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Better late than never: My first Hoosiers experience

Here I was, a sports fan since conception, a guy who had been to 99.9% of Wake Forest basketball games for the last 10 years, a part-time writer in the high school sports department of the Winston-Salem Journal… and I hadn’t seen Hoosiers. I’m frankly not sure how I made it this far. Every time the movie would come up in conversation, I would mention that I hadn’t seen it, and every time my friends would respond with some form of “What?! You haven’t seen it? Are you kidding?” “Nope, I’m not kidding,” I responded. “Oh, man, I’ve seen it like 10 or 12 times,” they would inform me. I typically responded with something along the lines of “Congratulations, do you want a cookie or something?” But deep down, I knew that, as a true sports fan, I needed to watch this movie.

Needless to say, this past Saturday was a monumental occasion for me. And as with any event that’s important to me, I needed to write about it. Something like this simply couldn’t go undocumented. So I got myself a pen and paper, sat myself down in front of my 19” television, and watched arguably the greatest sports film of all time.

First things first: considering the immense buildup for this movie, there was a serious chance for a letdown. It was going take a great movie to satisfy me. Well, I’m satisfied.

Now to the important stuff: my random, fairly unimportant observations upon my first Hoosiers viewing.

During the opening scene, as Norman Dale drives down the country road to Hickory High, I immediately realized that Gene Hackman has been stuck in a time warp since 1986. He is the exact same age now as he was in Hoosiers. Just a few minutes later, I began to wonder why Norman came back to a high school after coaching in college 10 years ago. I was officially into the movie at this point.

When the townspeople questioned Norman, the man who said he had been running drills for the last few weeks caught my attention. Several questions came to mind, including “What is that actor’s name?” and “Does this guy not play the same exact character in every movie?” and “Are that guys’ teeth like that in real life?” (Looking back, his teeth really weren’t even that bad, but for some reason that thought popped into my head.)

After Norm’s second conversation with Myra Fleener, I realized that I hated her. Nothing would be able to change that for the rest of the movie.

Jimmy Chitwood, whose face and game bear an uncanny resemblance to Keith Van Horn, was absolutely on fire from the outset of this movie. Even shooting with that flat ball in his backyard, he only missed one shot (after Norm told him he didn’t care whether he played or not). My friend Rob claims that Jimmy missed only 3 shots all movie. And on top of that, he actually shoots like a basketball player, not an actor. The only problem I see with Jimmy is that he really can’t create his own shot; he’s mostly a set shooter. This could hurt him when he gets to the next level.

Norm playing with only four guys on the floor had to be the gutsiest managerial move since Danny Glover’s character putting a washed-up Tony Danza in to pitch in Angels in the Outfield just because some kid told him that angels were hanging over him.

There were a few things I noticed about the games themselves. First of all, did Hickory High have a shoe contract? Every player on the court had himself a fresh pair of Chuck Taylors. Same color and everything. Also, the Hickory High gymnasium may be the smallest basketball court other than the one on “Hang Time.”

When the preacher read the scripture about David and Goliath before the last game, I got to thinking: If you could choose one guy in history not to be, wouldn’t it be Goliath? The guy gets his by a rock and dies, and for the rest of time people look at him as the biggest underachiever ever. Think about it, if David had a slingshot and Goliath had nothing, that seems like a pretty sizeable advantage for David. Not an easy situation for Goliath to go into.

My final commentary on the movie involves the game where Ollie hits the game winning free throws. After #14 (I’m not good with names) fouls out, why did coach have to put in Ollie? He still had #21 (the guy he refused to put in early in the movie) on the bench. #21 was clearly the better player, so why would Norm opt to put in Ollie the Human Turnover? Was #21 still in the doghouse? Did he foul out? This question needs to be answered.

All things considered, however, Hoosiers ranks right up there with my all time favorites. Admittedly, Rudy still stands atop my top sports movie list, but Hoosiers gave it a run for its money. And considering how high the bar was set for this movie, I was impressed that it was able to clear it. Bottom line: I’m satisfied.

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