I went in for a check-up recently and everything looked normal, except for my blood sample, which showed traces of maroon and gold. My doctor told me not to be alarmed, that it probably runs in my family. That would make sense because three of us graduated from St. Ignatius and three from Loyola. In fact, my family has a personal connection to the Ramblers’ championship team. I have to thank the current squad for bringing back those maroon and golden memories of 1963.
Back then, my brother Edward was an undergrad at the Lakeshore campus. He became a reporter for the school newspaper, solely for the purpose of scoring free tickets to the basketball games. The high-scoring Ramblers were electrifying the nation, with their fast breaks and suffocating defense. In the final game of the season, Edward received an interesting proposition.
Two middle-aged African American men offered him free transportation to Louisville and lodging if Edward could get tickets for them to the Final Four. They were making the large assumption that the Ramblers would get that far. When the time came, Edward and a fellow reporter were whisked to Louisville in a Cadillac. They stayed in the black section of town during the tournament.
Back home, we were thrilled that Edward was covering the action. It made the championship game against Cincinnati even more exciting. I can still picture us huddling around our black-and-white TV in the basement, watching Loyola’s stunning comeback. It was the one and only time I saw my dad jump. There was at least an inch of daylight under his dress shoes.
He was a true believer but few were giving Loyola a chance against the Bearcats, including the university. After their heart-stopping overtime victory, Loyola had no celebration planned for the players. Edward was hanging out with the national champions. He sat on the lap of one of the players, like a tiny journalistic mascot. The players ended their “festivities” by chasing a horse down a country road.
The game was over but my family wouldn’t let it go. We bought an LP record of Red Rush calling the last two minutes of the game and we wore it out. At the time, we didn’t have a clue about the racial, or political aspects of the championship. I was 9 years old and didn’t care what color my sports heroes were. Still don’t. But as the years went by, the 1963 tournament only grew in historical significance.
This year felt like a throwback to that simpler time. The 2018 team bore a strong resemblance to the ’63 team. They used teamwork and fundamentals to beat taller, more “talented” teams. They seemed to embody the Jesuit attitude toward education. The Jesuits taught us that education wasn’t a utilitarian means to an end, that a degree wasn’t just for getting a good-paying job. They taught us that school should be a timeout from chasing the buck.
So unlike the high-powered “one and done” college teams, the Ramblers weren’t seeking a ticket to a pro contract. They set an example of character that is sorely needed today in college basketball — just as the championship team set an example of racial tolerance that was desperately needed in 1963. I thoroughly enjoyed the Rambler’s run this year. The same day as their miracle win over Miami, I mailed my manuscript to Ignatius Press.
I’m counting on the fact that we share the same blood type.