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When March Went Mad

Dereck Whittenburg's shot. Lorenzo Charles' dunk. Jim Valvano's frantic run around the court. The images from the final moments of NC State's unexpected victory in the 1983 NCAA basketball championship game remain vivid 25 years later. Now Tim Peeler, managing editor of gopack.com, has rekindled those memories just in time for the holidays. 

In his new book, When March Went Mad, Peeler catches up with every member of the Wolfpack's 1983 title team and provides new stories and anecdotes on their memorable run through the NCAA Tournament. The Bulletin also caught up with Peeler recently for a little more insight into what went into writing and what a reader might expect from the book. 

And if you're still looking for the perfect gift for the Wolfpack fan on your Christmas list, Peeler will sign copies of his book at the Catalyst Bookshop, located on the upper level of the NC State Bookstores, this Friday, Dec. 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. Copies of When March Went Mad will be available at the signing for 40 percent off the cover price.

Excerpts and reviews of Peeler's book are also available online.

What memories do you have of NC State's 1983 NCAA championship?

I was a senior at West Lincoln High School in Lincolnton, N.C., during the winter of 1983. I had already been accepted to NC State, in mechanical engineering, and was excited about starting school here. So my friends who had also been accepted here and I paid particular attention to every game that was played that winter. The regular-season games that really stick out in my mind are the Virginia game, when Dereck Whittenburg broke his foot, and the North Carolina game.

In the postseason, I remember that I missed the Wake Forest game in the ACC Tournament because of baseball practice, and I fell asleep – like everybody else; admit it – during the second half of the Pepperdine game, which didn't start until almost midnight on the East Coast. And my final memory of the championship was jumping straight up when Lorenzo Charles made the dunk to beat Houston, and hitting my head on a low-hanging light fixture.

When March Went Mad dust jacket

When did you get the idea for a book on the 1983 team, and what went into researching and writing When March Went Mad?

I was asked to do this book shortly after the publication of my first book, Legends of NC State Basketball, which came out in November 2004, also by Sports Publishing LLC. I spent approximately 18 months researching and writing the book. I did it in between all the other writing I do for the gopack.com Web site, The Wolfpacker and the NC State Alumni Magazine, and the handful of other publications I contribute to. Fortunately, much of the research piggy-backed on other things I did.

I traveled on my own to Utah to visit with Thurl Bailey, who lives in Salt Lake City, and to Albuquerque, just to get a sense of the landscape there. Finding extra time to write was difficult at times. I did a lot of writing early in the mornings and late at night. I finished the final couple of chapters sitting in the third-row seat of the family mini-van, laptop on my knees and a 75-pound box of research at my side, while my wife drove our family (we have a 5-year-old and 3-year-old sons) to and from Florida during a summer break.

What are some things that even the most diehard NC State fan might learn about the 1983 team from your book?

There are so many things that I never knew about the players on the team and so many anecdotes that I had never heard. Every player told me five or six new things. Basically, all I did was take those anecdotes, mix them with the familiar stories of that season and turn it into this book. Some of my favorite stories that I didn't know beforehand include how Ernie Myers decided to come to NC State from New York, what Dereck Whittenburg said to the team trainers when they went out to help him after he got hurt against Virginia, why Thurl Bailey and Sidney Lowe were almost pulled off the court in the first game of the ACC Tournament and why the Houston cheerleaders were pulling for NC State during the championship game.

NC State's march through the 1983 NCAA tournament is remembered as the classic Cinderella story. What makes their championship run so enduring?

Three things, I think. First, almost every game that was played in the post-season had such a narrow margin of error. One or two small things could have gone the other way and the run would have been over. In the first game of the ACC Tournament, Wake Forest held the ball for more than four minutes at the end of the game in hopes of scoring the final basket. But a pass by Alvis Rogers was deflected by Sidney Lowe and intercepted by Thurl Bailey – the two players who almost were pulled off the court at halftime by their mothers – and State pulled out a one-point victory. Every game from that moment on had similar unbelievable circumstances, right up to the final shot against the top-ranked team in the country.

Secondly, Charles' dunk and head coach Jim Valvano's run across the court is the perfect video clip. It captures all the drama and emotion and unbridled joy of the tournament – all in less than 10 seconds. That replay will be shown as long as they have the tournament.

Finally, ESPN and the V Foundation have done a terrific job of keeping the legacy and spirit of Jim Valvano's drive for cancer research alive. That championship will always be the physical embodiment of his "Don't give up, don't ever give up" rallying cry.

Is that why some of the royalties of the book are going to the V Foundation?

I did that to honor the memory of Coach Valvano and the research that is being done in his name. But I also did it because my mom was diagnosed with a devastating form of cancer on April 21, 2000. She was essentially told there was nothing that could be done, and died within four months of the diagnosis. Our family really never had any hope for her cure. What the 1983 championship did, and what the V Foundation continues to do, is offer hope to all families affected by cancer, by offering significant grants to research causes and potential cures.

Your book's release coincides with the 25th anniversary of the 1983 team, and the scenes from the championship game are replayed and relived each year during the NCAA Tournament. Does it seem like it's been 25 years?

I don't know if the memories I have of the championship are still so vivid because I truly remember everything that happened that year, which was so important in my transition from being a high school to a college student, or if it is because I just spent 18 months researching and writing about that season. But I keep coming across people who were either working at NC State or students here at that time, and they all tell me the same thing: their memories of that championship, where they were when Charles hit that final dunk, all of their little superstitions, are far too clear to ever fade away. Maybe that keeps us all young, no matter how long it has been since that unlikely championship.