Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 21, 2014

Are We There Yet

"The first thing I would do every morning was look at the box scores to see what Magic did. I didn’t care about anything else.”

~Larry Bird


On Monday morning, someone here at the paper asked me what the mascot is for Indiana State. I had to think about it, which kind of surprised me. Then it came. “They are the Trippers,” I told him. 

He gave me a blank look, being too young to remember 1979, and the game that saw the Razorbacks come within a bucket, and one, of reaching their second straight Final Four.

“Those were some good days to be a Hog fan,” I told him. The year before, in ’78, the now legendary “Triplets,” and their head coach, Eddie Sutton, now in the Hall of Fame, lost the semi-final game to eventual champion Kentucky, before beating Notre Dame in the consolation game. The NCAA did away with third place three years later after Virginia knocked out LSU for that last un-coveted spot.

The Final Four in 1979 had two No. 2 seeds in Michigan State and DePaul. Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, was the only No. 1 seed, and played DePaul next. Michigan State meanwhile waited on the 9th seeded Penn Quakers – the original Cinderella. There was still some magic left for Penn when they got to Salt Lake City, but his real name was Earvin, and the Ivy League school founded by Franklin headed back to Philly after a consolation overtime loss to DePaul. 

Indiana State – OK, the Sycamores – had a tougher road, squeaking by the Razorbacks and Sidney Moncrief in the regional finals by two points, and next struggling with DePaul and a freshman named Aguirre, winning that one by only a basket as well. 

That set up the dream game, or as much of a dream as it could be in 1979 with the limited exposure college basketball was getting in those days.

As Michael Wilbon wrote in a 2009 article, “Most people, in a television audience of about 20 million, had never seen either man play live on TV. Few had seen Bird, who had been on national television only three times all season, even though the Sycamores were undefeated. A great many, having heard stories about Bird’s shooting and passing skills, were stunned to turn on the game that night and find that Bird was white.”

“More than 35 percent of all TV sets turned on that night were tuned to Magic and Bird. It was like a Christmas present in March, and it’s something that could never happen today. We’d know everything about an undefeated team featuring any player as talented as Bird. A 6-foot-9 white kid from small-town Indiana who had driven a garbage truck and who had run from Bob Knight during a freshman year spent briefly at Indiana? Are you kidding?”

I watched the game in Fayetteville, at KM’s apartment at Skull Creek, on a little TV. As is too often the case, it didn’t live up to its hype. But it did change things, and billions of dollars later, the madness lives on.

Just as Quaker fans and Blue Demon fans had been heartbroken two days before, and Razorback fans nine days before, so then the fans from Terre Haute wept, having the bitter bile of not winning, for the first time in 34 tries, stuck in their hearts. And their hero, hidden by a large white towel, sitting still and weeping, too, while the other one danced at mid-court, flashing that pre-Hollywood smile, as if to claim something larger for both of them that said, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”