A Hoosier Sports Tale

Posted: December 21, 2017 by cschrump in Uncategorized

by Mike Johnston

Ki

The light, cancel that, the beacon, hits my sternum like a salt truck.

NAME YOURSELF!!

Unlit hallway. My room is six steps away. I know my bowels are there, but they seem to want to give way. I pay rent here. All is well. Right?

‘Um, it’s Mike. Mike Johnston?’ Questioning my own name, as the muzzle of my roommate’s gun is targeted directly at my innards. Unfortunately for both of us, my BAC and the caliber of his weapon are similar numbers.

Recognition replaces damnation on his face.

“Jesus, dude. Why did you bang on the door that way,” he questions, the weapon thankfully now pointed downward.

“The power is out, man! You have my spare key!”

And with that he ushers me into a home of my own, and we have a beer. Lord knows we both needed one. Bloomington is under (within?) two inches of ice, and the campus is a mile away. Classes are cancelled for the foreseeable future, the power is out, and we have a fridge full of Keystone that needs transported to the snowy stoop, right next to the lookout owl.

———- – – – – – – –

I lived less than a mile from Assembly Hall at the time, but for once, Ed Magoni and I are leaving at the same time.  We have just beaten up on a directional team in mid-December, back before the Big Ten lost its mind and scheduled conference games before Christmas and a conference tournament in New York City.

Sidenote: The fact that we’re letting the Big East dictate anything in terms of our scheduling might explain why the conference hasn’t won a national title since Adam Ballinger was relevant.

Regardless, Ed had asked his intern – me – to head to the opposing Iocker room. Instead of the typical postgame regurgitation story, I was tasked with getting something – anything – out of the opposing coach. I failed, and I think he knew it. He likely had already heard the clip and the questions that came a little too quickly out of my mouth.

I’m in no mood to talk, and out of nowhere Ed goes, “Hey. You know that used to be the player’s party house right?”

“Huh,” I respond incredulously.

“Oh yeah. Your place. Keep in mind, I know where your checks go. If that same coach still owns that house, there were some PARTIES up in there!”

I smile once I arrive home. I clean my bathroom vigorously, and think of my landlord with a little less vitriol.

– – – – – – – – – –

The house is not our own, and we see the landlord thrice yearly. He is a former Indiana basketball coach, not of the head variety, and one cannot be seen as a “former coach” in these parts without questions being asked. He shakes our hands before we’re allowed to live in his domicile. He thinks a bong is a crack pipe. He has rules that we know he won’t enforce. He smells of yesterday.  His girlfriend (or so we’re told) picks up the rent checks that our parents write like clockwork. “First of the month. Don’t make me find you on the third.”

Picture the former assistant, trudging around town like some proud moment of yesteryear. It would be impossible to be anonymous in a town as basketball-crazed as Bloomington, so he no longer hangs out here. He has his own home, in a state further west, and the grade school and middle school camps he runs are based off of the teachings of his boss, Robert Montgomery Knight. I imagine they are lucrative.

– – – – – – – –  — – –

“Hep passed away.”

Those words still sting, and as I was stacking lumber in a mill some 70 minutes from Bloomington, they damn near took my hand off. I read the text my mother had sent at an inopportune time, and tried to gather my senses as quickly as possible.

Walnut dust in my lungs, I stifled a tear. I allowed them to spill once I was away, on my own at lunch.

Hep was the first IU football coach I believed in, and the first one that granted me a phone interview. Ed didn’t have to mince words, as the message was clear: ‘Don’t screw this up’. Hep had me sold long before then, and I tried my best not to screw the pooch on the interview. When he spoke of a rocket ship, I believed every last drop of fuel coming out of his mouth. I smiled – grinned really – when he used the same turn of phrase later on ESPN, after his first signature win.

I returned to IU the fall after Hep passed away, and as the Bucket Game approached, I realized one of my best friends had never been to a big-time college football game.  And as far as Memorial Stadium goes, this was it. Play 13. Beat Purdue. Do it for Hep. Ed needed extra coverage for that game, and I selfishly asked if I could attend as a spectator instead. Without missing a beat, he said, “Of course.”

Oh, did we celebrate. And we somehow made it home in pieces, managing to keep the lookout owl intact.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I’m sitting two rows up from Ed, and it is halftime. We share our usual text or three about the first half, but this is my chance to make him laugh and vice-versa.  And hey! The Hoosiers are actually in it against a pretty good Iowa team! We share similar incredulities about how and why Kirk Ferentz refuses to throw the ball against this shitty IU secondary. We eat “catered” Chipotle, which has created a serious line in the press box restroom. We separate as play resumes and as if we were sharing a brain, we both send a text at the same time. There’s 2:50 left in the game. The Hoosiers are clinging to a lead they simply won’t hold.

“WATCH FOR MCNUTT. MULTIPLE SERIES BREWING”

“MCNUTT GOING DEEP SIDELINE SOON. BEEN SETTING IT UP FOR 3 SERIES.”

Marvin McNutt catches a 53-yard touchdown pass on that drive, and the game ends predictably in heartbreak, as the Hoosiers (Damarlo) belch the game away. Ed and I share a steely look, one that says equal parts “Been here before” and “F*** Iowa.”

– – – – – – –  — – – – – – –

Believe it or not, there was a time before the Big Ten Network existed. That is probably still the case in Decatur, Georgia, but I managed to find a sports bar and beer haven called Taco Mac that carried the fledgling product. It was Tom Crean’s first year, and the IU brethren were ever patient, ever true. I mean, my God, if you can love Devan Dumes, you can send Christmas cards to the penitentiary. I was there for every conference game, as we sunk lower and lower into the Sampson Swamp. The true IU fans wore that team like a proud bandage. And when we beat Iowa for our lone conference win, tears in my eyes, the knowledgeable bartender picked up my tab with a simple point and thumbs up.

A text from Ed, always thinking of others:

“How bout them Hoosiers!”

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Fast forward three years. The former landlord and assistant coach is no longer in my life, but I am still in his. I recall his name being listed as an assistant coach on every barber poster in town, from Evansville to Mishawaka. You know the poster: faces of players and coaches, arranged in some trapezoid or semicircle. If your barber shop didn’t have smiling faces of Norm Ellenberger, John Treloar, and Tim Garl, I’m aware of a town that does. I’ll have my hair cut there, please and thank you. I know these names as if they are etched within my cerebellum. But today seems different. I’m lucky enough to be covering a game between Indiana and Kentucky, the latter being the number one team in the country. It’s December 10, 2011. I have a weird itch, as if I want to get my ears lowered. I want to see the familiar names.

I head southwards on SR-37 early, hours early, as if the Wildcat fans are somehow headed south and I’m due for a major traffic Issue. In reality, I’m texting and driving. I’m telling Ed how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to cover the game, and asking if he needs any extra pregame help or coverage.

He tells me to relax and enjoy, and in a very un-Ed way, that he feels good about this one. Eight hours later, I stand, arms crossed in my candy stripe dress shirt underneath the 1953 Championship banner, as Verdell Jones gets bailed out by Christian Watford. I’m not supposed to cheer, but I do, and somehow, I don’t storm the court.

I take a victory lap by the Delt House, the Union, and Kirkwood. It’s pushing 2:00, and my stories are filed, but I want so badly to soak in the moment. Lastly, I drive down 3rd Street, past Mother Bear’s and another party pad with ancient memories, and I double back. I think of the old house, the player’s house, and wonder if the lookout owl is still there.

I creep back towards the bypass, and turn off near the golf course. The lookout owl is gone. Some part of me is glad for the former landlord. Maybe he’s finally put Bloomington in his rear view mirror.

– – – – —  – – – –

It’s days like today that I miss my friend the most. Ed Magoni was a tried and true Hoosier fan, one that could run back plays of national championships and first-round losses to Pepperdine equally. We lost him far too soon. He was the one I wanted to text so badly when Bonzie Colson’s half-court heave rimmed out last Saturday, giving the Hoosiers their first big win under Archie Miller.

Ed was selfless, and the hardest working journalist I’ve ever met. Yet, he always found a way to infuse his dry wit and positivity into any dire situation. After I was tasked with covering the dullest of games, a horrific football loss to Northwestern in Evanston, I found myself in gridlocked Chicago traffic. I texted Ed to make sure he had received my stories, and more importantly, that I hadn’t been too harsh.

“Got em. Thanks. Hey, it could always be worse. You could be trapped in Michigan Stadium. And that Northwestern popcorn is gold. ”

While the Michigan Stadium bit is a story for another day, the truth remains that I miss those interactions more than I could have ever thought possible. And of course, Ed was correct about the Northwestern popcorn.

Ed gave me opportunities that I may not have deserved, and nothing made me happier than getting an e-mail saying he enjoyed one of my columns. He’d tell me to cut this damn thing down by 700 words, truth be told.

But Ed is in a better place, and he can’t tell me to cut this column down. He was my journalistic lookout owl, and always had more faith in my ability to cover an event or write a column than I did myself. The fact that he enjoyed my scathing Purdue columns was a bonus. He allowed me to cover soccer national championships, Big Ten basketball titles, and praise the Lord, a win I never thought was possible at the Breslin Center.

I wonder what sort of texts we would have exchanged on Monday night, as the Hoosiers fell to Fort Wayne, some 48 hours after that big win over the Irish. I wager we would have been texting right after Saturday’s game, saying “Good win. No time to celebrate, big game on Monday.”

If I was thinking it, Ed was thinking it a minute sooner.

Ed would have bemoaned the lack of rotation, the lack of effort, and would not have sugarcoated it one iota. I miss that, and a large part of me always will.

The wins are easy  to cover. The losses are when the people want the full-court press. And Ed would be putting on the 1-3-1 trap right now.

O

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