Hoosier-watching in Bowling Green, 1975

Saturday’s junket down to Bowling Green to cover the football Hoosiers’ game with Western Kentucky won’t constitute the first time I’ve been there to watch an IU team play. But the previous time was a long time ago — March 22, 1975 — and involved a television in a Best Western motel lobby.

And it did not end well for the Hoosiers.

I was an IU sophomore headed down to Florida for spring break with family and friends. The men’s basketball Hoosiers were heading into a NCAA Dayton regional game against Kentucky. No. 1-ranked and unbeaten IU had dominated UK at Assembly Hall in December, leading by over 40 points and winning by 24. Even without the great Scott May, sidelined by the broken arm sustained at Purdue, many felt Indiana was still the better team.

We all wanted to watch the game, of course, but due to hotel reservations and other commitments, we needed to be on the road that day. This was three years before ESPN existed. The concept of cell phones was confined to reruns of The Jetsons. “Sports bars,” as such, were few and far between. So we tried calling various hotels and businesses along I-65 to see if somebody was committed to showing the game. The manager of a Best Western at Bowling Green confirmed he indeed intended to have the game on the motel’s lobby television. And the timing, regarding our travel schedule, seemed right.

It was. We arrived about 30 minutes before tipoff. We entered the lobby to see it plastered with blue and white decorations and chock full of Kentucky fans. We thought about hitting the road again, and at least getting over the Tennessee line, but with game time approaching decided to stick it out.

I’ll spare you most of the gory details. But right after tipoff, IU guard Bobby Wilkerson had the ball and some elderly woman sitting close behind me, her blue-tinted hair piled up in a bun, screeched right into my ear: “Git that big jig!” And that was just the start of a horrific torrent of racist, biased and generally foul commentary that flowed over our heads throughout the game. There are ignorant, bigoted people everywhere — and I don’t in any way want this to read as a blanket indictment of Bowling Green, Western Kentucky or Kentucky in general. My mom’s side of our family is from western Kentucky. I know the area and like the people. But it was pretty ugly that day.

The game itself was pretty brutal, too. Kentucky had a lot of extremely large front liners — Rick Robey, Bob Guyette, etc. — who really threw their considerable weight around. It seemed like every time Steve Green tried to set a pick, he wound up skidding on his posterior out of bounds. UK coach Joe B. Hall had publicly proclaimed most of IU’s screens to be “illegal,” and instructed his players to run right through them. Mission accomplished. And UK sharp-shooters such as Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner, Jack Givens and Mike Flynn (the latter a Hoosier turncoat) stayed hot. Whatever else anybody wanted to say, UK out-played IU that particular day.

We nearly departed several times. More than one member of my normally mild-mannered group wanted to clock somebody, more than once. But IU trailed closely pretty much throughout, and we just couldn’t tear ourselves away. So we were watching when John Laskowski missed a little push shot in the lane before the buzzer sounded to finalize the 92-90 UK win.

So we finally left, amidst wildly celebrating and cat-calling (no pun intended) Kentucky fans. The spring break trip continued but, suffice to say, it wasn’t a very festive week for us in Florida.

Those are the kinds of memories that can remain seared into synapses.

But the passage of time has proven palliative, to a degree. And my subsequent career as a sports writer and journalist has lent professional objectivity to my perspective.

Things change, especially over that many years. Who would have ever guessed back in 1975 that, 27 years later, Rupp Arena in Lexington would be filled to the gills with Kentucky fans rooting passionately for Indiana as the Hoosiers knocked off No. 1 Duke in another NCAA regional?

I’m very much looking forward to another trip to Bowling Green. Result of the football game notwithstanding, it’s a pretty safe bet to be a more pleasant journey this time.

4 comments

  1. It’s been deleted, for now, I believe…because they used a song in the video for which they didn’t have a copyright. Ha.

    For those that didn’t see it, it was footage of the team’s offseason training. A few highlights:

    – It’s apparent that the staff is making the players work their asses off. One of the drills consisted of players carrying another player piggy back style…up the stadium stairs.

    – Some of the footage was from the weight room. Derek Elston is absolutely jacked. You can tell he’s been pushing it this summer. It also gives us a look at Watford — he’s noticeably more muscular. He could really blow up this season.

    – Pritchard definitely looks more trim and slim — which is good in his case.

    Overall an encouraging video. Hopefully they’ll put it back up at some point.

  2. I was in Daytona Beach, also on spring break. Mike Flynn was a couple years ahead of me at Jeffersonville High School. He’s a good guy but I never forgave him. The following week he was on the cover over Sports Illustrated. It’s still on display at JHS.

  3. We could use Elston on the football field! Oh, I was born in 1975, haha!

    Andy, I enjoyed the story and it is great to have an IU guy writing here. Thanks for the time you put into the story!!!

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