January 18, 2006

Culture Maven: A little recap on the Baron, Bush and Brokeback

The Baron. I was at the college hoops contest that allegedly changed the course of our favorite sport. Much is being written about the game since the recent film, “Glory Road,” purports to tell the story of the event. The racial animus of the situation was considered in last week’s LEO.

March 19, 1966. College Park, Maryland. The NCAA championship tilt. UK — Rupp’s Runts — was numero uno in the land. As anybody not in a coma knows, the heavily favored Cats, coached by cantankerous Adolph Rupp, were all Caucasian. All of the Texas Western Miners’ starters were Negroes. Or blacks, or whatever was the prevailing mode of reference at the time for people of color.
I remember this. It was one of the few times in my life that I truly, unequivocally rooted for the ’Cats. I loved that undersized, overachieving team. Larry Conley’s performance in the semifinal win over Duke was one of the most amazing I’ve ever witnessed. He was feverishly sick. As best I can recall, Rupp, normally a micro-manager, allowed Conley to take himself in and out of the lineup as the point forward chose.

As for the title game, it was obvious that Kentucky had no chance when 1) Bobby Joe Hill stripped Tommy Kron then Louie Dampier of their dribbles two straight trips down the court, and 2) David Lattin started manhandling Thad Jaracz on the boards. Texas Western cruised.

What I also recall is that I heard nary a single mention at the time about the game being between an all-white and an all-black team. I loved that some of the Miners had exotic names, like Orsten Artis, Nevil Shed, Willie Cager and Togo Railey. Unless such thoughts were racial in nature, I remember not a single black vs. white component contemporaneous with the game.

After the Texas Western title, I stood next to broadcaster Claude Sullivan, ashen from the devastating loss, as he interviewed Rupp. What I remember is that Rupp ranted in the same tone as always when Kentucky lost. He ripped his players for not doing what he told them to do. The Baron, understand, never lost a game. His players did.

I have a vague recollection of some Rupp utterance to the effect that his Wildcats were upstanding citizens, while Texas Western’s guys would end up in the penitentiary. I can’t honestly say whether that memory comes from that interview, a story in Sports Illustrated or elsewhere. I’ve never seen the statement disputed.

Bottom line: As hard as it might be for UK fans to believe, this story is about a lot more than whether Rupp was a racist or not.

Betrayed by Bush. My last time around in this space, I examined last year politically, switched teams and pledged my troth to President Dub. I mentioned how I looked forward to a photo op with him the next time he was in town. Well, he was just here, and I can tell you this. Anne Northup, to whom I also professed fealty in the same tome, never called with a ticket. Nor did Sen. Mitch. Or my buddy, GOP apologist Bill Stone. Or any of the elephant stalwarts with whom I’ve lunched on Mondays for years.

Talk about ingratitude! I, a convert, a guy with a pen allegedly more mighty than the sword, was left standing — figuratively — behind barriers a safe distance from the plutocrats with audience to His Most Extreme Excellency Herr President Bush. Heck, I would have donned a coat and tie for the camera.

“Brokeback Mountain.” Sure, part of the reason for mentioning this flick is the alliterative “B” thing I’ve got working this week. Hey, you always need a hook.

I also feel that the film has enough significance to deserve more mention than the review that ran in the last issue of LEO.

This slice of American cultural ethos is presented with such clarity and artistic elan that it should be seen by anybody with the slightest interest in film and/or social history. Remember when I wrote a couple of weeks ago that David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, And Good Luck” should be a lock of all the award season acting kudos? Forget it. Without meaning in any way to diminish that performance, Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar, the sexually confused, emotionally stunted modern day cowpoke, is stunning. It is as anguished a film portrayal as any since Nick Nolte in “Affliction” was jobbed for the Oscar by the overly capricious Roberto Benigni.