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DETROIT - March 26, 1979, was rolling into March 27 by the time NBC sportscasters Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire gathered to critique their effort in that night's NCAA championship game.

No one knew then that Michigan State's 75-64 victory over Indiana State had just become the most watched game in history, viewed by nearly 25 percent of the country, a record that still stands.

No one knew then that Spartans star Magic Johnson and Sycamores standout Larry Bird had not only just made March Madness, but would soon save the NBA.

"We didn't even feel like it was a great game," said Enberg, who now works for CBS. "Despite Indiana State being undefeated, it was obvious that Michigan State was the better team."

So after finding a rare Salt Lake City restaurant open late at night, the trio ordered dinner, chatted for a bit, then became a duo when McGuire excused himself from the table.

"I thought Al had gone to the restroom or something," said Enberg. "But when he didn't come back for 15 or 20 minutes, I went looking for him."

He found the late McGuire curled up in a vacant booth, sound asleep.

"That's how exciting Al thought that game was," chuckled Enberg.

Thirty years later, it has become the championship game to end all games, or as the winning coach that night, Jud Heathcote said recently, "I think it was the real start of the Final Four and an emphasis on college basketball. Up until then, it had been kind of lackadaisical, then suddenly you get an unheard of TV audience. They (Magic and Bird) set the stage for the interest we have today in March Madness."

Despite Bird's Sycamores standing 33-0 that Monday night to Michigan State's 25-6, Indiana State was clearly the underdog.

"We had two superstars (Magic and fellow All-American Greg Kelser), they had one," said the 81-year-old Heathcote.

Then first-year Indiana State coach Bill Hodges agreed. In an interview earlier this week in the Roanoke Times, Hodges said, "That was the tough part. Who do you put on Magic? Who do you put on Kelser? You've got to keep pressure on Magic or he's going to pass over the top to Kelser. But if you put pressure on Magic, he just drives around you into the lane."

To prove his point, five minutes into the second half, the Spartans were up 16 points. Indiana State cut it to 52-46 with 10 minutes left in the thin mountain air, but Magic scored the next three points and Bird could never again rally the Sycamores.

The future Boston Celtics star finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, but hit just seven of 21 shots. Magic scored 24 and Kelser added 19.

"But regardless of the score, it was really those two players - Magic and Bird - that made it special," said Enberg. "One (Magic) was this fabulous 6-8 guard we'd never seen before and haven't seen since. The other was this immensely talented, self-proclaimed 'Hick from French Lick.' It was wonderful theatre."

But it only worked out wonderfully for the winners. Thirty years later, Spartans guard Terry Donnelly is still often introduced, "Here's Terry Donnelly, everyone. He's the guy who played with Earvin (Magic) Johnson."

"It's opened up a lot of doors for me," Donnelly told the Detroit Free Press this week, neglecting to mention he scored 15 points and hit all five of his field goals against the Sycamores. "In business relationships. In social relationships. All because of (Magic)."

Then there is Hodges. Three years after the title game he was let go by Indiana State. His only other Division I job was at Mercer.

Now 66, he coaches girls tennis at William Fleming High School in Virginia.

"When history's happening, you don't notice it, said Hodges, who also teaches history and keeps a picture of that 1979 team in his classroom.

"But if I'd known then what I know now, I might have felt differently. I could never get back in that daggone tournament."

Associated Press national basketball writer Jim O'Connell was attending his first Final Four that spring. He hasn't missed one since.

"It was special for me because it was my first," O'Connell said. "But it was special nationally because it was Bird-Magic. It was also a great Final Four. DePaul was there (against Indiana State in one semi) with their coach Ray Meyer, who hadn't gotten back to that round in nearly 40 years. And Penn was in from the Ivy League."

O'Connell remembers Michigan State students chanting "Penn State, Penn State," and Penn students responding, "You will work for us one day.

And you thought Duke students were the first to creatively taunt the opponent.

"It may not sound like a lot now," said O'Connell, "but there were 400 media there that weekend. The year before there had been about 200. Everyone was excited to see Magic and Bird."

Today there will be more than 70,000 fans in Ford Field to watch the Spartans battle Connecticut in their attempt to reach their third national championship game under longtime Heathcote assistant Tom Izzo.

The media will number more than double the 400 who watched Bird-Magic. CBS now pays billions of dollars to televise the event.

"It may not have been a great game," said Enberg. "But it was certainly great for the game."

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