25 years later, Roy Marble tells the truth
Originally published on 5/5/2014
It's taken 25 years, but Roy Marble has decided to come clean.
"It was deliberate," Marble said of one of the most infamous free throws in Iowa basketball history.
No. 9 Iowa and No. 6 North Carolina were tied, 97-97, when the Tar Heels' Steve Bucknall fouled Ed Horton with 11 seconds to play in their Jan. 7, 1989 meeting at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. But it was Marble who stepped to the line, making the second of two attempts to give Iowa the victory.
"I don't care if I'm the Oliver North of Iowa basketball for that," Marble told me. "I proudly wear that on my sleeve."
It was announced last Thursday that Iowa will return to Chapel Hill for the first time since 1989 when it plays at North Carolina on Dec. 3 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. So I decided to take one more shot at Marble to see if he'd admit what everyone believed: that he used an intentional sleight of hand when he snuck to the line in place of Horton.
I've asked Marble the same question a handful of times over the years. He always deflected the question, and wouldn't admit what he did. Now, finally, he has.
"It's been long enough," Marble said. "And we've got to play them again."
Marble's revelation comes as a shock to no one who was at the game or watched the national telecast on CBS.
Things got crazy after Horton missed the front end of a one-and-one with 15 seconds to play. Marble got the offensive rebound, missed, and Horton gathered in his 19th rebound of the game before Bucknall fouled him. Horton was one for five at the free-throw line at the point in the game, while Marble had made all eight attempts.
After the whistle, Marble shouted "It was me" to the Big Ten officiating crew of Ed Hightower, Eric Harmon and Sid Rodeheffer. Call it senior experience. Call it gamesmanship. Call it deceit. But it worked.
"It should be Horton on the line, not Marble," said CBS analyst Billy Packer. Added play-by-play man Tim Brant, "It's a great selling job by Marble."
After Marble missed the first free throw, CBS showed a replay.
"It should have been Horton," Packer repeated.
Then Marble made the second free throw, and Ray Thompson preserved the victory by blocking King Rice's shot.
After the game, North Carolina coach Dean Smith said, "I'm not so sure Marble is the one who should have gone to the line."
Asked about the play, Iowa coach Tom Davis said, "We don't teach that. We don't switch intentionally, because I don't believe in that."
A quarter-century later, Marble takes his former coach off the hook.
"I knew what I was doing," Marble said. "This had nothing to do with coach Davis or the rest of them."
Marble knew Horton had been misfiring from the line. After the foul was called, the two made eye contact. Marble gave Horton a "I've got this" look. As Marble went to the line, Horton walked to the other end of the court.
"Ed knew he was struggling," Marble said. "He looked right at me and hurried up and walked away."
Back in Flint, Mich., Marble's parents watched the game on TV. His mother, Bertie, was upset with her son's demonstrative "that was me" sales job. She told him as much on the phone after the game.
"I said, 'Mom, you don't understand, we won,' " Marble told her. "She said, 'Yes, but you don't have to look like that on TV. I have to go to church tomorrow.' "
Marble's son, Devyn, who is preparing for next month's NBA Draft after a successful Iowa career of his own, has known for years what his dad pulled off. Devyn was a youngster when he walked into a store in Flint, Mich., one day with his dad.
"This man from North Carolina came up to me and said, "Man, you cheated my team when you shot those free throws,' " Roy recalled. "I said, 'I was supposed to shoot.' And he (Devyn) says, 'But you cheated. You shouldn't have shot them.' "
Devyn was right. And now, 25 years later, Roy agrees.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.