Digger Phelps reflects on 40 year anniversary of win over UCLA

The memories of Notre Dame's upset win over UCLA 40 years ago to end the Bruins 88-game win streak are on proud display throughout the South Bend home of former Irish men's basketball coach Digger Phelps.

"Guess I had a 3 piece suit back then," Phelps says pointing to a picture from the 1974 game.

Phelps has a framed collage of the scorebook from Ntore Dame's 71-70 victory at the Athletic and Convocation Center (now known as Purcell Pavilion and the Joyce Center). The scorebook is signed by John Wooden, the legendary coach of the Bruins. It even comes with a note from Wooden congratulating Digger on his victory. Wooden also thanked Phelps for losing to Bruins a year earlier to help set the original longest win streak record at 61 games.

"He had get that shot in," Phelps says with a laugh.

"The 61-game win streak happened here so I gave Wooden the game ball. The 88 game streak ends here, I got that game ball," Phelps says with a big smile.

Funny story about that game ball. Phelps hit from the Basketball Hall of Fame moments after the victory over the Bruins. In the locker room, Phelps took the game ball and gave it to a manger and said--put this away. He then grabbed a ball off a rack that was used from pre-game and gave it to the Hall of Fame guys.

"The ball I gave them is in some closest or corner; I think made the right call," Digger says.

On Sunday, Phelps will be back on the court at the arena where it all happened once again, entering the Notre Dame Ring of Honor. He joins Luke Harangody, Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Ruth Riley and Skylar Diggins.

Dozens of Digger's former players will be on hand including All-Americans Kelly Tripucka, John Paxson and John Shumate.

Shumate was among the starters during the '74 win, which Phelps remembers so well. Notre Dame trailed by 11 points with 3:22 left, when Digger delivered a message in the huddle.

"I told them if they didn't think we would win the game, then they could hit the showers," Digger explains. "I use a little French to go with that English so they knew what I was talking about."

The Irish rallied all the way back to win the game. Fans rushed the court in celebration. Phelps didn't stick around long however.

" I run down and shake Wooden's hand and [two friends] pick me up and it's so hot because of the TV lights and the emotion of the crowd, I said lets go to the locker room. So I took off and went to the locker room."

The Ring of Honor ceremony at halftime of Sunday's game against Virginia Tech will mark exactly 40 years to the day of ND's famous victory. How Fitting.

"It's almost like this is my Irish wake so to speak, even though I'm alive and well," Phelps said.

Alive and well indeed but after recently defeating cancer for the 2nd time.

"Where have you been and what have you done and how do you thank all those people? And that to me is what Sunday night is about," Digger said.

"I'm still alive for a reason. I don't think they are ready for me up there. This was a wakeup call all of these starting with four years this April with the cancers and also with the game of life being an Undertaker's son, you know how it can end but while you are still living-live it every day until the full moment."

Digger's next big moment comes when he delivers that speech, which if you are wondering, he's been working on for weeks. And just like he did as a coach, Digger's speech is written on notecards.

So will Digger be able to control the emotions Sunday? Probably not but he'll try something to try and make something happen.

"I'm going to bite my tongue and get mad and go out there and pretend I'm down 11 or 12 to UCLA-I don't know," Digger says laughing. I said the other day you better have Kleenex out there."

I'm sure they will plenty on hand.


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