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TERPSTRA: Hoops dreams right on the horizon with season of change

By Kelly Terpstra,

The leaves have fallen and the temperature has dropped.

That means one thing, football fans – the New York Jets’ season will soon be over.

I’m not going to pick on “Chucky,” aka Jon Gruden – the head coach of the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders. They have enough problems as it is. But yes, the Raiders are the worst team in the National Football League. I don’t think many will argue that point.

But the Jets and Todd Bowles haven’t been much better.

Kelly Terpstra
Kelly Terpstra

It will be one more Jets’ season down the drain with yet another absence from the playoffs for the once storied franchise that produced Joe Namath’s epic upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III. The 50th Anniversary of that game will be in a few months.

Where did all the time go?

The Jets haven’t been terrible over the last 20 years, but they haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, when the green-and white clad New Jerseyans played the second of back-to-back conference title games under the direction of Rex Ryan.

Remember him, football fans?

I miss Rex Ryan. I don’t miss his brother, Rob, who has been a defensive coordinator for what seems like 10 different teams during his time as a coach in the NFL.

But I miss Rex.

I won’t go into the reasons why I dislike Rob, but Rex was my favorite of the two brothers.

Rex had a certain panache about him – a flair for flamboyance. Sure, he was arrogant and straight forward, but he enjoyed what he was doing and was good at it. His players respected him for that. He was a player’s coach, so when reports came out that discipline was an issue under Ryan’s leadership, it didn’t surprise me. When you stop winning, the powers that be will often times find any old reason to get rid of you it seems in the cut-throat business of sports.

Ryan did produce results. Being the son of hall of fame and legendary coordinator Buddy Ryan sure doesn’t hurt your cause in winning football games. He learned from one of the best.

Personalities don’t win sports contests, but it sure makes for an interesting press conference.

I always thought a perfect person to play Rex Ryan in any movie would be Gene Hackman.

I miss Gene, too.

Gene’s absence from the big screen far outweighs the Jets’ playoff drought of eight years. It’s been 14 years since Hackman last starred in a movie.

That movie?

“Welcome to Mooseport.”

Let’s just say this movie buff gave that cinema flick two thumbs down and zero kernels on a 5-popcorn rating scale – 5 kernels being awarded to such films like “Shawshank Redemption” or “Gladiator” (the Russell Crowe movie with Joaquin Phoenix, not the 1992 boxing movie). An example of zero kernels would be “Ernest Goes to Jail.” Which was nothing like it’s 2-kernel predecessors in the “Ernest” series – “Ernest Goes to Camp” and “Ernest Saves Christmas.”

But this time of the year, especially, my thoughts start to wonder to Hackman.

Hackman has played such famous characters on-screen as “Popeye” Doyle in “The French Connection,” Little Bill Daggett in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” and Lex Luthor in the “Superman” movies.

But there’s only one Coach Norman Dale, who Hackman played to a tee in his tour de force role as a small-town basketball coach with an axe to grind in the obsessed and rabid hoops town of Hickory, Indiana.

Plus, who can resist and not like Dennis Hopper as the fun-loving drunk who’s trying to kick the bottle in his role of assistant coach, Shooter Flatch? What a name, just classic, absolutely classic. The role earned Hopper an Academy Award nomination.

The movie is still en vogue, too.

I see countless kids nowadays sporting throwback “Hickory” jerseys at NBA games.

The movie has not aged one bit and still resonates 32 years after it first came out in 1986.

It’s priceless.

“Hoosiers” is and always will be the best sports movie ever.

Period. End of discussion – no need for debate.

The movie wasn’t just about the “Hoosier” state’s love of basketball and the trials and tribulations of a small town in America. This was about every little kid who bounced a basketball off a dilapidated backboard with no net for hours in the rain, sleet or even snow. Even when your basketball started to lose air because of the bitter cold and the wind gusts were more akin to flying a kite than knocking down a free throw.

The movie was about dreams coming true and overcoming adversity, no matter the long odds.

It was about the little guy going toe-to-toe with the big boys and winning.

It was about every small town, jam-packed, little basketball gym in America that was so loud the rafters would shake and you couldn’t hear yourself think.

It was about stepping up and knocking down that one big shot to win the game.

It was about doing things the right way, no matter the circumstance.

It was about hoops hysteria in small towns across the nation in the 1950s. That feeling still exists today.

Step in to a gym in countless little burgs across Iowa and you get that feeling. Heck, I can get that feeling in state-of-the-art high school gyms.

Which gets me to thinking — I miss Veterans Memorial Auditorium, or “The Barn,” as us Iowans used to call it.

Veterans Days was just this past Sunday and the auditorium was opened in Des Moines on February 1, 1955, to honor World War II veterans from Polk County.

Here’s an interesting tidbit about the venue.

The first major act to perform at “Vets” was Elvis Presley in May of 1956. Elvis would perform there two more times. The last show he put on in Des Moines that year was one of his last concerts ever, in June of 1977.

I miss “Vets” the same way I miss anything that was a large part of your childhood.

“Vets” had a magical aura to it, at least in my mind.  

I remember seeing Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls play an exhibition game there versus the Milwaukee Bucks in I think his second year in the pros. 1985, I believe.

I miss the big state map right in front of the big curtain at “Vets.” When your team played at state there, your town was lit up with a red dot. I remember in 1990 when I watched Pella Christian (I graduated from Pella High School, the cross-town rival) take on Forest City to win its first state championship ever. I looked at the red dot and thought, where in the heck is Forest City?

I drove through the town a few months back. Now I know.

I miss the noise created by thousands of fans who would chant back to the opposing team’s crowd. It was a contest within a contest. Who had the better crowd? I miss the guy with the microphone (I can’t remember his name) who would introduce the starting lineups and announce the winners of awards after games. His distinct and loud voice boomed throughout the vast arena as he barked words about your hometown team.

I miss 6-on-6 girls basketball. That’s an entire column for a different day.

It’s good to remember, look back and pay respect to those who deserve it.

That’s what Veterans Day is all about, honoring those heroes that served in the military and kept this great nation safe.

Veterans Day reminds us that there are plenty of heroes still out there like Jimmy in that movie “Hoosiers.” Jimmy was a hero in a different sense because he sank the winning shot on a play called the “picket fence” in the fictional movie. It was run to perfection by Hickory, which toppled the much taller and athletically gifted South Bend Central Bears.

Indiana prep basketball in the ’50s would bracket just one class for its hoops championships, meaning even the small, tiny school of Hickory would butt heads with big city schools like South Bend. Only Kentucky and Delaware still use that one-class format to this day for their prep hoops championships.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

I entered one of those small-town school gyms on Friday for the 18th annual Veterans Day program put on by Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock High School seniors.

I was impressed, to say the least.

The guest speaker was Roger Hunt, who is 81 years old. He enlisted in the Marines in 1956 — four years after Hickory won its mythical and fictional state championship over South Bend.  

I wish I could see Hackman up on the big screen one last time. He’ll be 89 in January. I also miss Dennis Hopper, too. Sadly, he passed away more than eight years ago.

Hunt reminded the audience in attendance in Rockford on Friday that there are only so many more moments to say hello, thank you or give a big hug to our heroes.

Life isn’t like a movie that can stand the test of time and last forever.

There are no more United States veterans alive that fought in World War I. Veterans from World War II and the Korean War are also leaving us at an alarming rate.

“While there is yet time, seek him or her out and hear their story,” Hunt spoke into the microphone. “Do not hesitate too long, for this group of veterans is dying at a rate of nearly 2,000 a day.”

We all should be fortunate that we still have today and the possibility of tomorrow to talk about the past.

I’m thankful for that much.