Are you on the Loyola bandwagon yet? Have you adopted the Ramblers as your team in the NCAA Tournament? Do you know what a Rambler is?
If the answer is “no’’ to any or all of these questions, it’s OK. If you haven’t paid attention to Loyola basketball since Alfredrick “The Man With Three First Names’’ Hughes was around, you don’t have to apologize. It’s March Madness, and you, along with 68 college basketball teams, are invited.
Just one thing is asked of you: Do not expose your ignorance or birthplace misfortune by referring to the school as Loyola-Chicago. To Chicagoans, there is only one Loyola University and thus there is no need for a hyphen or a city. If there are other Loyola universities around the country, it’s only because some Jesuit priests refused to ask for directions on the way to Chicago, got lost and started teaching wherever they ended up.
The 11th–seeded Ramblers will face sixth-seeded Miami on Thursday. What a nice story it is. Most of the experts said that the only way for Loyola to get into the tournament was to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. So, after winning the regular-season title, the Ramblers did just that, beating Illinois State for the tourney championship.
No one will mistake them for Villanova or Michigan State, but they’re a tough group with tons of self-belief. Teams with older players who want to prove that they can play with anybody are dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. Five Loyola players average double figures, and the top two scorers are Clayton Custer, a redshirt junior, and Donte Ingram, a senior. Unselfishness and experience are attributes to look for when filling out your brackets.
Loyola will travel to Dallas for its first-round game, which makes sense for a team nicknamed the Ramblers. Reporters started calling the football team the Ramblers in 1926 because it traveled all over the country to play. The nickname stuck. The football program didn’t. The school’s first mascot was named Bo, short for hobo, which is what he was dressed up as, patched clothes and all. In 1990, when it dawned on someone that perhaps the idea of a homeless person as a mascot wasn’t such a good idea, the school switched to a wolf. From hobo to lobo.
The Ramblers have a chance to be this year’s Northwestern, which had never been to the Big Dance until getting a bid in 2017. The Wildcats beat Vanderbilt in the tournament, then came within a very bad, awful, terrible missed goaltending call of beating top-seeded Gonzaga, as any NU fan will tell you. The last time Loyola made the tournament was 1985, when Hughes led the Ramblers to the Sweet 16.
Loyola can’t match Northwestern’s parched history, but it does bring a blue-collar feel to the tournament. Two of its players are Division I transfers, two others played junior-college ball and Porter Moser has known mostly mid-major jobs, both as an assistant and as a head coach, in his career. The Ramblers are easy to like.
Northwestern wasn’t quite as easy to embrace, possibly because every journalist in America went to the university’s journalism school and let everyone know that NORTHWESTERN IS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT AND I WENT TO SCHOOL THERE! OK, that’s not quite true. Not every journalist went to NU. But many who did came out of the woodwork, along with some broadcasters who went to Northwestern, and they wore their purple hearts on their purple sleeves until you wanted to purple puke. Also, if you didn’t know that actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus went to Northwestern or that her son was on the basketball team or that she was in the stands during last year’s tournament, you knew it by the 86th time CBS showed her on camera. It was all a bit much.
I know at least one Loyola grad who writes sports — Sun-Times digital content producer Madeline Kenney. If the TV cameras find her during the Ramblers’ tournament game and she’s dressed up as a wolf, a hobo or St. Ignatius of Loyola, I will contact the newspaper’s human-resources department immediately.
Getting to the tournament is a huge accomplishment for Loyola. But winning a game or two is what March Madness is all about. Miami is in the way. The Hurricanes played a much tougher schedule than Loyola did and … so what? A low seed upsetting a high seed is why the country can’t concentrate for three weeks every year. Why can’t it be the Ramblers’ turn?
One more question: Does anyone know where famous Loyola alum Bob Newhart will be on Thursday? CBS is asking.