The Big Mac Blog

The genius behind “One Shining Moment”

Artist Dave Barrett created the magical “One Shining Moment” for the CBS telecast of the NCAA Tournament.
Artist Dave Barrett created the magical “One Shining Moment” for the CBS telecast of the NCAA Tournament. The New York Times

This is a favorite of mine. In 2005 I wrote the following story about the song One Shining Moment. This is the time of year it's super relevant as CBS has turned the song into an NCAA tournament anthem to be played at the conclusion of the title game.

At this time of year, all college basketball fans become reacquainted with the unlikely and unofficial theme song of the NCAA Tournament, One Shining Moment. Written and recorded by a then-struggling and still slightly obscure artist, it has grown to become college basketball's anthem since its tournament debut in 1987.

"Those are sky songs; they just drop out," said David Barrett, 50, the song's writer and its original performer. "I wrote out the lyrics on a napkin, and it was done in 20 minutes. I love the tournament, but I didn't write it for the tournament."

It's hard to imagine a song that begins "The ball is tipped" was not created for a basketball game. But when Barrett (pictured at the right) was sitting at a bar at 2 a.m. watching Larry Bird highlights, the idea for a song popped into his head. And when he went home to an apartment that had three pieces of furniture to write and sound out the song on a piano, it was still just a song.

Barrett More than 20 years later, it's almost inconceivable to end the tournament without this song. Luther Vandross' recording is now used for the tournament-highlight package shown after the NCAA Finals, both on TV sets across the globe and inside the arena. It's available on I-Tunes. It's played as part of the intro on EA Sports' NCAA College Basketball video game. Inside the NCAA museum in Indianapolis, visitors can watch all the highlight videos dating to 1987.

And this song was originally never supposed to be a part of a CBS NCAA highlight reel.

Thanks to Barrett's longtime friend, CBS reporter Armen Keteyian, the song found its way to CBS Sports creative director Doug Towey in 1986. After listening to "every piece of music in the world, and after I heard this I thought, 'This is scary,' " Towey said. "It was the perfect piece for what I was looking for."

He wanted the song to go with the highlight package to end CBS's broadcast of Super Bowl XXI; Towey had the video ready to roll, too, except, "Brent Musburger interviewed everybody in the building, so it never aired," he said.

The next time Towey could use the song was two months later after the 1987 NCAA title game, which concluded with Indiana's Keith Smart's shot to defeat Syracuse. As the song played behind the highlights of the '87 tournament, Barrett and a buddy sat at a tavern listening to his voice sing his song over the highlights.

"Whaddya know," Barrett said.

It was not something Barrett expected; he had scrounged up what amounted to a few hundred bucks to record it. Suddenly, Barrett not only had an unlikely hit, but also a career. CBS had an enduring song, and college basketball fans had their anthem.

College bands play it, college media relations directors rely on it, college basketball fans need it, and players use it as inspiration.

Towey fondly recalls one phone call from a woman in desperate need of the song.

"Her friends had planned their wedding on the Saturday, and the two were upset because they were both big fans," Towey said. "So they wanted the music as the wedding song."

Would-be stars find themselves using it as inspiration. Former Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves said he practiced as an 11-year-old in a gym in Flint, Mich., with the song playing in his head. It was his dream to be the final piece of the highlight package that he could watch as he cut down the nets after winning the national title. He achieved both when the Michigan State Spartans won the title in 2000, and he was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

"It was a song that I thought had a big heart with big, broad shoulders," Barrett said.

Shoulders broad enough to easily defeat its biggest critics, who mock the song as Michael Bolton- or Barry Manilow-like corn.

"I learned something from that song," Barrett said. "It took 10 years of playing and writing songs for other people. That song was in a batch when I said, 'I'm not going to pay attention to anyone. I'm going to write what I know.' That was the lesson.

"If that's corny, well, then the world is corny. I'm OK with that."

This YouTube video is the first title edition of One Shining Moment in 1987 after Indiana defeated Syracuse in the title game. The actual song starts at 1:44.

A few things to notice from the video:

- The short shorts were TMI.

- The video is so long ago that it actually captured Derrick Coleman when he cared about playing.

- Bob Knight's boorish behavior never changed - boorish.

- How did that Syracuse team lose to Indiana?

- This version of the song was better than any slick production CBS put together years later.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof