|Landmark Game: 1963 Mideast semifinal was a game with no losers|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 28 March 2008 13:34|
Loyola defeated Mississippi State 61-51, though the full impact of that matchup played at the Michigan State campus may never be known.
Third-ranked Loyola went on to upset two-time defending national champion Cincinnati the next week and win the NCAA men's title. But it was Mississippi State and coach Babe McCarthy that earned respect that transcended the basketball court.
``Game of Change,'' a new documentary film by Harkness's son, Gerald, will be screened Saturday evening in Detroit and will center on Mississippi State's decision to defy authority and sneak out of the state to play a predominantly black team.
``They were more of a winner than we were,'' Harkness, a two-time All-American, said Friday. ``It took a long time for me to realize all that they went through. Today, I think that game was bigger than winning the national championship.''
Loyola had won its first-round game against Tennessee Tech by a record 69 points but didn't know if its second-round game would be played. McCarthy, Mississippi State president Dean Colvard and athletic director Wade Walker made sure that it was.
In three of the previous four seasons, their all-white teams had been forced to decline NCAA invitations because an unwritten Mississippi law forbid play against integrated programs.
In 1963, the sixth-ranked Southeastern Conference champs changed history, thanks to a perfectly run play to get out of the state.
``Babe McCarthy was one wonderful person,'' Bulldogs player Bobby Shows said Friday. ``And when he told us to jump, we said, 'How high?' We were just kids. We obeyed our coaches. So when Babe said, 'Boys, if we win it again, we're going to play in that tournament, come hell or high water!' we believed him.''
Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett wasn't about to let that happen. Nor was state Sen. Billy Mitts, a former Mississippi State student body president and cheerleader. Mitts even got an injunction prohibiting the team from leaving the state.
But before the papers could be served, Colvard left the state for a speaking engagement in Alabama, while Walker and McCarthy drove north, across the state line to Tennessee.
Early the next morning, trainer Dutch Luchsinger and several reserves drove to a private airport in Starkville, Miss. When they saw the path was safe, a call was made for assistant Jerry Simmons and the starters to hurry and join them.
The plane took off without incident, stopped in Nashville to pick up Walker and McCarthy and headed to Lansing and a warm reception. Back in Mississippi, the Ku Klux Klan and segregationists stewed while many others cheered their team's stance.
``When Babe said we were going, it was like God speaking,'' Shows said. ``We didn't understand the politics. But we were all on pins and needles. Just as our plane took off, the sheriff drove through the gate. He'd driven to the wrong airport. It turns out he wanted us to go.''
Loyola guard John Egan, the only white starter on his team, said he didn't understand the implications when Harkness and Mississippi State's Red Stroud shook hands at the center jump in Jenison Field House, as hundreds of flashbulbs popped all around them.
``Jerry is very emotional about this and was crushed when Red just died,'' Egan said. ``None of us saw it as 'us' against 'them.' The Mississippi State players were true gentlemen. I guess we showed people the way it could be.''
Mississippi State wound up with a split for the trip, beating Bowling Green and star Nate Thurmond in a consolation game.
``I think Nate had 30 rebounds in that game,'' Shows said with a laugh. ``But when we got back to Starkville, the cars were lined up for 20 miles with thousands and thousands of kids there to see us. The KKK boys were a nasty, ugly minority. Most people weren't like that. And even though we lost, we came home as winners. All of us did.''