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Tuesday, March 23, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Game -- 40 Years Have Passed Since Washington, Seattle U. Met In City's Game Of The Century

They called it college basketball's game of the century for this city. Forty years later, the designation still fits.

Four decades ago this month in Corvallis, the University of Washington played Seattle University in an NCAA men's regional tournament game. It was the first basketball game ever between the schools. The Huskies had avoided scheduling the Chieftains, but on this night they had nothing to fear.

Final score: Huskies 92, Chieftains 70.

The biggest names in the game were Bob Houbregs of Washington and Johnny O'Brien of Seattle U., All-Americans who went on to become professional athletes and poker buddies.

"It was interesting that the whole community was choosing up sides," said O'Brien. "The players, we all knew each other. We were friends through the whole thing."

Houbregs said, "The pressure had been building for years with the fans and the press."

Houbregs dazzled the 10,214 eyewitnesses by scoring 45 points that night, setting an NCAA record that stood until Oscar Robertson scored 56 in a 1958 game. O'Brien, who played post despite being only 5 feet 9, was double-teamed but still scored 25 points.

The game was a milestone in local television history. Carried live by KING-TV, it was the first live out-of-state telecast of an athletic event by a local station. A temporary microwave system was built between Corvallis and Portland to carry the game to an existing microwave system that beamed the game to Seattle.

Of course, many homes didn't have televisions, and people wrangled invitations from neighbors and friends to watch the black-and-white telecast. Taverns with televisions were packed.

Other places were empty. The state high-school basketball tournament drew only 500 fans, retired sportscaster Rod Belcher recalls, despite the attractive matchup of Elma, with 7-footer Gary Nelson, and Renton, with future NFL player George Strugar. Usually, semifinal night at the state tournament would draw about 10,000 fans.

Attendance also was down sharply at theaters. Traffic was light.

Although the game in Corvallis was the talk of Northwest, many Chieftains would have preferred to be in New York. O'Brien said his team had wanted to return to the National Invitation Tournament, which was still a major tournament in 1953, rather than enter the NCAA tournament. SU had been upset by Holy Cross in the first round of the NIT the previous year.

O'Brien said, "When the powers that be chose Corvallis, we said, `That's fine.' We would have preferred the NIT because we wanted to go back there and make up for the year before."

The "powers that be" were the athletic director, Bill Fenton, and the athletic moderator, Father Robert Carmody, S.J. Fenton, who lives in Des Moines, said they chose the NCAA tournament out of allegiance to the NCAA and because alumni and students wanted the chance to play Washington.

"The pressure was just unbelievable to play the game," said Bill O'Mara, the television announcer for the game, who is 76 and a radio broadcaster in Anacortes.

Al Brightman, the Seattle U. coach, wanted to play in the NIT and didn't hide his feelings from his players.

"Brightman was obviously disappointed with the decision," said Joe Pehanick, a 6-8 junior reserve for Seattle U. who owns a tire store in Oakland, Calif. Pehanick said he feels Brightman didn't help his team psychologically going into the Husky game by being so open about preferring the NIT.

According to Bill Sears, who was working in the SU sports-information office then, Brightman "knew his chances against Washington weren't that good."

Brightman was right. The taller Huskies jumped to a 24-11 lead; the outcome was never in doubt.

"We got a good start and we had so much more size than they did," recalled UW Coach Tippy Dye, who is 77 and has lived in Florida for 20 years after stints as athletic director at Nebraska and Northwestern.

Dye had his reason for never wanting to play the Chieftains.

"I didn't want to play them from the standpoint of recruiting," he said. "If they beat you, they are likely to get the better kids."

(The Huskies finally began scheduling an annual home-and-home series with the Chieftains in 1970 and it lasted until 1981, when SU de-emphasized its athletic program. The Huskies dominated the series 18-4.)

When Dye finally had to play the Chieftains in Corvallis, he didn't show much mercy. He kept his regulars in the game until three minutes remained and the Huskies led 90-57. He said many Husky fans were upset that he pulled his starters because they wanted him to run up the score.

The Huskies went on to finish third in the NCAA tournament, losing to Kansas in the semifinals then beating Louisiana State.

At last count, four men from "The Game" had died. Doug McClary, a starter for the Huskies, died in 1982 at age 50 while recovering from surgery. Another Husky starter, Joe Cipriano, who later was hired by Dye to coach at Nebraska, died of pancreatic cancer in 1980 at age 49. A Husky reserve, Bill Ward, died a few years ago. Brightman died last year in Beaverton, Ore., of liver cancer at age 68.

Houbregs played five years in the NBA, was general manager of the SuperSonics for five years and has retired outside Olympia after serving as national sales manager for Converse shoes. O'Brien and his twin, Eddie, who also played on the SU team, became the double-play duo for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Johnny O'Brien recently retired after a career as a King County commissioner-councilman and a Kingdome administrator.

O'Brien and Houbregs still face each other across the card table.

"After 40 years," O'Brien said, "we know each other's moves."

---------------------------------------. The starters. .

Starting lineups for the 1953 NCAA men's regional tournament game in which Washington beat Seattle U. 92-70: . Washington Seattle U.. . Bob Houbregs Stan Glowaski. . Doug McClary Johnny O'Brien. . Mike McCutchen Eddie O'Brien. . Joe Cipriano Ray Moscatel. . Charley Koon Wayne Sanford.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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