On Thursday, three days before the Loyola-UIC Crosstown Classic, Brian Sisson, the Loyola University Ticket Manager, called me at work and asked me how my new seats were treating me. I'm always happy to hear from Brian but I wasn't expecting his call and I paused for second before answering.
This year has seen many changes for the Ramblers. First off, the University renovated the Joe Gentile Center. More seatbacks were added, the court was turned 180 degrees and a number of high-tech screens and features were brought in. The University also built a beautiful new athletic building, the Norville Center. This graceful and dramatic new building made Loyola's old Alumni Gym obsolete. Crushed for space and unwilling to preserve a historic white elephant, Alumni Gym was knocked down. In 1963, the Loyola Ramblers played a historic season at Alumni that concluded with them winning the NCAA Championship.
The University also has a new Athletic Director, Grace Calhoun. She came to Loyola from Indiana University. One of her first acts was to fire longtime coach Jim Whitsell. This delighted a number of hardcore alumns and vocal Rambler fans. Whitsell's abrupt departure was quickly followed by a new coach being hired. Porter Moser, an assistant to Rick Majerus at St. Louis and former head coach at Illinois State University.
And finally, despite the hope of the faithful and the promises of the new coach and AD, the Rambler Men's Basketball team has LOST A LOT OF GAMES. Going into this past Saturday's game, Loyola was 0-10 in Horizon League play and had lost a number of heartbreakers to good and not-so-good teams.
In the second it took me to gather my thoughts, Brian mentioned that he knew that this has been a tough season with a lot of injuries and heartbreaking losses. Now Brian is one of the nicest guys I've ever met and a true professional, a loyal Loyola Alumni and a died-in-the-wool Rambler fan. I suspect that most of the season ticket holders he called gave him an earful about the team's record and other things he has no control over.
So I told Brian exactly what I was feeling.
I told him that the losses didn't matter to me. That I was still getting used to the new arena but so far so good. I told him that game experience, even with all the losses, was still great. And I told him that I'll be a Loyola season ticket holder for the rest of my life or until my mind fails and the memories of David Bailey, Blake Schilb, Andy Polka and Walt Gibler wearing the Maroon and Yellow disappear from my memory.
And then, I made my one request.
In the old Joe Gentile Center there was a Crucifix on the Northwest wall. It wasn't big or fancy and it wasn't centered or lit to grab your attention. It was a simple, carved wooden cross in the Jesuit tradition. The coolest thing about this cross is that Jesus' hands aren't parallel with the ground. They're held up above his shoulders like he's signaling for a "Three." And every spectator and every player on court could see "Three Jesus" from anywhere in the gym.
In the new Gentile Arena, "Three Jesus" lives on a wall in the concourse opposite the women's golf fundraising table. The Concourse. To be blunt, I see the Big Man when I'm on my way to the men's room. So I asked Brian if maybe the powers that be could put "Three Jesus" back in the gym where everyone can see him. Next to the American Flag and bookending the banner celebrating the 1963 NCAA Championship. Loyola is a Jesuit University. The Jesuits (for all you hoop fans who did not experience the rigors of a Catholic upbringing) are the toughest and most open-minded of the Catholic Orders. Their dedication to education, the human spirit and their willingness to go anywhere at anytime to help people in the name of Christ has earned them the nickname "God's Marines."
And boy, do the Jesuits LOVE basketball. The schools they founded are the heart of the college basketball we know today. In addition to Loyola Chicago, there is Loyola Marymount in LA and Loyola University Maryland. St. Peters, Canisius, Holy Cross and Creighton are Jesuit Schools as are Detroit, Xavier, Gonzaga and University of San Francisco. Above and below the Red Line, Jesuit Schools have influenced the game of basketball in profound and historic ways.
So I put in my request and Brian said he would look into it. I remain hopeful that the Ramblers will be a better team next year. That good recruits will find Loyola's mix of city living, enlightened education, public service and Jesuit Hoops appealing and that "Three Jesus" will take his place high-up on the wall of the new Gentile Arena, next to the American Flag and opposite the 1963 banner, holding his hands up to bless a long-distance three that wins the game for My Loyola Ramblers.
at LOYOLA (ILL.) 78, ILLINOIS-CHICAGO 69 02/11/2012
ILLINOIS-CHICAGO 7-17 (3-11) -- J. Ali 5-16 4-6 15; D. Barnes 6-12 0-0 15; H. Humes 3-12 1-1 9; G. Talton 7-15 4-4 18; M. Brown 3-6 0-0 8; D. Williams 1-2 2-2 4; S. Sutter 3-5 0-0 6; P. Carter 2-3 5-10 9; A. Kelley 0-0 0-0 0; D. Tyler 0-1 0-0 0; W. Simonton 0-1 0-0 0; M. Bush 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-57 12-17 69. LOYOLA (ILL.) 6-18 (1-13) -- J. Hicks 6-14 0-0 15; B. Averkamp 5-10 6-11 17; J. Crisman 3-5 0-2 7; D. Brito 2-2 6-8 11; W. Gibler 5-10 1-2 11; C. Thomas 2-3 0-0 4; C. Kadima 3-4 3-5 10; L. Dokubo 1-4 0-0 3; J. Gac 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 16-28 78.
Three-point goals: UIC 7-16 (D. Barnes 3-8; H. Humes 2-5; M. Brown 2-3), LOYO 8-14 (J. Hicks 3-5; B. Averkamp 1-3; D. Brito 1-1; C. Kadima 1-1; J. Crisman 1-1; L. Dokubo 1-3); Rebounds: UIC 27 (H. Humes 5), LOYO 36 (W. Gibler 9); Assists: UIC 10 (G. Talton 4), LOYO 19 (D. Brito 6); Total Fouls -- UIC 24, LOYO 19; Fouled Out: UIC-H. Humes; LOYO-None.