Seattle U Stuns National Champion

March 5, 1966: Witnessed by a standing-room-only crowd, Seattle U men’s hoops team pins the only defeat on historic Texas Western team

By: Art Thiel

Anticipation for Seattle University’s basketball game against Texas Western in late winter 1966 at the Coliseum was so intense fans lined up hours ahead of the game, then over-filled capacity.

“The crowd was really big,” recalls Tom Workman, the 6-foot-7 star center of the Chieftains. “The Coliseum in those days held about 14,900. There were actually more than 16,000 fans in there that night. The real figure was never published (at the request of SU athletic director Eddie O’Brien) because it was over the fire (marshal’s) limit, but there was standing room only.”

The fans were there to see the 23-0 Miners, the nation’s second-ranked team, take on 15-10 Seattle U, which was wrapping up a disappointing season but felt good about its chances following an 11-point loss in El Paso two months earlier.

“The thing about Texas Western was they were extremely physical,” says Workman, then enjoying the first of his two seasons voted to All-Coast Conference team. “We matched up well with them and we were just as physical as they were. We weren’t intimidated.”

The other feature that distinguished Texas Western (now the University of Texas-El Paso) was coach Don Haskins was unafraid to challenge a national racial barrier. He was the first college coach to have an all-black starting five.

Workman says the history-making didn’t register then.

“That meant nothing to us,” he explains. “Most of the teams we played, with the exception of [then all-white] BYU, always had players of color. I grew up in Seattle (Workman was All-State at Bishop Blanchet High School) and there were black kids in the neighborhood. That was just part of it. I didn’t give it a second thought.”

What counted was the Miners were a great team. Seattle U, on the other hand, wanted to end its season, which wouldn’t include a spot in the 32-team NCAA tourney field, on a high note in front of an “official” count of 11,557 fans.

Workman scored the final two of his game-high 23 points on a 15-foot jumper with 55 seconds left, the difference in a 74-72 triumph that would become a grand footnote in national sports history. It was the Miners’ only defeat in a 28-1 season ending as NCAA national champions after a 72-65 triumph over top-seeded and all-white Kentucky – whose lineup included future NBA coaching legend Pat Riley – in the title game in Landover, MD.

Forty-one years later, in 2007, the entire Texas Western team, subject of a best-selling book (by Haskins with Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel) and 2006 movie, “Glory Road,” entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

At the time of Texas Western’s win, none of the three major conferences in the South — Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Southwestern – were integrated. Within two years of Texas Western’s victory, all three conferences were integrated.

“What a piece of history,” says Nolan Richardson, who became head coach at Arkansas (winning an NCAA title there) after playing for Haskins at Texas Western. “If basketball ever took a turn, that was it.”

For a single night in faraway Seattle, Texas Western’s glory road hit a memorable bump.