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Revisiting the legendary 1971 Fordham Rams: "We did something special that year"

Remembering the 1971 Fordham Rams
Remembering the 1971 Fordham Rams 02:35

NEW YORK - With the Final Four upon us, we're taking a look back on a team that took New York City by storm. 

It was a time when bell bottoms were in fashion, and a gallon of gas cost just a few coins. 

In 1971, a team from the Bronx came out of nowhere to captivate New York. An unlikely band of brothers from Fordham University embarked on a basketball journey that would etch their names in the annals of the city's great sports lore. 

"We did something special that year. We brought the city together," Fordham Hall Of Famer Kenny Charles said. 

With the Knicks in the NBA finals, New York was basketball crazy. A short subway ride from Penn Station to the Bronx, you'd find a team defying expectations. 

"No one was over 6'5", but we trapped and ran, and we forced teams to play the way we wanted to play," Charles said. 

Fordham played with a reckless abandon. A decade before the "Showtime" Lakers, they were the "Runnin'" Rams, led by a rookie head coach named Digger Phelps. 

"He brought us into a different era. The way Fordham played before was walk it up, pass it," Charles said. "Digger was steal the ball, shoot the ball. It wasn't steal the ball and hold the ball and wait for an offense. It was steal the ball and let's run."

And they ran. And won, and won - even against top teams like U Mass., led by Dr. J. 

"There's a great picture of him, where he's just over everyone jumping in the air and we're all just looking up.  Dominant figure, but our team was better than his was," Charles said. 

New York took notice. Fordham games were the toughest ticket in town. 

"You couldn't get in here. You just couldn't get in the building," Charles said. "It was packed. You couldn't get in. They hold seats between the stanchions and the baskets. So when we took the ball out, we had to step around people. That's how crazy it was in '70, '71."

Their connection with New York crystalized when they played Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden. Before the game, Howard Cosell was interviewing the Notre Dame coach, and the Fordham players were listening. 

"And on the way to the game, on the radio was Howard Cosell... and he goes 'Johnny, we know you're gonna win. We know you're gonna win.' Johnny D said 'Those guys are tough,'" Charles said. "We looked at each other and said, 'OK, we'll see.' And we came out and won the game." 

Did they capture New York's heart?

"Tom Sullivan said it best. We didn't have to pay for anything that year," Charles said. "We were good, and it was Fordham.  It wasn't a basketball powerhouse... . A lot of New Yorkers identified with us because we were not big. We had to work hard for every game. And we won."

Fordham would go to the Sweet 16 that year. They finished the season ranked ninth in the nation. 

Fifty-three years later, Kenny looked upon his retired jersey, his eyes replaying the memories of a season that touched the soul of a city. 

New Yorkers, in the city that never sleeps, dared to dream. 

"They dreamed. And as we kept winning, they kept winning with us," Charles said. "One of the big blessings of my life was playing ball here. It really was." 

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