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Just How Good Was The 1978 UK Championship Documentary? Jack “Goose” Givens Sets Us Straight

I’ve had several readers ask me what I thought of the SEC Storied documentary on the 1978 UK National Championship team titled Win or Else. “Was it any good?” they asked. My answer was an unequivocal, “HELL YEAH!”

You see, I was probably more invested in UK Basketball during that period than any other time in my life. The Big Blue was coming off a twenty-year championship drought, and that title run was the first one of my lifetime. There’s always something truly special about the first time for anything, and all the videos, interviews, and game tape playing on the TV screen brought back a torrent of precious recollections and poignant memories.

Yep, I cried when I watched it.

It’s hard to describe the passion felt by so many of the fans back in that era. I don’t mean to disparage what has transpired with the program during the past couple of decades, but it’s just not the same. There’s not nearly the level of interest, adoration, and zealousness for the players and the team as there was back in the day.

Who better to try and recapture that passion than Jack “Goose” Givens? Givens, one of the  four seniors who starred on that ’78 squad, visited the radio show this morning to share his thoughts about those magical moments in UK Basketball history.

When the network brass first approached Givens about doing the project, he was skeptical.

“How in the world did you come up with trying to do something about a bunch of old men who played basketball in the good old days?” Goose asked the producers.

Evidently, forty-year-old Kentucky Basketball stories still move the needle. The idea of following the four seniors—Givens, James Lee, Mike Phillips, and Rick Robey—from their freshman year through the championship run took hold, and the cinematic masterpiece eventually blossomed. From their runner-up finish in John Wooden’s last game, to the surprising NIT Championship the next year, to the disheartening four-corners loss to UNC during their junior season, to the final triumph against Duke, it’s all brilliantly laid out for all of BBN to relive and savor.

“It was hard to tell the story of the 1978 team if we didn’t at least go back to my freshman year and the opportunity we had to ride the backs of a bunch of seniors,” Givens explained. “[Kevin] Grevey, [Bob] Guyette, Mike Flynn, Jimmy Dan [Conner], Jerry Hale—all of those guys. We kind of rode their backs…We were on the cutting edge of a lot of things Kentucky Basketball.”

Initially, Givens was asked to simply read a few lines in the script as a placeholder until a professional narrator could be secured. When all was said and done, however, Givens’ familiar voice became the star of the show. The guy who poured in 41 points in the championship game suddenly became the storyteller extraordinaire.

“I was really pleased to be able to tell the story to the kids—the young members of the Big Blue Nation,” Goose explained. “Because they didn’t really know anything about us.”

And what did Coach Joe B. Hall, the head coach and architect, have to say about this project? Did Goose get a chance to talk to his former mentor about any of it?

“One of the first three calls I got was from Coach Hall,” Givens revealed. “You can tell in the story that Coach Hall’s not doing great. But he called me up, and he was as complimentary—he was like a proud dad. We want to let him know we love him.”

Givens was hoping to watch the documentary together with his old coach and former teammates, but Covid-19 restrictions simply wouldn’t permit the gathering. Nevertheless, he’ll always feel a special bond with the ’78 team that captured so many of our big blue hearts.

“We feel like brothers,” Givens said. “We’ve been to battle together. So many times we’ve faced all kinds of controversy and all kinds of adversaries. Everything you can go through we went through together. [Coach Hall] was so proud. It brought tears to my eyes.”

That makes two of us crying like a baby. Thanks for a fabulous trip down memory lane.

“When I saw the final product, I thought, ‘Man, even I enjoyed this,” Givens admitted. “And I kind of knew a little bit about what was coming, you know?”

Yep, I know.

HELL YEAH, it was that good!

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
http://www.huangswhinings.com

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