On November 28, 2017, the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball team squared off against the Boise State Broncos. Final score: Boise State 87, Loyola 53.
A few weeks later, the Ramblers took on the Milwaukee . . . Panthers. And no, I’ve never heard of the Milwaukee Panthers, either. Final score: Milwaukee 73, Loyola 56.
Raise your hand if you spent even one moment during the 2017 holiday season telling your friends and family the Loyola Ramblers were legit contenders for the Final Four.
Not that this wasn’t a talented team from the get-go. They beat then-No. 5 Florida on the road, they won the regular season title in the Missouri Valley Conference and they earned a bid to the NCAA tourney by winning the MVC tourney.
But let’s be honest. Before the heart-stopping wins over Miami, Tennessee and Nevada in the NCAA tournament, followed by the route of Kansas State that earned them a spot in the Final Four—before that remarkable run, did you even know Loyola had a seriously talented basketball team this year?
Not all bandwagons are created equal.
If you became a diehard Cubs fan in 2016, or you told everyone, “I’ve always been a big Hawks fan!” during the Blackhawks’ run of three Stanley Cups in six seasons, we’re not buying it. We hope you sprained your ankle hopping on those bandwagons.
With Loyola, we can give ourselves a pass.
It’s been so long since Chicago basketball was truly relevant. The 1984-85 Loyola Ramblers made it to the Sweet Sixteen, and the DePaul Blue Demons of the 1970s and 1980s danced in the NCAA tourney 12 out of 14 years (and suffered some heartbreaking upsets), but since then, it’s been a drought to span generations.
Until now. Until this remarkable, irresistible, media-friendly, Sister-Jeannie-in-a-bottle, magical run.
Let’s take a look at some of the pop culture tie-ins to the Loyola phenomenon, starting with the obligatory “When Loyola won the NCAA tourney in 1963…”
When Loyola won the NCAA tournament in 1963, John F. Kennedy was president, Donald Trump was at a private boarding school, Sister Jean was in her early 40s.
The Rambler line of compact automobiles won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award. The father of the Rambler compact car revolution was George Romney (father of Mitt), who was the chairman of AMC Motors before becoming the governor of Michigan.
And by the way, what is a Rambler? The Loyola mascot is a wolf, but the nickname dates back to the 1920s and the Loyola football team.
According to Loyola’s website, in 1925 there was a contest to name the football team and the winner was “Grandees,” a term for a Spanish nobleman. (St. Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish priest.) Within a year, the football team was calling itself the Ramblers, as they “rambled” all over the land to take on opponents. The wolf mascot is in recognition of the legend of a prosperous Spanish family that shared its riches with the community — and still had enough left over to feed the wild animals, including the wolves.
Hundreds of years later, the future St. Ignatius would be born into that family.
Top Five songs with “Rambler” or “Rambling” in the title:
1. “Midnight Rambler” – Rolling Stones
2. “Ramblin’ Man” – Allman Brothers
3. “Rambler Blues” – Blind Lemon Jefferson
4. “Ramble On” – Led Zeppelin
5. “Rambling, Gambling Man” – Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Honorable mention: “Ramblin’ Guy” by Steve Martin. (“Well I’m rambling, rambling ‘round, I’m a rambling guy…well I’m ramblin’ ramblin’ ramblin’ ramblin’ ramblin’ ramblin’ ram…BLING!”
Famous Loyola alums: Bob Newhart, James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), Father Michael Pfleger, Lisa Madigan, Bill Rancic, Leslie David Baker (aka Stanley on “The Office”), Tom Dart, William M. Daley, Ed Derwinski, Jim O’Heir (aka Jerry on “Parks and Recreation”).
Fantastic coincidence: The maroon and gold scarves worn by Loyola fans are similar to those sported by Team Gryffindor members Harry, Hermione and Ron in the “Harry Potter” movies.
Best homemade pop-up sign: A poster featuring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as the Blues Brothers, along with a picture of Sister Jean and the slogan, “Mission From God.”
Hooray for Hollywood: In “The Blues Brothers,” Jake and Elwood Blues visit “Sister Mary Stigmata,” who smacks them with her ruler, turns down their “filthy” money” and says, “You are such a disappointing pair! I prayed so hard for you. It saddens and hurts me that the two young men whom I raised to believe in the Ten Commandments have returned to me as two thieves, with filthy mouths and bad attitudes. Get out! And don’t come back to me until you’ve redeemed yourselves.” And THAT’S what sets the boys off on their “mission from God.”
A must-have: And as you’ve undoubtedly heard, the Sister Jean bobblehead has become the best seller in the history of National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. In other news: there’s something called the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, and they keep track of sales.
Let’s do the math: Before the NCAA tourney, Loyola was a 300-1 longshot to win it all. Nevada sportsbook operator William Hill says the largest wager placed on Loyola was $150. If the Ramblers win the tourney, that individual will win $45,000. BUT, if they lose in the semi-finals or in the championship game, that $150 bet nets nothing.
However, there’s a path to guaranteed money.
If I’m holding that $150 ticket, I would put at least a few thousand dollars on Michigan against Loyola. If the Wolverines win, you walk away with a net profit of a few grand. If Michigan loses, you’ve lost a few thousand — but your wager on Loyola is still alive. Now you’re in the championship game: Loyola vs. either Villanova or Kansas.
You place a bet of $5,000 or even $10,000 on the favorite (Kansas or Villanova). If the favorite wins, you pocket that money. (Remember, you risked only $150 on Loyola, so your net profit is still huge.) If Loyola wins, yes, you’ve lost five or 10 grand by betting on the favorite — but you get $45,000 for that initial bet, meaning you’d net at least $30,000.
In other words, if you made that bet on Loyola to win it all, you can guarantee yourself a healthy profit no matter what happens this weekend.
As for the rest of us that didn’t place a wager on Loyola and didn’t expect the Ramblers to be in the Final Four: It’s Easter Weekend. Maybe they really are on a mission from God.
Let’s go with that.