Blog Exclusive: My Top Ten List For Best Final Fours Played in NFL Stadiums

Eleven years after the first Final Four was played at the old Houston Astrodome, football stadiums were used only four times during the 1980’s and would start to become an annual occurrence beginning in 1997.

The fascination of cramming more fans to see college basketball’s version of the Super Bowl has made even the casual fan just watch the TV and simply stare in awe.

My top ten list will hopefully provide a nice history lesson, especially for those of you loyal blog readers who might have not been born when these games initially took place.  That is why I was able to Google my way to get some nice images of football stadiums that no longer exist and jog some people’s memories to when CBS broadcast these games live back in the day.

Time to start the countdown with Number:

10. 2010 Final Four, Final game Duke 61, Butler 59

While Duke coasted over seminal favorite West Virginia 78-57, it was gutsy play calling that Butler used in upsetting Michigan State 52-50 in the second national semifinal.  The championship game was the first to use Twitter as a social media vehicle, and it showed Duke dominating in most key statistical categories.
But with Butler having a mostly energized crowd playing only seven miles from campus inside Lucas Oil Stadium, it all came down to the final two minutes.
Jim Nantz and longtime CBS Sports studio host Clark Kellogg had the call:

9. 2000 Final Four, Michigan State over Florida 89-76

After both semifinal games ended up as double digit victories for Michigan State over Big Ten rival Wisconsin and upstart Florida over foul prone North Carolina, Morris Peterson powered the Spartans to their first title since Earvin “Magic” Johnson overpowered Larry Bird and tiny Indiana State in 1979.


The old RCA/Hoosier Dome of Indianapolis, image courtesy of YouTube


A bit of trivia from that weekend:  Future ESPN and Fox Sports sideline reporter and Dancing With The Stars co-host Erin Andrews was a member of the Florida Gators Dance Team.

8. 2003 Final Four, Syracuse upends Kansas 81-78

This Final Four featured two prominent future NBA stars, Dwayne Wade of Marquette and freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony and the Syracuse Orangemen.  Sixteen years earlier, they lost on a last second shot (please scroll down to see further in my list on what happened in 1987).

This time around, Syracuse and Kansas locked horns in a very tight game worthy of a championship.  And it all came down to one huge play on defense:

For veteran Head Coach Jim Boeheim, he finally got to enjoy the sweet taste of a championship.

7. 1997 Final Four, Arizona over Kentucky 84-79 in OT

Arizona had several near misses and what-if moments for many years.  After knocking off a pair of top seeds in Kansas and North Carolina, Miles Simon came up huge in the same facility where Indiana ended one of the greatest traditions in the single class high school tournament just nine days earlier.  Arizona would finally have their first national title upending a talented Kentucky squad inside the old RCA/Hoosier Dome.

6. 1991 Final Four, Duke upsets UNLV in semifinals en route to disposing Kansas for Coach K’s first title

Billed as the “Teacher against the Student”, Duke mostly returned most of their key players from their 1990 runner-up finish.  UNLV rode a 33 game winning streak and a ton of momentum.  As memorable as that semifinal game was, that was the last time I can ever recall rooting for Duke and feeling good about it.  When the Blue Devils repeated the following year at the old Metrodome in Minneapolis, my simple hate of that school began.

5. 1989 Final Four, Michigan wins with Rookie Coach

First, it was the Wolverines who upended Lou Henson and the “Flying Illini” in the semifinals at the old Seattle Kingdome:

Then during the final game, it went to overtime against P.J. Carlesimo and the upstart Seton Hall Pirates.  Glenn Rice set a tournament record scoring the most points for a single year, but it was the controversial foul against Rumeal Robinson with three seconds to play that determined the winning margin for rookie Head Coach Steve Fisher (who took over for the sudden resignation of Bill Frieder the day after Selection Sunday when he bolted to go coach at Arizona State):

4. 2005 Final Four, North Carolina edges Illinois under the Gateway Arch

The Edward Jones Dome had seen its’ fair share of electric moments, like the “Greatest Show On Turf” when the former St. Louis Rams won Super Bowl XXIV in 2000 and nearly prevented Tom Brady from winning his first of an eventual record five Super Bowls in 2002.

In 2005, Sean May dominated for the Tar Heels over a determined group of Fighting Illini led by Luther Head and Dee Brown in a tough struggle to add to the Tar Heels legend.

3. 1999 Final Four, UConn Showed The Heart

For Jim Calhoun and his Connecticut Huskies, they showed a lot of intestinal fortitude against a very powerful Duke squad led by Elton Brand.

But somehow, they kept the game close and it came down to the final seconds at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida:

2. 1987 Final Four, Two First Time Participants But In The End, Indiana Made the Smartest Play of All

Rony Seikaly was a beast for Syracuse, but Indiana kept things interesting thanks to Steve Alford and his short-lived record of six three point baskets in the first season the three point shot would be used in college basketball.

The final seconds proved to be anticlimactic at the then-named Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.  The Hoosiers trailed by one and Derrick Coleman of Syracuse appeared to ice the game at the free-throw line.  He missed and for the Indiana offense, it turned out to be the right call:

That gave Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Bobby Knight his third and final title with Indiana and the school’s fifth overall championship in their rich basketball history.

But two guys that would forever change the sport in the final decade of the 20th century occupies the top spot.  It was the maiden voyage for CBS covering college basketball, where regional games of the early rounds dominated Thursday and Friday prime time and most of the weekend afternoons.

The Number One Final Four Played in an NFL Stadium belongs to 1982, North Carolina over Georgetown

After North Carolina edged out Guy Lewis and the future “Phi Slamma Jamma” of Guy Lewis and Houston 68-63, while Georgetown was nearly tripped up in a slow-down effort by Denny Crum and Louisville 50-46–it all came down to Pat Ewing against Mike Jordan in a game for the ages:

Some Honorable Mentions:

Of course, 2016 will be remembered not so much for the semifinals but for the greatest championship game ever played.  You can read more about that here:

Other memorable Final Four games in dome stadiums include:

  • 2013 when Wichita State fought valiantly before losing to that year’s champions of Louisville
  • The Kentucky-Wisconsin semifinal battles of 2014 and 2015
  • Joakim Noah coming up large in 2006 in the Gators’ first run of going back-to-back over UCLA
  • 2002 when Juan Dixon powered Maryland past the 5 seed of Indiana at the old Georgia Dome in Atlanta
  • Finally, a decade earlier in 1992 when “The Fab Five” from Michigan nearly shocked the world upsetting Cincinnati and staying close with Duke for much of the first half before getting blown out by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, and Company by 20 points in the final game.  The most notable fact about that particular Final Four was that weekend marked the first time ever that baseball’s World Series, the NFL Super Bowl and the Final Four were all held in the same facility during the same academic year–the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.


What will 2017 bring, especially with two schools making their first ever Final Four appearances with South Carolina and Gonzaga?  Stick around and find out tomorrow with my comprehensive Final Four Preview.  Hope to see you all then.


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