This Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of the "Game of the Century" between UCLA and Houston at the Astrodome. That game on Saturday 1/20/1968 was the first prime time national telecast of a college basketball game. And it was almost certainly the most significant telecast in the history of the sport. To illustrate the state of college basketball on TV at the time, consider that the Final Four was not yet on network TV.
Houston coach Guy Lewis had the idea to schedule it at the Astrodome making this the first ever college hoop game played in a dome. The court was set up in the middle of the stadium meaning all fans were quite a distance from the action. The 4:00 minute mark on this documentary provides a great visual of the court position. The floor was imported from the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The event drew a record 52,693 fans.
Heading into the game, UCLA was ranked #1 and Houston #2. Both were unbeaten. UCLA featured Lew Alcindor and Lucius Allen, and was coached by John Wooden. Mike Warren (later of Hill Street Blues fame) also started for the Bruins. Houston was led by Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney. Behind 39 points by Hayes, the Cougars defeated the eventual national champion Bruins 71-69 and ended their 47-game winning streak.
ABC showed some interest in televising the game in the afternoon on Wide World of Sports. But Eddie Einhorn acquired the television rights and decided to syndicate the game in prime time on his TVS network. Einhorn lined up 150 stations in 49 states throughout the country. Some of these stations signed up on the day of the game.
Dick Enberg was the play-by-play announcer for the 9 pm ET telecast. At the time, Enberg was the UCLA broadcaster. The analyst was retired NBA star Bob Pettit. In his book Oh My!, Enberg labelled this game "the most important sports event I've ever called".
Interest in the game kept growing to the point that Einhorn was actually fielding phone calls while the game was in progress from companies wanting to buy TV ads. He handwrote ad scripts on the fly and handed them to Enberg to read on the air during timeouts.
Here is a clip of the surviving footage from the historic TVS telecast (end of 1st half and entire 2nd half). It also contains snippets from some of the commercials. The video quality is quite decent considering the time period.
The telecast of this landmark game increased interest in college basketball and helped make it more than a regional sport. It also led to some additional nationally syndicated college basketball games on TVS and eventually on the Chesley network which owned the ACC rights. By the next season, Enberg became the lead announcer for TVS and called a number of subsequent national games that Einhorn produced, many of which featured UCLA.