I've been enjoying the NCAA basketball tournament more than usual this year. That's because the Loyola of Chicago Ramblers have been shocking the basketball world, and after their win last night, they've made it to the Final Four.
For most people, this is notable because Loyola of Chicago is not known as a major basketball powerhouse. (To be clear, it's not as tiny a school as people might think. Undergrad enrollment is 16,500, which is twice the enrollment at Northwestern.) But for me, it's not only notable, but highly-notable for another reason.
It's not just that Loyola is just about two miles down the road from Northwestern -- literally. (Both schools are on Sheridan Road. Northwestern in Evanston borders Chicago about a mile to the north of Howard St. -- which is the dividing line -- and Loyola is about a mile south of Howard Street. But one of the iconic sports memories of my life concerns Loyola basketball.
I was but a wee kid at the time, but even then I knew it was something really special when Loyola of Chicago shocked the basketball world (the first time...) back in 1963 when they made it to the NCAA basketball finals. And it was all the more shocking because four of their five starting players were black, led by All American Jerry Harkness. They weren't given any chance against their opponents, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, since Cincinnati was not only the defending national champions -- but they were the two-time defending national champions. And yet...Loyola won. In overtime. On what was literally a last-second shot. Despite being behind by 15 points with about 10 minutes left.
I don't remember much of the game (I didn't remember any of those details above, but was reminded of them when tracking down this video below), but I knew enough even at that young age that when I was watching on our old black-and-white set, this was pretty amazing. It helped, too, when you could hear the Loyola announcer Red Rush screaming "We won!! We won!!!
And now, I wasn't just a fair-weather fan. I followed all the Chicago teams, including the DePaul Blue Demons and their legendary coach Ray Meyer, and Loyola was especially fun to listen to because Red Rush was a reasonably-outlandish announcer. I remember that their games were sponsored by Gonnella Bread -- easy to remember because Red would loving boom out their slogan, "Gonnella, it's swella, fella." And I've always remembered Loyola's coach, George Ireland.
I listened to Northwestern basketball, too, but...well, they sucked eggs. As you may recall, up until last year they were the only major college team never to have qualified for the post-season tournament in the history of the NCAA.
It was a notable tournament that year for another reason. That was the year that Mississippi State played in the NCAA post-season tourney for the first time, having avoided it in the past, despite being a very good team, since that would have meant playing integrated teams. And in their very first NCAA tournament game, Mississippi State's opponent was...the Loyola Ramblers. From what I've read, it's one of the most-famous games in NCAA history, known as the Game of Change. And Loyola, of course, won -- "of course," because they had to have won all their tournament games that year, given that they won the championship...
This is a very good 30-minute documentary on Loyola's 1963 championship season, made by Comcast Sports. It focuses on that Game of Change and the championship game. If you only want to see the coverage of the final game, just jump to the 22-minute mark. (Loyola is wearing the white uniforms.) The fun thing, too, is you get to hear Red Rush's wildly-excited play-by-play, including his screaming of "We won!! We won!!" Alas, not a word about Gonnella Bread. But it is swella, fella.
(And still is, after 130 years...)
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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