, not failures.
While there are some that despise Duke, their head coach Mike Krzyewski did manage to lose graciously, visiting the Mercer locker room after the contest. It is usually rare for the losing head coach to visit the winners after the game in the locker room but it was something that Mercer fans and their players will not forget.
Mercer loses five seniors to graduation and their current head coach Bob Hoffman was courted by South Florida to lead the Bulls program but there are some that believe that he's staying put. Are the Bears going back to the Big Dance next year? Hard to say.
But this much we know. At least for one day, they got to be Cinderella and even if the clock did strike midnight for them last Sunday against Tennessee, they brought swagger, class and a few nifty dance moves to the floor. Mercer may have lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament that Sunday afternoon but in the grand scheme of things, they came out big winners in a weekend that shocked a lot of basketball fans.
In case you're wondering, Liberty Valance lost. He got beat by Jimmy Stewart in that great film. Duke that Friday was Liberty Valance.
For one, brief, shining monment, Mercer was in Camelot.