There were several postscripts. The most heartfelt came soon after; the day the jerseys of Farmer, Feldhaus, Pelphrey and Woods went up in Rupp Arena. The Unforgettables, they were called. It didn’t matter they had not made it to the Final Four. They had stayed the course, and helped save Kentucky basketball.
Feldhaus: “You walk in Rupp Arena -- I took my son -- and you look up there and see your jersey, there’s not a better feeling in the world. There’s not too many up there. One of the top two or three programs in the country and your jersey’s hanging up there. That is a special thing.”
Still, the hurt would take a while to ease.
Sendek: “When the two national semifinals came on the next week, I went to the movies. I didn’t even want to be tempted to turn the TV on. I just wanted to get some distance. I just sat there and ate popcorn so I wouldn’t be around the television.”
Feldhaus: “I’ve watched that game one time. That’s it. But time flies. I’ve got a nine-year-old son, and he’s starting to understand the game pretty well. I will sit down with him some time and have to struggle through watching that game. But I’m going to do it for him.”
Feldhaus and Laettner appeared together years later at a fund-raiser. Feldhaus was hesitant to go. He doesn’t crave the spotlight, but he decided to attend.
“He eats it up,” he says of Laettner. “I didn’t have to do much talking. He hasn’t changed much.”
So the player who did the guarding did not get on that well with the player who did the shooting?
“He’s not a guy I want to hang out with, I’ll promise you that.”
Something else Kentucky gained from the defeat.
Ford: “We learned a lot. We went to the Final Four the next year. So the guys returning took a lot out of the game, as devastating as it was. It became a positive when we got back to that point, finishing it off.”
Yes, the younger Wildcats came back and got to the Final Four in 1993. Pitino went on to a couple of national championships. But there’s always the question for the seniors, who had no other chances.
What could have been
What if Laettner had missed?
What if they had not been so careful about fouling? Maybe Kentucky goes on to the Final Four and defeats Indiana, a team it had already beaten. Maybe the Wildcats then beat Michigan’s Fab Five. Maybe the Unforgettables go out as national champions, not epic victims. Maybe.
I think the thing for me today I’ve been able to realize that my life and my career wouldn’t necessarily be any better regardless. I don’t believe that [they would have been]. I think it was a wonderful journey." -- Pelphrey
“For the first couple of weeks, maybe a month, when you invest that much you feel almost like you’re owed something," Pelphrey says. "As you get older and you have kids and you have a job and do different things, you start to understand that emotion and expectations are really bad things to have. You need to play with emotion but you don’t need to be emotional.
“We absolutely went through that. Why not? Why did it have to go in? What would it have been like? We could have gone to the Final Four and had to play Indiana. That wasn’t like that was going to be a walk in the park, either. Then you have the Fab Five. A lot of matchups we probably didn’t want to be a part of, and that was probably one of them. Sooner or later, it had the potential for there to be a disappointment.
“For a brief moment in time we had those thoughts of what if, but we quickly came to realize that this is part of it, we’ve got to handle it. We’ve got to be a champion in all circumstances, and this one, too.”
Woods: “My picture would have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“Just the fact I’d get another chance to play two more games in the Final Four. And we’re national champions. There’s a difference being national champions and just being a part of one of the greatest college basketball games ever.
“But a lot of people wish they could be a part of something like that. I’m gratified. We were some lucky young men. We weren’t prima donnas. But every accolade we got, we earned every bit of it.”
Pitino: “The Kentucky fans anguish over it, not me. I thought it was such a great game. It was so well played, so you had to appreciate that. If your guys don’t play well, they don’t execute, it’s not their night, you kind of anguish over it. When your guys play way over their heads, your best guy fouls out and you still have a chance to win, you’ve got to be really proud of what they accomplished. We played a perfect game. That was a dream come true to be in that situation.”
Sendek, on Pitino second-guessing himself over being so cautious about guarding Laettner: “At the end of the day Grant Hill made the perfect pass, Christian Laettner caught the ball and capped off a perfect night. Had Coach not uttered those words [not to foul], would they have been more aggressive? Would history have changed? We’ll never know that. That’s almost an exercise in futility, beating yourself up over that.”
Twenty-five years later, the moment lingers. “If there’s a Mount Rushmore of tournament moments, it’s got to be there,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “To this day, I still hear Kentucky and Duke fans talking about it. People still remember it like it was yesterday.”
The winners always will. The losers, too.
Twenty-five years is a long time. I don’t know if there will ever be a time it fades. Back a few years I probably would have wished it did, but now I hope not." -- Feldhaus
So on this 25th anniversary, we go back to the man in the white clubhouse, on a quiet golf course in Kentucky, who one day will turn on that tape and explain to his son what it was like to be playing at a moment college basketball will never forget.
Feldhaus: “Twenty-five years is a long time. I don’t know if there will ever be a time it fades. Back a few years I probably would have wished it did, but now I hope not. If it can last 25 years, I think it can handle longer. Being part of that game, it is something special, even though I was guarding the guy who hits the shot right in front of you, which is kind of hard to take."
“The way that turned out, I don’t think it would have been a lot of change. We had our jerseys retired. In the state of Kentucky, we’re still considered one of the top teams the fans liked. If we would have won that game, I don’t think it would have probably gone down as one of the best games ever, because it wouldn’t have been won in the last second.”
Still, at the end of the day, Lattener could have missed, right?
“I wouldn’t have minded that," Feldhaus says, "at all.”
Credits: Video, courtesy NCAA On Demand. Laettner, courtesy NCAA Photos. Felldhaus, courtesy Leo McKay. Pelphrey, courtesy University of Alabama. Woods, courtesy Morehead State. Pitino, courtesy NCAA Photos. Laettner and Hill, courtesy NCAA Photos.