Wirth Watching: The year University of Utah won big

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 UTAH) - Let the madness of March begin... It all started with the selection of college basketball teams in the quest for a national title. It seems everyone who ever filled out a tournament bracket has an opinion on who is the Cinderella team of the year. But there never was a Cinderella team like the University of Utah seven decades ago.

The whiz kids from Utah won it all - and weren't even supposed to be in the tournament.

The 1944 Utes will always be one of college basketballs most amazing stories. They won the NCAA championship. With the war, it was hard to even field a team. Four walk-ons came from within about 40 miles and said they wanted to play.

This walk on team couldn't even play at the University. Troops were sleeping in the fieldhouse. Every game they played was a road game, and they still won.  Unbelievable."

Then came the NCAA tournament. Utah was a last minute replacement. There was an all night train ride. And a week later, the team that had four freshman starters and only six players to see action, beat powerhouse Dartmouth 42 -40. Arnie Ferrin was the most valuable player of the whole tournament.

The team without a fieldhouse now had a trophy - the NCAA trophy in a tournament they weren't even supposed to be part of a week earlier.

Then the Red Cross saw a chance to really give war torn America something to cheer about. They made a super championship the U verses St. John.

Newsreels around the country flashed the story… little Utah without even a home arena playing in Madison Square Garden.

The amazing story didn't end there. Those four freshmen from Utah played their hearts out. Most had never been to the east and now they were in New York City. At the end of the game, they were victorious. The story that would show on movie screens all over the country…

Well of course the return to Utah was triumphant with crowds celebrating, fire trucks blaring and a parade in their honor.


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