By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the "Hoosiers" game -- little Milan High School's dramatic 32-30 upset of mighty Muncie Central High in the 1954 Indiana state championship. To celebrate, Page 2 looks back at August 2002 running diary written by The Sports Guy on the occasion of the 250th viewing of his all-time favorite sports movie.
"Hoosiers" ranks No. 1 on The Sports Guy's list of his all-time favorite sports movies.
I always thought it was fitting that "Hoosiers" was released during my most memorable year as a sports fan -- 1986 -- which featured the Basketball Jesus at the absolute zenith of his powers (playing for the '86 Celts, maybe the greatest NBA team of all-time), the Patriots improbably making the Super Bowl, a glorious roller-coaster ride of a Red Sox season (including Dave Henderson's homer in Anaheim, one of my Top 5 fan moments), Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters (another Top 5 moment), and the Red Sox blowing the '86 World Series four months after Lenny Bias dropped dead (my worst two moments ever). Quite a year.
"Hoosiers" actually snuck up on me. During November of '86, my buddy Bish and I went to see it on a Sunday afternoon, knowing nothing about it other than "It's a basketball movie." We ended up skipping out of the theater two hours later, setting the land-speed record driving back to my house, then playing two consecutive hours of inspired hoops. True story. When you think about it, how many movies were so memorable, you actually remember everything about the day when you watched it for the first time?
That never happens.
Anyway, to celebrate my 250th viewing, I kept a running diary. Here's what transpired ...
As Brent Musberger would say, you're looking liiiiiiive at the Sports Guy Mansion! I'm joined by a large Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee, as well as some Baked Lays sour cream & onion chips and my game-worn Rade Butcher jersey from the '52 state finals.
Just pushed the "Hoosiers" DVD into the DVD player. ... I'm already getting chills just from the music on the Main Menu. Nah na-na-na, nahh nuhh nahhhhh ... nah na-na-na, na nuh-nuh nuh nahhhhh.
Feel free to sing along at home.
There's Norman Dale driving through backwoods Indiana in the early a.m. -- sipping coffee, headed toward his first day at work -- as the opening credits roll, the soundtrack quietly hums in the background and the sun rises through the clouds. Just gets you fired up. Indiana, 1951. 'Nuff said.
Once the Coach finds Hickory High, Barbara Hershey immediately gives him the third degree. She's a charter member of the Adrian Balboa Hall of Fame -- a k a "the token female character in a sports movie who throws a wet blanket on the leading male character and basically ruins his will to live." Somehow they always end up coming around just when the team/player/coach starts winning. You'll see.
No coach in movie history brings his team together like Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers."
12:06: Jimmy Chitwood makes his first appearance (shooting hoops in an empty gym and ignoring coach Dale). Do you realize that, in the entire movie, they only show Jimmy missing four shots? Right now he's 3-for-4. The school principal (Cletus) tells coach that Jimmy hasn't played for Hickory since the old coach died, but he has never seen a better ballplayer in 40 years. Translation: Jimmy's a head case.
"Look mister, there's two kinds of dumb ... the guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and the guy who does the same thing in my living room. The first one don't matter, and the second one you're kinda forced to deal with."
(Yup, it's That Guy from "Major League" trying to stage a coup d'etat with Coach Dale's first practice! Leave the ball, will ya, George?)
"Let's see what kind of hand I've been dealt here."
(Here's the hand, Coach: Seven players on your team, 64 kids in the whole school, and your best player is MIA. Also, everyone in the town already hates you. Good luck.)
Coach lays down the law early, kicking Buddy and Whit off the team for disrespecting him. Two important notes here:
Buddy mysteriously re-joins the team midway through the movie, with no explanation given. Was the "Buddy returns and asks forgiveness scene" simply cut from the movie? Was it ever written in the first place? Did the director think that we wouldn't notice that a seven-man roster inexplicably went back to eight? This one's been bothering me for 16 years.
Whit and Rade (the point guard who gets in trouble during the opening game for shooting too much) are actually brothers: the Butcher brothers. Subtle plot nuance, the kind of thing that takes nearly 180 viewings to pick up. That's why I'm here, folks.
12:16: Time for some dribbling/passing/rebounding/conditioning drills, as the coach says things like "Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit ... team, team, team ... no one more important than the other."
Also, Whit apologizes and rejoins the team (here's where we find out from his father that Rade and Whit are brothers), followed by Mr. Butcher ushering the disgruntled Hickory residents out of the gym so coach can run an uninterrupted practice. It doesn't get much better than Mr. Butcher as the random "Underrated supporting character in a sports movie who only brings good things to the table." He's right up there with Gazzo's sarcastic driver in "Rocky" and the chef from "Vision Quest."
12:20: A drunken Dennis Hopper makes his first appearance (as Shooter, Flatch's dad, in Hopper's last big-time performance other than "True Romance"). In the "I'm Just Plain Killing My Son" Pantheon of Sports Movie characters, Shooter ranks just behind Arthur's father from "Hoop Dreams."
It takes the people of Hickory quite a while to warm up to coach Norman Dale.
12:21: Coach visits Jimmy (shooting hoops in his backyard), then tries to win him over with this beauty: "I don't care if you play or not." Jimmy makes his first 13 shots in the sequence, missing only the final one. He's 15-for-17 right now; only Bob Cousy's shooting percentage during the surreal free-throw shooting scene in "Blue Chips" was better (done in one take, no less).
And while we're here, let the record show that the guy who played Jimmy (Maris Valainis, now a golf pro in California) places third on "Best Jump Shot Form of All-Time" list, right behind Mike Miller and Ray Allen. I would give five years off my life to have Mike Miller's jumper. And you think I'm kidding.
12:23: If every female on the planet were like Barbara Hershey in "Hoosiers," the murder-suicide rate in this country would go through the roof. She just gave coach the "Stay away from Jimmy, I don't want him coaching in Hickory when he's 50" dig. She's a delight. I can't believe she's single.
(Here's a good trivia question: What is Barbara Hershey's character's name in this movie? Even I had to look this up. Answer in the second half of the column.)
12:25: "We want Jim-my! We want Jim-my! We want Jim-my!"
12:26: "This is your team."
12:27: The first chink in coach Dale's armor -- the "pass four times before every shot" rule. That was even dumber than Jim Cleamons putting Jason Kidd in the triangle offense back in '96. Ever since one of my readers pointed out that coach Dale was a little shaky as a game coach, it has changed the way I watched this movie. More to come.
12:32: Oolitic High wipes out Hickory in Game 1, marred by Rade violating the "four passes" rule and getting benched. And since Hickory played with four players down the stretch, everyone really hates the coach now. Not good times.
(By the way, was there a more underrated sports movie athlete than Rade Butcher? You think it's easy to shoot that one-legged set shot? He was like a young Danny Ainge. Also, did you know that everyone in the "Hoosiers" cast played college ball in real life except ... Jimmy Chitwood? It's true. See, you worried that this column might not work, but you're enjoying it, aren't you?)
12:36: "All of you have the weekend to think about whether you want to be on the team or not, under the following conditions: What I say, when it comes to this basketball team, is the law ... absolutely and without discussion!
12:39: I like this exchange:
Coach: All those years, you ever think about getting married?
Barbara: Are you kidding? Nobody would marry me. I'm mean as a snake.
Coach: Don't you know that you're supposed to become mean and vicious after you get married?
Barbara: You're probably right. Who's up for some hate sex?
(All right, I made that up ... sorry about that.)
12:44 p.m. Another loss in Game 2, highlighted by Rade defending the coach by sucker-punching somebody on the other team. This team is coming together, baby!
(Unfortunately, Cletus is having heart problems ... I think he's making them up because he's trying to distance himself from the coach: "Um, yeah, I'm not feeling well ... maybe you should get a new assistant ... um ...")
12:47: Coach hires Shooter as his new assistant. Another savvy move from coach Dale. Hey, let's bring the town drunk aboard!
Dale probably got most of his strategy from his assistant coach, Shooter.
12:52: Flatch sums up everyone's feelings: "Coach, what you're doing with my Dad ... I'm just not seeing it."
(I always liked Flatch. I'll never forget flicking channels one night and seeing him as a cop in an Skinemax erotic thriller ... wildly disturbing. They could have at least thrown in a scene when he was lounging around after a sex scene, wearing a Hickory High jersey.)
12:56: Time for the "Should we fire coach Dale?" town hearing, the pivotal scene in the movie, which includes ...
Barbara telling everyone "I think it would be a mistake to let him go ... give him a chance," even though she could have buried him with her "I know you were banned from college coaching because you punched a player" info. She's officially digging Norm. If this were an episode of "Dismissed," her competitor would be using a timeout card right now to cool her off.
Jimmy's dramatic entrance, capped off by his first three lines of the movie: "I got something to say," "I don't know if it'll make any change, but I figure it's time for me to start playing ball," and "One other thing ... I play, coach stays, he goes, I go." In the history of sports movies, only Ivan Drago did more with less.
Mr. Butcher ripping up the votes, smiling and simply saying, "Coach stays." Always fun to imitate at a bar with your friends ... after you pay for the check, quietly grab the slip, stand up, rip the bill in half, pause for a second, then say, "Coach stays." Everyone will enjoy it. And no, I'm not drunk again.
A quick switch to a "Hickory High kicking butt with Jimmy" sequence. Good God. This might be my favorite 10 minutes in the middle of any sports movie. Would anyone like some extra goosebumps? And yes, the "four passes before every shot" rule has officially been thrown out the window. It's Jimmy Time!
1:02: My favorite line of the movie: "I didn't think I could cut it the other night, either, but after what Jimmy did, it would take the Indiana National Guard to get me out of here."
(Yessir. It's a little Chili Davis at the Sports Guy Mansion right now.)
1:06: Welcome back, Buddy. Apparently he rejoined the team, because he just made a big steal in the final seconds of the game we're watching. Maybe he just showed up for practice that week and nobody noticed. Anyway, with coach Dale already kicked out, Shooter needs to come up with the winning play ... and I think we all know what's coming next:
"We're gonna run the picket fence at 'em. ... Merle should be open swinging around the end of that fence. Boys, don't get caught watching the paint dry!"
(I think this might work ...)
1:06: It's good! Hickory wins!
1:07: "You did good, Pop. You did real good."
(Uh-oh ... it's getting a little dusty in here. I think my hay fever might be acting up again.)
1:08: Hickory rides an eight-game winning streak into the sectional finals against Terhune. A drunken Shooter arrives and wanders on the court, followed by coach Dale telling the ref, "That's OK, he's an assistant coach" and earning a technical foul, then telling a bummed-out Flatch, "You keep in the game!" Not his strongest night. By the way, coach Dale never would have come up with the picket-fence play. Shooter was the driving force on that coaching staff. He was like a drunken Tex Winter.
1:09: Time for an entertaining bench-clearing brawl, kicked off by Jimmy's breakaway layup where he gets cheap-shotted from behind (no flagrant fouls back in the '50s), followed by Flatch pulling a Kermit Washington on the offending Terhune player, then getting shoved into a glass trophy case (busting open his shoulder), and culminating in a classic Hackman moment:
"That's a gutless way to win! That's a gutless way to win!"
(Has anyone ever done a better job doing "basketball coach" things in a sports movie? When you think about it, who else could have played coach Dale? Harrison Ford? Nick Nolte? Clint Eastwood? Burt Reynolds? I mean, it had to be Hackman, didn't it? Quite simply, this was his defining movie.)
1:12: Jimmy bounces back from the cheap shot to drain the go-ahead basket (he's 24-for-26 in the movie right now), followed by another game-saving steal from Buddy. Hickory wins by two. Meanwhile, poor Shooter ends up in the Betty Ford Center, as Hopper is gunning for an Oscar right now.
(Note: That's the easy way to get an Oscar nomination -- either play a drunk or play somebody who's mentally handicapped. And if you're playing a mentally handicapped drunk, they simply mail the Oscar to your house as soon as the movie is released. These are the facts.)
1:16: Regional finals, Jasper, Indiana. And we're in the locker room.
"If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. In my book, we're gonna be winners! OK?"
Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.
"Let me hear it!"
(Maybe he wasn't the best game coach, but nobody belted out those pregame speeches like Norman Dale. Has anyone ever appeared on more Jumbotrons during NBA games, with the possible exception of Sen. John Blutarski?)
1:18: "Buddy, 41 is killing us. Just killing us. Stick with him! Think of chewing gum ... if he's chewing some, by the end of the game, I want to know what flavor it is!"
(And I think we all know what flavor it was ... that's right, Dentyne. How come they haven't bought the rights to this scene for a Dentyne commercial? I've always wondered about that. Meanwhile, Flatch's stitches just got busted open again, which raises the question, "How was he cleared to play in the state finals after this game?" Was there like 10 days between games? I'm brimming with questions right now.)
1:20: Trailing with two minutes to play, coach Dale tells the team for the 370th time in two months, "Be patient, look for the good shot!" Then he redeems himself by putting Strap in, telling him, "God wants you on the floor." Savvy. Strap proceeds to light it up. Phil Jackson should try this move with Mark Madsen next season.
1:23: Here comes Ollie the Manager ... and did you ever notice that he's wearing 13? This is like seeing Tony Clark come up for the Red Sox with the bases loaded. Needless to say, Hickory immediately blows the five-point lead. This has all the makings of a Level One "Stomach Punch" game. Until ...
1:25: "One more, Ollie! One more and we're going all the way!"
1:26: It's good! It's good! Hickory's going to the state finals!
Let's be honest: Whoever thought of the "Ollie should come off the bench, nearly blow the game, then make two improbable free throws to send Hickory to the state finals" idea has to be considered a full-fledged genius (I'm assuming it was the writer of "Hoosiers," Angelo Pizzo). One of the all-time great sports movie ideas, right up there with the Convicts taking on the Guards in "The Longest Yard," Rocky losing to Creed in "Rocky," and the Good Nazi standing up to applaud Pele's bicycle kick goal in "Victory." Didn't you love the Good Nazi? All right, I'm babbling.
1:29: Yikes. Hackman and Hershey just had the most awkward, uncomfortable kissing scene in movie history, even worse than Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve french-kissing in "Death Trap." It's like watching your grandparents make out. I feel physically ill. Of course, she's officially on the coach Dale bandwagon now that they're headed to the state finals.
(Note: I'm currently writing the script for "Hoosiers 2," where Hickory loses to Holland in state quarters and Barbara immediately leaves Norm for the South Bend Central coach. By the way, her name was "Myra Fleener" in the movie. There you go.)
1:31: Flatch visits Shooter in the hospital ... apparently, we're in the "ABC After-School Special" portion of the movie. Tough stretch here. Couldn't they have thrown in a scene where Jimmy Chitwood has a threesome in the back of a '47 Chrysler with two Hickory High groupies?
1:34: Coach Dale's finest brainstorm: "I think you'll find these exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory." Just brilliant.
1:36: Time for the 1951 state finals: Hickory against South Bend Central (enrollment: 2,800). Spike Lee tainted this game for me in his book "Best Seat in the House" (written with Page 2's Ralph Wiley) with his theory that "Hoosiers" was racist because South Bend's roster included black players ... perpetuating a "Band of overachieving white guys band together to topple the bigger, more talented black players" gimmick.
(Like most of Spike's theories, it makes just enough sense that it makes you say, "Hmmmm." So I always end up thinking about him during the final 15 minutes of "Hoosiers." Damn him.)
1:38: The Goosebump Train just came rolling into Chill Scene Station.
Coach: "We're way past big speech time. I want to thank you for the last few months. They've been very special to me. Anybody have anything they want to say?"
Merle: "Let's win this one for all the small schools that never had a chance to get here."
Flatch: "I want to win for my Dad."
Buddy (completing his 180-degree turn): "Let's win for coach, who got us here."
Reverend: "... and David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and flung it, and it struck the Philistine in the head, and he fell to the ground. Amen."
Coach: "I love you guys."
1:41: After falling behind 16-6, one of the Hickory players has to point out to coach Dale that Jimmy -- the prodigy, the franchise, the guy who's currently 26-for-29 just in the movie alone -- could "probably take the guy who's guarding him if we set him up."
Novel concept. Hmmm ... we could feed the ball to our best guy ... maybe this will work. Jimmy responds by scoring the next three baskets and six of the next eight, which raises the question, "How many points did Jimmy score in the finals?" That's right up there with "What were Roy Hobbs' stats during his season with the New York Knights?"
Here's what we know:
With the team down 16-6, we haven't seen Hickory score yet, but the clock reads 7:34 ... which means that these are eight-minute quarters, we're in the second quarter, and everyone but Jimmy was ice-cold in the first quarter (Jimmy couldn't have been ice-cold because, I mean ... he's Jimmy Chitwood, for God's sake).
We see Jimmy score 26 of the next 36 Hickory points, all field goals (including the winning basket, with Hickory winning 42-40). We also see Flatch score twice, and Wade and Buddy each scoring once, so we see 34 of the 42 points in all. So I'm guessing the box score for Hickory's starting five looked something like this:
(See, that's why I'm here, for dumb things like that.)
1:45: Up by four in the final minute, needing only to dribble out the clock, South Bend's coach (wearing an overmatched, "I'm just happy to be here" look all movie) inexplicably calls a play, leading to a missed shot and a Hickory rebound.
After Hickory scores, the South Bend coach never calls timeout, leading to another turnover. After another Hickory basket, no timeout ... and they turn the ball over again! Tie game! Then they turn the turn the ball over again (no timeout). Who was coaching South Bend, Rick Adelman's black grandfather? No wonder Spike hates this movie.
1:47: Tie game, 20 seconds to play, and we've already established that A) Jimmy has scored roughly 30 of Hickory's 40 points, and B) he's hotter than the Equator.
With this info at his disposal, coach Dale calls a play using Jimmy as a decoy, practically begging for Jimmy to pull a Pippen (which he kinda does, when you think about it), leading to Jimmy's fourth and final line of the movie: "I'll make it."
(Yeah, I know, it's Hollywood ... but Jimmy was in the zone! As Dick Vitale would say, you gotta give him the rock, baby!)
1:48: Hickory isolates Jimmy at the top of the key, MJ-style ...
... of course, South Bend doesn't bring over the double-team, because their coach apparently passed out about 10 minutes ago ...
... Jimmy takes two dribbles, crosses over, goes up with it ...
Swish. Game. Pandemonium.
(My favorite part of the ensuing chaos: As Jimmy is carried around the court, the cameras cut to the losing bench, where one of the big guys on South Bend is hugging a distraught cheerleader, finally glancing out to the court at Jimmy, pointing, and saying something that was undoubtedly the 1951 equivalent of "That's one bad mother------." That always kills me for some reason. By the way, it's getting dusty in here again.)
1:50: Cut to the cornfields, the setting sun, some sound bites and a little kid shooting at the gym, followed by the camera slowly honing in on the 1952 State Championship Team photo, and then coach Dale's words ...
"I love you guys."
And I love this movie ... even on the 250th viewing.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine.
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