Revisiting the Hickory Huskers


Back row: Whit, Jimmy, Strap, Coach Norman Dale, Everett, Merle, Buddy. Front row: Rade, Ollie.

All the Gamecock basketball excitement over the weekend caused me to go back and watch “Hoosiers” again, even though I had already done so once in the past month or two. I figured I needed to brush up on my sports jargon, so I could say stuff like:

You’re playing Gonzaga Saturday. Ain’t nobody knows ’em better’n me. Now, I been watchin’ how you’ve been breakin’ the colts. But, my friend, you cannot play them all the way man-to-man. They got no head-toppers. Gonzaga? A bunch o’ mites. Run you off the boards. You gotta squeeze ’em back in the paint. Make ’em chuck it from the cheap seats. Watch that purgatory they call a gym. No drive, 12 foot in. That’ll do…

I still think some of what Shooter told Coach was gobbledegook, but it sounded deep.

Anyway, as happens when I’m watching a movie with an iPad on my lap, I started looking up the colts to see what happened to them. Some of them tried to pursue a movie career, with minimal success. One (Merle) committed suicide at 39. Another — Rade, who violated Norman Dale’s 4-pass rule in the first game, is a successful dentist, and looks just the same except that his hair’s not slicked down.

Anyway, I ran across this fun picture from this past November, when the Huskers reunited in Indianapolis, and were interviewed on a radio show. I hope Kent Sterling, the radio host, won’t mind my sharing this. It’s pretty cool…

crop reunion

Pictured are, left to right:

  • Brad Long, who played BuddyThat’s the guy with the crewcut who mouthed off to the coach in the first practice and got kicked off the team — then, mysteriously, is back on the team later in the movie. It’s a mystery because the money men forced the director to butcher the movie to get it under 2 hours, and it was still awesome! The very last cut they made was to the scene in which Buddy asks Coach for another chance.
  • Dr. Steve Hollar, who played Rade — Rade had an attitude problem, too, but later became so loyal that in defense of Coach Dale, he threw the punch that got him and Dale kicked out of the game. “Got him good, didn’t I, coach?” “Yeah, you did.” Steve was playing basketball for DePauw University when he got the part. After filming, he went back to school and became a dentist.
  • Wade Schenck, who played Ollie — Ollie wasn’t no good, as he put it — “Equipment manager’s my trade.” But he scored the charity shot that got them into the championship game.
  • Kent Sterling, the radio guy
  • Maris Valainis, the immortal Jimmy Chitwood — Valainis showed up for the casting cattle call, and decided it was ridiculous with so many competitors, and got out of line to leave — and the director spotted him. He pulled the kid aside and asked him to show his basketball skills. Even though he was the only Husker who didn’t make his high school team in real life, he ended up portraying the best player anybody had ever seen in Indiana.
  • David Neirdorf, who played Everett Flatch — That’s Shooter’s son, who was initially embarrassed by what Coach was trying to do for his Dad. “Son, kick their butt!”

And who doesn’t get goose bumps when, at the end, the camera zooms in on the team photo and you hear Gene Hackman say, “I love you guys…”

17 thoughts on “Revisiting the Hickory Huskers

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I like some sports comedy. I love “Major League.” Not so much “White Men Can’t Jump,” though. Woody Harrelson was too grating, or something.

      Maybe it’s a latent, uptight white-guy thing. I like to see basketball played by the rules. No palming, no double-dribbles, no traveling. I like disciplined basketball. How many times are you gonna pass? Four times.

      And black high-top Chuck Taylors, worn with two pairs of white socks. Also, basketball should be played for something real and pure, like your school — not as a hustle.

      “Hoosiers” also reminds me of when I was the manager of the J.V. team at Bennettsville High School in the 9th grade, 1967-1968. I was sort of Ollie. I didn’t quite make the team, but I dressed out for practice, and played one-on-one against the smallest guy on the team, who was just my size…

      The scenes of the team riding the bus from town to town, and playing in those little gyms, feel really familiar to me…

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    OK, folks… You ask for sports; I give you sports. And, except for Bryan… nothing…

    Yeah, I know, I’m not normal. Other people are into real-life sports in the present day (and I DID give you some of that over the weekend). Me, not so much. I have a preference for long-ago, and frequently fictional, sports.

    I’d rather see “Hoosiers” than a live basketball game, or “The Natural” than live baseball. And I’d rather read Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 or Lardner’s You Know Me Al than look at a sports page…

    1. Rose

      Hmmm. Talking about an old basketball movie isn’t giving us sports in the same way as, say, congratulating the Gamecock Women’s basketball team for making the Final Four again. Nice to see the boys are catching up. And that it’s very unusual for a school to have both men’s and women’s teams in the Final Four. If one of them somehow brings home the championship, then this small state will have three national champs in less than a year – basketball USC, football Clemson, baseball Coastal Carolina. It would probably be a sign of the end times, and I say that as a USC grad and long-suffering Gamecock fan. 🙂

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        “…congratulating the Gamecock Women’s basketball team for making the Final Four again.”

        That hadn’t happened yet when I posted this yesterday…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Wouldn’t it be awesome to be so good at something that in the last seconds of the championship game you could look at the coach and say with total confidence, “I’ll make it,” with everybody depending on you?

    I mean, I was that good at journalism, and that cocky in the early stages of my career, but it’s not the same.

    Of course I’m going to get the column written or whatever. There are WAY too many variables as to whether you’re going to make that shot in the last seconds…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I was so pumped up about this topic that last night, to my wife’s chagrin, I watched the movie AGAIN, start to finish.

      I say that in order to explain how disappointed I was that more people didn’t want to talk about it….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I couldn’t even get anybody to argue with me about THIS!

        Maybe it’s a latent, uptight white-guy thing. I like to see basketball played by the rules. No palming, no double-dribbles, no traveling. I like disciplined basketball. How many times are you gonna pass? Four times.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, my wife thought Coach Dale making the guys set up and pass 4 times made no sense. Apparently, when she played in high school, they taught the run-and-gun approach.

        So I was like Shooter at my house — the only guy in the room who appreciated what Coach was trying to do….

    1. Richard

      These guys weren’t a flash in the pan team as the movie wants you to believe, they had made the state tournament the year before and made it to the final four.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, that’s true. They were a tiny school up against the big guys, but they started the season as favorites to go to the finals.

        The movie is “inspired by,” not an attempt to tell the actual story. The Huskers going all the way provides an exciting backdrop for the fictional story about Coach Dale’s redemption.

        They did throw in some realistic details, though. Jimmy takes the game-winning shot from the same spot in the same fieldhouse as Plump.

        But the movie is a great story in its own right, possibly my favorite sports movie.

        Someday, I want to see it as the creators intended, with all the deleted scenes restored…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    I was just thinking of something that’s, like, way existential…

    Do you realize that the 80s — when this movie came out — are now as far in the past as the 50s were when it was released?

    That blows my mind. The early 50s were ancient history, a different universe, a time hard to place yourself in, when the film was made. But the 80s don’t seem long ago at all.

    Yeah, some of that is age, and you younger folks won’t get it. The time in which the film was set was before I was born, but in the 80s I was an adult and, by the end of the decade, the father of five kids.

    But there’s more to it than that. It goes to my running theme about how much less dynamic our culture is today than it was within living memory.

    In the world in which we Boomers grew up, popular culture — fashions, music, film, the whole look and feel of living in America — changed markedly from year to year.

    Yeah, the 80s look different from now, so there’s a definity feeling of that decade being “past” — just not distant past. And I think that’s because if you look at pictures from the 90s or the 00s, things look pretty much the way they do now — except that now everybody’s walking around looking down at their phones.

    Clothes, hair, cars may be slightly different from the early 90s — but not as different as they tended to be from year to year in the 60s.

    It’s weird, to me, the way change has slowed down in the meat world, even as it has changed rapidly online….

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