Villanova vs. North Carolina was more than a moment in history

Our collective sports memory favors the recent and the victorious. All the excitement and beauty and absurdity in a game or a season builds toward one, objective decision: Who won? A player’s all-time best performance or critical play might get forgotten simply because it happened early, or because their team didn’t win in the end. Conversely, fans might overlook your horrific slump or blooper because you DID win. And if the event ends with one big moment, you can pretty much forget everything else. A conclusive buzzer-beater or walk-off shines so brightly that it risks eclipsing everything around it. As time passes, fewer people remember the details, the context, and the array of possibilities hinging on the big play. That iconic moment acts as a sort of shorthand for the whole story preceding it.

This is why Rewinder exists. In fact, the idea for Rewinder came from a specific instance of this phenomenon. In 2016, when I worked on SB Nation’s social media team, the Villanova men’s basketball team beat North Carolina in one of the best NCAA Finals ever. UNC shot way better than usual, Wildcats benchwarmer Phil Booth had the game of his life, and in the closing seconds, Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit one of the most amazing shots I have ever seen in my life:

For a couple minutes, that shot was all anyone cared about. Paige found the net while doing the Running Man. He overcame perfect defense to probably send the game to OT. I cannot recreate what Twitter was like for you immediately after that shot, but I swear I already saw memes flying around whennnnnnn this happened:

And then we all forgot the whole game, the Marcus Paige shot, and our own names and phone numbers. That Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater swallowed the entire narrative. If you ask someone to name the best NCAA Final ever, they might very well say that one. But if you ask them why, they’ll be hard-pressed to think of anything but this:

NCAA Men’s Final Four - National Championship - Villanova v North Carolina - Kris Jenkins hits the game-winning shot

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

That’s fine! Buzzer-beaters rule. But I felt bad for Marcus Paige, who had the bad luck of doing something way cooler a few seconds too early. It reminded me of the absurd Tim Duncan fadeaway that preceded Derek Fisher’s famous 0.4-second game-winner in 2004, or the time I wrote an EXTREMELY PROMPT post about Jermaine Kearse’s ridiculously cool catch late in the 2016 Super Bowl … that nobody saw because the Seahawks ended up collapsing.

I thought there needed to be some sort of formal acknowledgment of these penultimate moments, and that’s what Rewinder initially was: Just a series briefly acknowledging the play before the play. Thankfully, I have good bosses, who encouraged me to expand the idea into a video series fully exploring the history and context behind iconic moments. So, the above episode of Rewinder isn’t just the story of the Marcus Paige shot. It’s also Phil Booth’s story, and Ryan Arcidiacono’s story. It’s the story of Jay Wright’s “NOVA” set— a full-court screen/handoff play that looked very familiar to Wildcat fans. None of this serves to poke holes in the final Kris Jenkins play that became our “moment in history.” In fact, I hope it does the opposite. I hope it helps you come as close as possible to appreciating the Jenkins shot the same way people did back in 2016, beneath the full weight of history distant and recent. I hope the episode helps prevent that shot from becoming a mere token, a cliche image that loses value with repetition.

The work I do at Secret Base is not important, but I try hard to help people understand what makes sports cool and weird and complicated, and I think Rewinder serves that purpose. I’m proud of it. So, thank you, Marcus Paige!

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