On St. Patrick’s Day night, 1989, the top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas—the most dominant and polarizing college basketball team in America—faced the 16th-seeded Princeton Tigers in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas had just rolled through the powerful Big East. The Tigers barely won the lightly-regarded Ivy League. While watching that year’s selection show, many Princeton players had just one wish: please, don’t make us play Georgetown. First game on the board: Georgetown vs. Princeton, in Providence.
For the Princeton players, jitters soon turned into joy. For college basketball fans, March Madness would soon change, forever, for the better. A David vs. Goliath classic attracted what was then ESPN’s largest-ever audience for a college hoops game. The first two days of the opening round, which tip off today, have become a shared national ritual. And it might never have happened were it not for that one night, a quarter century ago, in Providence. Here’s the story of the game that saved March Madness.