The Cal Game

UWGB has had plenty of heroic triumphs in five decades of intercollegiate athletics but — considering the stakes, the context, the national TV audience and the high-flying, NBA-prospect-laden opposition — no greater day than March 17, 1994. The Phoenix shocked the nation and NCAA Tournament predictors everywhere by slaying the California Golden Bears, 61-57, in a first-round game in Provo, Utah. With future lottery picks Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, streaking fifth-seeded Cal had been a darkhorse pick to make the Final Four. Defensive specialists Gary Grzesk and Eric LeDuc forced the two stars into awful, turnover-filled shooting games, Jeff Nordgaard supplied the points, and point guard John Martinez calmly handled the pressure all day. Dick Bennett, already respected by his peers, became a national name; the Pep Band charmed with its enthusiasm; Phoenix Phever caught on statewide; and UW-Green Bay became the darling of the tournament’s opening weekend, eventually pushing a stacked Syracuse team to the limit before falling in the final minute in the next round. Making it all more enjoyable for Green Bay fans: the anguish of the vanquished. “Something called Wisconsin Green Bay stunned the West’s fifth-seeded team in the opening round,” the LA Times offered in its game recap, and then summed up the Phoenix like this: “The boys from the land that vowels forgot, or distributed unevenly, had UWGB on their uniforms and names such as Grzesk and Nordgaard. Their pep band wore cheese heads… The only way a Phoenix player–Wisconsin Green Bay’s nickname is the Phoenix–is ever going to get into a lottery is to go to a store and buy a ticket.”