Ramblin’ Fever

By Jake McMillian

 

It was cold and drizzly on the evening of March 23.

Safe from the elements, I sat comfortably in my recliner and watched March Madness, one of the modern spectacles of the sporting world, unfold before my very eyes. Fans of the Loyola University-Chicago Ramblers, a Jesuit university with an enrollment of just 16,000, were storming the court at Philips Arena and wildly celebrating yet another upset victory as the team clinched a berth in the Final Four.

As I sat and enjoyed the Ramblers’ offensive clinic from the comfort of my chair, I smiled knowing that John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Sean Miller and other scandalous coaches across the United States were also at home watching the conclusion to a truly fabulous NCAA tournament.

I, like the rest of the sporting world, had gotten Ramblin’ Fever, and I could almost hear the melodious voice of Merle Haggard blaring from the speakers in Philips Arena.

Who is this valiant group of young men, and what could a coach finding redemption and a 98-year-old nun mean for the future of college basketball?

Well, this isn’t the first time that Loyola-Chicago has broken barriers. You as the reader may know that the Ramblers have in fact won a national championship. Back in 1963, the Ramblers, led by superstar Jerry Harkness, embarked on a championship run that began with the “Game of Change” against the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

During that time, Loyola broke the unwritten rules of college basketball and started four African-Americans, a feat which helped pave the way for black athletes for years to come. Prior to the contest, Dan Gold, a white player from Mississippi State, and Harkness shook hands at half court. A picture was taken of the two trailblazers which still reminds us even today of the brotherly love that can heal our broken nation. Gold passed away in 2011. Harkness attended his funeral.

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” Harkness told USA Today. “He would’ve made it to my funeral.”

And so, 50 years later, the Ramblers are still changing the narrative of college basketball. The 2017-18 season has undoubtedly been one of scandal and shame. The degenerative corruption of the sport, which merited an FBI investigation, manifested itself when a whopping 20 major programs were found to have allegedly committed NCAA violations.

And yet, on the court on March 23 stood a smiling Porter Moser, head coach for the Ramblers, and Sister Jean, honorary team grandmother and internet phenomenon.

Moser hasn’t had the easiest ride to the top, but as far as we know, he’s conducted himself honorably, and his integrity is being rewarded. “A Catholic kid from Chicago,” as he described himself to the Chicago Tribune, Moser has found a home among the Jesuits at Loyola after an unsuccessful stint with the Illinois State Redbirds preceded his firing in 2007. And a mere 11 years later, he is heading for a massive payday. If a larger university doesn’t take the opportunity to change the culture of its basketball program, the Ramblers will undoubtedly reward their special relationship with Moser by giving him a substantial raise.

Perhaps the happiest of all of the Loyola faithful, and the countless basketball fanatics to have their brackets busted by the Ramblers, is the darling of the sports world, Sister Jean. At the ripe old age of 98, Sister Jean was an adult in her mid-40s the last time Loyola-Chicago advanced to the Final Four.

These days, she has risen to more than just a nun praying with the team before the game; she has developed a relationship with the players, which allows her to further minister to them. The Ramblers’ obvious adoration for Sister Jean has further facilitated her rise to stardom, and their success this season has likewise further redeemed a much-maligned season in college basketball.

In an interview with CNN’s Coy Wire, Jean was labeled a celebrity.

"That's what they tell me,” Sister Jean said. “You probably know, I corrected the reporter the other day. She said, 'You're national.' I said, 'No, we're international.' When people say, 'Why do you do this? You must be awfully tired,' I said, 'What difference does it make at 98, whether I'm tired or not?’ But the other thing is that I feel that's what I'm called to – is to minister. And I want to do that. I talk very honestly with the young men. I talk honestly with everybody."

So, if LU-C secures its second national championship and continues to make the unthinkable a reality with each game, what will be the lasting impacts? Will coaches finally earn success instead of simply purchasing it? Will players start attending the colleges they want to attend instead of merely awarding themselves to the highest bidder with the gaudiest program? Such goals are unlikely, but as of right now, Ramblin’ Fever’ has still not run its course.

“Ramblin’ fever, There ain’t no kind of cure for my disease…”

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