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Mike Lopresti | | March 26, 2018

20 Final Four facts about San Antonio, home to more than the Alamo

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Welcome to San Antonio, home of the 2018 Final Four, the River Walk, and . . . Fritos?

Yep. Before the teams start rolling into town, maybe we should make sure we’re up on our San Antonio trivia – Final Four and otherwise.

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San Antonio saw the world’s first fully air-conditioned hotel. And bank. And office building. If you ever spent 20 minutes of summer there, you’d know why.

It’s also where barbed wire became big, when a guy showed what it could do for livestock by penning in some longhorns next to the Alamo.

And where the Spanish established San Pedro Springs Park in the 18th century. You can still play tennis or picnic there, and the only park in America older is the Boston Commons.

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San Antonio is also where the last overtime national championship game was played.

That was 2008, when John Calipari’s Memphis team missed a gazillion free throws against Kansas, blew a nine-point lead in the last 2:12 of regulation, was tied by Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left, and put away in overtime 75-68. “Probably the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history,” Bill Self said that night. We’ll see if he still stands by that after this weekend.

The last Final Four semifinal overtime was made in San Antonio. That was Kentucky over Stanford 86-85 in 1998. And also the last semifinal round to have two games decided by one or two points. That’d be 2004, when Georgia Tech beat Oklahoma State 67-65 on a last-second basket, and Connecticut trailed Duke by eight points with 3 ½ minutes left, but scored 12 points in a row and won 79-78.

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Moral of the story: They seem to play ‘em close in San Antonio.

San Antonio is where Robert Cade was born. Robert Cade? Inventor of Gatorade. No Cade, no dumping coolers on winning coaches.

It is also where Shaquille O’Neal played his high school basketball. Robert G. Cole went 68-1 in two seasons. How many 18-year-old opponents do you suppose could stop him?

And it’s where Charles Elmer Doolin paid a man $100 for the recipe for fried corn chips, and began producing them in his mother’s kitchen. Next thing the world knew – Fritos.

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A lot of coaches will be in town this weekend, telling recruiting stories. Here’s one. The Menger Hotel has been around forever. It was at the hotel bar that Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders.

Bill Self won his only national championship – so far – there. So did Tubby Smith. And while we’re discussing rings, future president Lyndon Johnson got married to Lady Bird at San Antonio’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. They’d been dating all of 10 weeks.

About St. Mark’s. At least about one of the bells of St. Mark’s. The story goes it was made from a cannon found near the Alamo. Lots of things happen near the Alamo. The first Church’s Chicken restaurant for instance.

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That bell was probably ringing in 1987 when Pope John Paul II came to town. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up. During his Mass, two women went into labor and delivered babies. Why, the Pope visiting San Antonio was probably almost as big as Sister Jean jetting in this week with Loyola-Chicago.

The Final Four is not the only game in town, you know. Down the street are the Spurs, the only old ABA team to win an NBA championship. And Gregg Popovich, is the only coach in history to ever win five NBA Finals and also graduate from the Air Force Academy with a degree in Soviet studies.

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The local fans here have seen a lot of memorable moments with the Spurs – and not all of them with Tim Duncan holding a trophy. There was April 9, 1978, when San Antonio star George Gervin had a slight lead over Denver’s David Thompson for the NBA scoring title, coming into the last day of the season. Thompson played in the afternoon at Detroit and put up 73 points. That meant Gervin had to score at least 58 that night in New Orleans. He finished with 63.

Then there’s the River Walk. Or as the architect originally wanted to call it – The Shops of Aragon and Romula. Probably a good thing that idea was shelved.

This weekend, almost all walking -- by the river or anywhere else -- will be toward the Alamodome. It’s a pretty big place. But then, so is its hometown. San Antonio is rarely mentioned among the gothams – just like the Spurs somehow managed to be a quiet dynasty with amazingly little fuss and fanfare -- but it is the seventh largest city in the U.S. in population. And at 460 square miles or so, it is twice the area size of Chicago.

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San Antonio is where North Carolina played its first post-Dean Smith Final Four. That was 1998, and it got a little messy. The Tar Heels under Bill Guthridge lost to Utah 65-59 in the semifinals, and afterward, North Carolina’s Makhtar Ndiaye charged Utah’s Britton Johnsen had used a racial slur during the game. Johnsen fervently denied it, and Utah coach Rick Majerus rolled into a press conference and said if it actually happened, he would resign immediately. Ndiaye later retracted the accusation.

Two days later, Utah was beaten by Kentucky 78-69 after being up at halftime 41-31 – still the largest halftime lead ever squandered in a national championship game.

San Antonio is where Roy Williams brought his North Carolina team to the 2008 Final Four to play his old school, Kansas, looked up at the scoreboard, and was behind 40-12. Where Calipari had a national championship evaporate before his eyes, and Mike Krzyzewski was bitten by that 12-0 UConn run.

So losing is a big part of San Antonio’s history. How’d the Alamo get so famous?

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