By Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”-  Ancient proverb.

They slumped in their seats, some looking ahead, some out the window.

No one on was saying a word. Maybe they were in shock, maybe in anguish. Maybe the Manitoba Bisons had used every last ounce of energy to drag their lifeless bodies onto the team bus.

They had led the host Waterloo Warriors by six with a minute and a half remaining in the 1975 Canadian university basketball championship. And then, in the most spectacular, inconceivable, dramatic and disastrous of fashions, blew it.

“For all of us who were very competitive and take great pride in what we accomplish, I can’t tell you how much that was devastating,” said Rick Watts, a Manitoba forward from 1971 to 1976.

“The devastation turned into anger and then the anger turned into resolve and at that point our team became the best it could ever be. We did everything we could to avenge the event and prove that we were the best team in the country.”

They proved it. The evidence lies in grainy video clips and yellowed newspaper clippings packed away in attics: Manitoba did, indeed, become No. 1 in the nation.

Going from agony to ecstasy in an annum, Manitoba defeated St. Mary’s to win the Canadian title in 1976. The 1975-76 Bisons performed at a level they might never have reached without enduring the prior year’s pain.


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