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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Ward: Ranking "One Shining Moments"

How do you summarize a three-week-long tournament that combines 64 teams and about double as many storylines surrounding those teams, their players and coaches? For CBS and TBS that job has been pretty self-explanatory for the past 35 years: Dub a montage of all the best moments to the sweet sound of David Barrett’s "One Shining Moment." It is hands-down the best way to encapsulate the epic stories that we have come to know as March Madness.

The song is not just a tradition, but it can be an abbreviated history lesson. The coaches losing their minds on the sidelines, the players who were celebrating or who are seen with their heads in their hands defeated and the teams that they compose of all have fascinating backstories behind them. Not to mention the unique glimpse that is granted into the period through the shots of the fans. It astounds me every year how well the production crews handle compiling a three-minute compilation of a three-week-long event’s best moments that is to be aired as coverage of the game and the whole tournament comes to a sudden close.

As a loyal Hoosier, the song is likely to induce tears nearly every time for me. Sure, the lyrics might be some of the corniest stuff you’ve ever heard but throw it behind some highlights and lowlights of an almost month-long tournament that literally combines blood, sweat and tears and you have something really special on your hands. I can’t say whether the song makes me produce tears so easily because I have never seen an Indiana-based team take home the trophy in my lifetime (at least in the men’s tournament, wink, wink), or because while you soak in the song and its lyrics you can begin to imagine the feeling of those players who were defeated.

The players and coaches who flash past your screen are very likely watching the same broadcast as you, some of them too surely still with tears in their eyes as they dream it was just them who was cutting down the nets in front of a cheering crowd. Either way, the song is awesome and analyzing different years the song was played can take you back to that time and can even encourage the viewer to engage with a whole new world of narratives surrounding the characters they see dart past the screen. So with no further introduction, I give you my top five "One Shining Moments."

  1. 1987 Indiana def. Syracuse
The last time the Hoosiers won the tournament was actually the first time that CBS aired the song after the game. This is as authentic as it gets, ladies and gentlemen, the true original. The full version is admittedly a little strange, with a sad song and credits preceding a smooth transition into one of basketball’s anthems, but it is still pretty cool. And it contains a couple of perfect examples for what I was just discussing. Bobby Knight and Rick Pitino are both incredibly polarizing basketball coaches who have both gone on to have impressive careers, but at the same time, they have always been followed with some just criticism alongside the praise they receive. They are both incredibly interesting cases of college basketball coaches, and in these brief clips, we can see them in their element, doing what they do best.
  1. 2002 Maryland def. Indiana
This is about as flashy as you’ll see the song get (hopefully). Though there are several renditions of the song, those don’t bother me as much as the horrible graphics in this video. The only reason this makes my list is because it showed producers that they don’t need to get flashy with this sequence. The simpler they remain, the purer their product is on screen. This was an important lesson for the production crews of the future to follow. You don’t need fancy shooting star graphics or diamonds dazzling the whole time. Because the lyrics of the song fit what is to be aired behind it so perfectly, it should be a pretty foolproof system. This year was a lesson for the crew and they did away with the weird graphics right away.
  1. 2000 Michigan State def. Florida
This one is pretty cool and is a good example of how well graphics and game footage can be combined to create a story when not overdone. A shimmer or a spark here and there do not deduct from the quality of the game footage and the result is a pretty cool little time capsule that can take the viewer back to that era. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but then again a little flair every once in a while doesn’t hurt. 
  1. 2010 Duke def. Butler
This rendition by Jennifer Hudson has a special place in my heart. If I’m not crying like a baby because of the beautiful production of a "One Shining Moment," then I am crying because I am envisioning Gordon Hayward’s half-court miracle heave rimming out as the clock sounded back in 2010. Here as a young boy, I experienced my first heartbreak. I blame this specific year for this song being such a tear-jerker and I will never forgive that nasty, nasty rim for what it did to my heart. Pain.
  1. 2013 Louisville def. Michigan
A true storybook tale of a team that fought and endured through hardship to accomplish the seemingly impossible. The Cardinals would rally around Kevin Ware after he suffered a devastating leg injury in an earlier game and would go on to win the Championship in a real storybook ending. Adding to the sweetness of the story, Ware — like many others — was happy to see none other than Michigan defeated in the Championship game. Whenever Michigan loses, it’s a good day, but this goes down as one of the sweetest Michigan defeats in my book.