Their legend has only grown across the decades, especially in March. Invariably, inevitably, the images will come back in a blur, usually in a highlight package emphasizing the NCAA Tournament’s greatest hits.

Here’s the late Lorenzo Charles, out of Brooklyn, N.Y., grabbing a ball out of the air and stuffing it through a basket at the bottom of an arena in Albuquerque, N.M., known as The Pit. Here’s the late Jim Valvano, out of Corona, N.Y., dashing up and down The Pit, looking for someone to hug. There, for all times, are the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack, a beacon of hope and inspiration for sporting Cinderellas everywhere.

“I wish I could describe to you exactly what it feels like when the ball goes in, when the buzzer goes off, when suddenly you realize: Holy cow, we really are the national champions,” Terry Gannon told me a few years ago, on some or other anniversary of N.C. State 54, Houston 52. “All I’ll tell you is this: It was everything you would think it was. Times 100.”

Gannon has enjoyed a long and prominent career as a network broadcaster, focusing mainly on college basketball, golf and figure skating. He was the sixth man on that ’83 team, and so barely a week goes by when he isn’t reminded of the fact that he is a forever part of the tapestry of one of the most celebrated teams in the history of American sport.

And those ’83 Wolfpack will surely be in the news again this week, because 41 years later State is taking a shockingly similar path to try and join them as forever bookends in this tournament. This team, like that one, wouldn’t even have gotten in the tournament had it not won the ACC Tournament. This team, like that one, is now the favored sons of the NCAA (even if the oddmakers stubbornly disagree), with giants still ahead of them to slay.

Here’s the thing, though.

What the 2024 Wolfpack is doing, to date, is even more remarkable than what happened in 1983. At first glance, that might sound like a shot at the ’83 champs. It’s not. Let Gannon explain:

“What’s forgotten through the years is that we were a damn good team,” Gannon said. “We had five guys (Charles, Dereck Whittenburg, Sidney Lowe, Thurl Bailey, Ernie Myers) who scored 1,000-plus points in college when that was a meaningful mark, and I scored 900. A lot of us believed we were only fulfilling what we thought was possible for us all along.”

That is a detail that history conveniently forgets. N.C. State was a preseason Top 20 team in ’83, rose as high as 15 in the rankings. But on Jan. 12, in their second ACC game, after Whittenburg scored 27 points against top-ranked Virginia in the first half, he landed on Othell Wilson’s foot early in he second and broke his ankle. He missed the next 14 games.

The Wolfpack hung in — even crushing No. 1 North Carolina, Valvano’s first-ever win against Dean Smith — but were 8-6 overall. In a time when only 52 teams made the NCAA field, that should have done them in.

“And if that team never got a chance,” Gannon said, “it would’ve been a crime.”

Part of the ’83 team’s legend is that so many of their games during the nine-game winning streak that covered the ACC and NCAA tournaments seemed to turn because of Valvano’s strategy to foul late because, in his eternal words, “when the game’s on the line, I want the rock.” And it worked.

“And Coach knew that the ball could get awfully heavy in your hands if you had to start thinking about making front ends all the time,” Gannon said.

But State also hit a rhythm. They won their Sweet 16 game with Utah by 19. They got an early lead against Georgia early in the Final Four semis, cruised home. And against mighty Houston in the finals, with the world expecting them to bleed the clock for 40 minutes, they instead opted for a frenetic pace and led 48-40 at the break.

They were also just eight-point underdogs in that game.

This year’s Pack is already a nine-point dog in their semifinal pairing with Purdue, and if they should win and draw UConn in the Final the spread might rival Colts-Jets from Super Bowl III. And for all this team has accomplished, it’s important to note none of it would be possible if Pack guard Michael O’Connell hadn’t hit a buzzer-beating bank-shot prayer against Virginia in the ACC semifinals.

The ’83 Pack needed no such divine intervention. Let history judge them as bigger underdogs than Hickory High. They always knew better.

“Coach said, ‘as long as we’re here, let’s win the damn thing,’” Gannon said 35 years on. That timeless piece of advice remains valid, all these years later, for an N.C. State team that truly would need to order a truck load of glass slippers if they finish this off.

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