Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My Mizzou basketball season tickets arrived today, and I've started to daydream. How's this for a festive holiday season scenario? Thanksgiving week kicks off with Norm Stewart's induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, followed by the Tigers playing Michigan State and UCLA or Maryland at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, just days before the football Tigers beat Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium to clinch the Big 12 North and advance to the league title game. Then its Christmas in St. Louis for a long-awaited Braggin' Rights victory, followed by New Year's in the sun belt at a BCS bowl game.

Please don't wake me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Charlie Henke, Hall of Famer

When I heard that former Rat Pack funnyman Joey Bishop had passed last week at age 89, my first reaction, regrettably, was “Joey Bishop wasn’t already dead?!?”

My reaction was much the same upon hearing that Charlie Henke had been elected to the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame. “He’s not already in?” I asked, incredulously.

For many if not most of us, the men who played basketball for the University of Missouri before Norm Stewart became head coach in 1967 are largely forgotten. But Charlie Henke, from tiny Malta Bend, Missouri, remains one of the best ever to wear the black and gold.

Henke, who played from 1958 to 1961, was a star for Sparky Stalcup in the coach’s waning days at Mizzou, and he certainly would be better remembered if he had been surrounded by better talent. But statistically, Henke has few peers among Tigers of yore. On February 18, 1961, he sank a shot against Kansas State to supplant Bob Reiter as Mizzou’s all-time leading scorer, and his 1,338 career points stood as a Missouri record until John Brown surpassed it twelve years later. Henke’s career averages for points (18.1 per game, fifth all-time) and rebounds (9.8, also fifth) make him one of the most productive Tigers in history.

Despite those impressive credentials, Henke may be best remembered for his role in the most violent spectacle in Missouri lore. Entering the final game of his career, Henke was engaged in a fight for the Big Eight scoring championship with Kansas’s Wayne Hightower for the second straight year (he had finished second to Hightower the previous season). The Jayhawks invaded Brewer Fieldhouse for the season’s last contest, and the animosity between the programs was greater than ever before. KU’s football team had beaten top-ranked Missouri less than four months earlier, costing the Tigers a national title, but had been forced to forfeit the result for playing Bert Coan, a running back who was ruled ineligible. Kansas’s basketball team had also recently been placed on probation, and some in Lawrence believed that Missouri athletics director Don Faurot had snitched on them. The Jayhawk fans’ fury boiled over when the Tiger hoops team visited Allen Field House in February, and they showered Mizzou’s team with such hostility that pre-game introductions were called off. When the teams met again in Columbia, it was a nasty, physical affair, but Henke was sensational, scoring over Hightower with ease, and clinching the scoring title. But early in the second half, Hightower intercepted an outlet pass thrown by Henke, drove to the hoop, got fouled, and then sparked one of the wildest scenes ever on a basketball court.

Henke was ejected for his role in the riot, an unfitting end to one of Missouri’s finest careers.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Maybe I Should Be Flattered . . .

It has come to my attention that two copies of True Sons are available through Amazon Marketplace - one listed at $299.99 and the other at $499.89. Now, it's a pretty damn good book if I do say so myself, but it's not made of diamonds.

If you'd like a copy, save yourself a few hundred bucks and buy online here, or stop by any Borders Bookseller in Missouri, or the Tiger Team Store or University Bookstore in Columbia.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Random Thoughts from a Football Weekend

I officially declare it the Greatest Homecoming Weekend Ever! Glorious weather, good friends and a thorough dismantling of a nationally-ranked team made for a fabulous 48 hours . . . . I met Homecoming Grand Marshal/Football Hall of Famer Roger Wehrli and his wife Gayle (remarkably lovely people) twice over the weekend, and confessed that, when I was a kid, my favorite book was All-Pro Football Stars 1977 (it sorta still is, actually), in which Mr. Wehrli was recognized as one of the NFL’s top defensive backs. I also told him that my father-in-law wore number 23 for the Tigers just a few years before Roger and Johnny Roland did, and that we like to say that Bruce’s number was retired, which is half true . . . . A streak continues: the Tigers have never lost a Homecoming game after I’ve eaten a Heidelburger the preceding Friday night. . . . While waiting for the parade to begin on Saturday morning, I saw Gary Leonard dragging a three-wheeled red wagon along a Ninth Street sidewalk. While it might appear peculiar to see a seven-foot man captaining such a defective vessel through the streets of a mid-sized Midwestern town, with Gary it somehow seemed normal. . . . Columbia’s West Junior High School band has a scrappy cymbal player who overcame a broken strap/handle to provide the event the proper fanfare. . . . The parade’s most prolific candy-thrower, by far, was Rocky Alden, wife of Mizzou’s athletics director Mike Alden. . . . Noted without comment: A group of adult people dressed in some oddly sophisticated Star Wars regalia marched in the parade. . . . Weekend’s Moment of Zen: Attending a reception at Jesse Hall, sitting outside on the north steps, beer in hand, contemplating the Columns. . . . Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen is a mad scientist. The whole world anticipated one of history’s great aerial showdowns, and he controlled the game by running the ball down Texas Tech’s throat. Before Saturday, I could not fathom that Mizzou could score 41 points despite Chase Daniel throwing the ball just nineteen times. Pity the poor defensive coordinator who has to prepare for this team. . . . Jeremy Maclin (who badly needs a nickname, by the way; The Jet? Flash Maclin? Somebody help me) has easily the best football speed I’ve seen in two-plus decades of closely following the Tigers. The only possible precedent I can come up with is Mel Gray. Maclin’s 57-yard catch and run for touchdown in the fourth quarter was pure poetry. . . . Mizzou’s defense has developed a fourth quarter sadistic streak. In the last two home games, the front seven has pinned back its ears and punished Sam Keller and Graham Harrell. I like it. . . . Though there’s work to do before we get there, Mizzou’s November 24 meeting with Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium is starting to look like the most anticipated sporting event in Kansas City since the 1988 Final Four. Disagree? What ranks above it?

A Family Reunion

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Kansas City regional dinner for the University of Missouri’s Jefferson Club. A packed house of Tiger supporters came to celebrate Mizzou’s basketball history and their own commitment to the University.

I’ve given lots of talks about Tiger hoops, but never in a room so alive with the program’s history. Norm Stewart was there, as was Ed Matheny (who played from 1941 to 1943), Phil Snowden (who played for Norm Stewart’s freshman team in 1957 before going on to greater fame as a Missouri quarterback), George Flamank and Ned Monsees, Don Early (1962-65), Greg Flaker, Bob Johnson (1970-71), John Brown, Al Eberhard, Gary Link, Bill Flamank (1973-75), Willie Smith, Kim Anderson, Derrick Chievous and Lynn Hardy. It was a remarkable assemblage of men who spanned nearly sixty years of Missouri basketball.

I talked about the beginnings of Tiger basketball, Missouri’s World War I era Golden Age, and stars of long ago like George Williams, John Cooper and Bud Heinemann. We celebrated the program’s history, Norm Stewart’s upcoming induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, and the brotherhood that binds these men and their school.

The past players came to celebrate all of that, but as much as anything, they came to support Bill Flamank, a hard-working forward and a second generation Tiger who was the third member of his family to wear the uniform. Bill has endured a year of incomprehensible tragedy, losing his wife and suffering devastating injuries in a terrible car accident, for which has undergone five surgeries to date. Though he moved about on crutches, Bill walked tall.

Coach Stewart spoke a few words after I finished, and praised Bill's perseverance. As you spend time with the men who played so hard for Coach Stewart and his predecessors, you can see why they were so successful. They are tenacious, dedicated men of character, and they make for a tightly-knit fraternity. John Brown made the trip to Kansas City from Rolla because he wanted to ensure that Bill got out to a dinner where he could be supported by his friends.

No one made a show of why they were there, and Coach Stewart spoke of Bill’s circumstances in only vague terms. Everything about it was understated and dignified, but stirring nonetheless. It was one of those times when you really could be proud to be a Tiger.