Although this is second hand information, i believe it to be true. i think i discussed it with the main character, Kenny Gibbs, but it was a long time ago, and my memory can play tricks on me. However, Kenny, if you read this, this is my story, and i’m sticking to it,
It was March 1965. i had become an integral part of The Nashville Banner’s sports department after beginning the previous September as an office boy and very cub reporter.
Waxo Green, or Dudley Green if you prefer the more formal, told me this story on a Monday after a most incredible weekend. Waxo covered Vanderbilt sports and golf. He was an old time sports reporter straight out of a Damon Runyon short story. His desk in the large room was directly across the door from Fred Russell’s office. He had just completed covering the NCAA Regional Basketball Tournament at the University of Kentucky Memorial Gymnasium (long before Rupp Arena replaced it) in Lexington, Kentucky. It was the state of the art basketball arena, seating a what was then a whopping 13,000.
Fred Russell was there likely in a premier seat. Waxo and the Banner sports photographer (sadly, i cannot remember his name as i write as he was a good guy and had taken me under his wing) were posted at the scorer’s table for all four games.
i was there also. i was there because i solved a dilemma. Obviously, this was long before we could send photos by email and social media. The dilemma was how to get the photographer’s photos to the Banner in Nashville before it went to print. There was some leeway because the Banner was Nashville’s afternoon newspaper, but there was no way to get the photos back to the office before the deadline…except for driving the 180 miles immediately after the game.
In a brilliant move, i volunteered. i drove a 1959 Vauxhall sedan i had purloined from my sister. It was not a mechanical marvel except it would get me where i needed to go…most of the time. But most importantly, it would provide me a ticket to what i considered the biggest sporting event of my life (it still ranks way up there). i had been friends with most of the members of the team. People would laugh when they saw me walk across campus with our All-American center, Clyde Lee. John Ed Miller, the point guard, and Bob “Snake” Grace, the power forward, and i took architectural drawing together. Keith Thomas, the shooting guard, and i had spent some good times together. i considered myself friends with the entire team.
But i was closest to Kenny Gibbs and Jerry Southwood. Both were fraternity brothers. Jerry was the point guard behind John Ed, and Kenny was the center behind Clyde. The next year, they were both stars. Both were great guys and remain that way. i don’t see either of them enough. They were an integral part of one of the best teams in Vanderbilt history. They had won the SEC championship (there were no conference tournaments back then: college athletics was not quite as money hungry back at that time), a rare feat, which included winning both games against Kentucky, then as now a perennial national basketball force.
After the Vanderbilt tournament games, i picked up the negatives from the photographer and headed south for roughly four hours including getting to the car and out of the parking lot. For the semi-finals (There were only four teams from the field of 16, less than a quarter of the teams in the tournament today), the task was relatively easy as the Commodores beat DePaul in overtime, and it was relatively early in the evening. i got back to the Banner’s office around 1:00 in the morning, dropped off the negatives, and slept for about six hours before checking in with the managing sports editor, Bill Roberts and then driving back to Lexington.
Saturday was the big day. And i mean big. On Friday, at the Vandy-DePaul halftime i had wandered from my seat on the opposite side of gym from the scorer’s table to arrange for the negatives hand off with the photographer and say a few words with Waxo. i started back to my seat with the teams came out to warm up. As i turned to walk back up the stairs and over to my seat, i discovered the Michigan team, awaiting to play in the second game, had come out to see the teams, one of which they would play in the finals. Michigan was ranked number two in the nation behind John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. When i turned, i found myself looking into the belt buckle of Cazzie Russell, the Wolverine’s star forward. Flanking him and just as imposing were his two main supporters, Oliver Darden and Bill Buntin. i slithered through the troika of basketball hugeness and headed for my seat.
My instructions for the end of the game were to ignore the craziness of the game’s conclusion, head straight for the end of the scorer’s table, get the negatives, skedaddle for the exit, and shoot toward Nashville as fast as that little malfunctioning Vauxhall would carry me.
It was an incredible game. It seesawed back and forth and Vandy had a two-point lead with less than two minutes to go. John Ed brought the ball down the court, stopped and in a move he used frequently, took a stutter step but not moving his anchor foot. The ref called walking. It was not. The team invited me to see the replay with them, something unavailable to the general television audience in those days, on Sunday night at the WSM studios, and we ran the footage again and again, pointing at the TV monitor and shouting, “you didn’t walk, you didn’t walk.” We all knew it but now we had proof. Michigan scored two goals and the Commodores lost 87-85.
Michigan lost to UCLA in the NCAA championship game, and i still believe with all my heart, Vandy matched up much better against the Bruins and Gale Goodrich, and might have won the championship that year if it hadn’t been for that blown call. Of course, it’s the right of a fan to revise history.
Although disappointed, i did not forget my mission, headed to the scorer’s table, picked up the envelope with the negatives, and headed for Nashville, cussing all the way. i arrived after 3:00 am. Made it.
But the Monday recollections with Waxo Green made it even better. About half-way through the second half after Clyde had picked up a foul, Coach Roy Skinner had put in Kenny to give Clyde a rest. On the first play after substituting, Kenny fought and claimed a defensive rebound off that huge Michigan threesome. On the next shot at the other end, they all went up, and Kenny came down in a heap, writhing on the floor and grabbing his head in anguish. The trainers and coach came in and Kenny was helped to the bench. The pain was temporary.
But when Waxo asked Kenny after the game about what happened, Kenny replied, “That damn Darden kneed me in the crouch.”
“In the crouch?” Waxo reacted, “But you were holding your head head?”
Kenny wisely responded, “Well, i was damn sure not going to grab my balls in front of 13,000 people and a nationwide TV audience.”
As i said, that’s my story, and i’m sticking to it.
2 thoughts on “A Sports Story”
A great recounting of what seems to have been a real nail-biting game.
Another great post that I thoroughly enjoyed, being the basketball fan of UK that I am!!! Graduated in civil engineering in 1962 after five years which I blamed on four years of ROTC which did not count for the CE degree. You and I had some of the same experiences in college; too much partying!!!