Texas Western's title is historically significant because the Miners, coached by Don Haskins, started five black players. The societal breakthrough was chronicled in "Glory Road," a 2006 movie. At the time, "Nobody knew the impact of it," said Utah's Rich Tate. "We were just playing."
Tate, who died in 2015, was interviewed by Jason Hansen in "Utah Basketball: A History of the Runnin' Utes Since 1908." The recently published book is written mostly as an oral history of the program, and the '66 team — which averaged 95.3 points during a 23-8 season — is prominent.
The '66 team appears four times in Hansen's ranking of Utah's 100 greatest games:
No. 85 • Gene Lake's steal with 38 seconds left in a tie game at New Mexico enables Utah to play for a last shot, and Tate makes a 25-footer at the buzzer in a 57-55 victory.
No. 74 • Tate makes two free throws with 2 seconds remaining in overtime in a 93-91 win at Wyoming. The Utes went on to win the Western Athletic Conference championship, giving them the only access to the NCAA Tournament.
No. 54 • The Utes beat Oregon State 70-64 in the West Region title game, advancing to the Final Four, behind Jerry Chambers' 33 points and Jeff Ockel's 14 rebounds.
No. 23 • With a bye into the round of 16 in Los Angeles, the Utes take an 83-74 victory over Pacific as Chambers scores 40 points, then a Pauley Pavilion record.
The Final Four games failed to make the list because Utah lost. But those were memorable games, coached by the late Jack Gardner. Chambers scored 38 points in an 85-78 loss to Texas Western, sending the Miners into the championship game against Kentucky. Duke beat Utah 79-77 for third place, despite Chambers' 32 points. Chambers was named the Most Outstanding Player, having scored 143 points in four tournament games.
Chambers' fame aside, George Fisher might be the best-remembered player on that team. In a 2006 Salt Lake Tribune interview, Chambers repeated the Utes' often-cited belief that the Utes would have won the championship if not for Fisher breaking his leg late in the season.
Ockel replaced Fisher and played well, but the Utes fell short. In Hansen's book, Ockel tells the story of Gardner's postseason interviews with the players, and how the coach said Ockel needed to shoot more. Ockel responded, "You told everyone to get the ball to Jerry."
That was good strategy, after all. Chambers went on to a pro basketball career, playing for six teams in the NBA and ABA. The late Merv Jackson played for the Utah Stars of the ABA. Tate appeared in the NFL with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.
The Utes always will wish they had received more attention in "Glory Road." As Pimm said in the book, "They made a movie on it, and Utah wasn't even mentioned."
At halftime Saturday, the Utes will be in the spotlight.