PAGE 9 THE CATS' PAUSE, DECEMBER 10, 1977
By Oscar Combs
There's no joy in Mudville this morning. As I sit before this typewriter, most common folk are in bed sound asleep or still out partying the Saturday night away, or flying some 12,000 feet over Kansas heading back to Kentucky.
Few people have yet felt the pain of being a Kentucky Wildcat fan. Less than two hours ago Kentucky won its most important game of the season, yet lost its most precious warrior.
Adolph Rupp is dead at the age of 76.
It comes as no real surprise to Kentuckians. The legendary former coach of the Wildcats had been in extremely poor health for many months, suffering from inoperable cancer. But the spirit of that great warrior refused to give up without a tremendous fight . . . against hopeless odds, he carried Death itself into overtime.
And if some of us now are stunned by the outcome it is only because we, too, have refused to accept the inevitable. Kentucky fans stay in their seats until the final buzzer, and beyond.
At the time of his death, the Kentucky basketball team was in the process of defeating Coach Rupp's alma mater, Kansas, 73-66 in Lawrence, Kansas. Destiny appeared to be knocking. The end came within seventy-five minutes of being a year from the day the great Baron walked onto the floor of the magnificent Rupp Arena during dedication ceremonies against the same Kansas team.
You could see the joy in his face that night as he was helped toward center court for the last time, accepting his final roaring round of applause from the loyal Kentucky fans whom he had delighted for 42 years with super basketball teams.
Adolph At Dedication Ceremonies
Rupp — The Greatest
He practically hugged the microphone while thanking the crowd. A tear twinkled in one eye. I still can hear the thunderous standing ovation as he sat down in his Big Blue "easy" chair presented to him during the ceremonies. It was a moment I'll never forget.
Less than four hours ago, I sat down in front of this typewriter to bang out a couple of sports stories before tuning in Cawood Ledford and Ralph Hacker on the radio for the battle between Kentucky and Kansas.
Something interrupted me. Don't ask me what it was, but my mind was instructed to pull down the old tapes of last year's Kansas game and listen for a while. Without thinking of anything other than detecting some of the top Kansas players returning this season, I loaded the tape player.
The first sound I recognized was something I never anticipated hearing on the tape. It wasn't Ralph Hacker, nor Cawood Ledford; it was not a commercial, nor anyone officially connected with the team.
The voice boomed loud and clear. It was Der Baron. He was being interviewed by local sportscaster John Henderson. Little did I realize then that I would be writing this column only four hours later.
Coach Rupp reminisced about the past, about his college days at Kansas, his association with coach Phog Allen at KU and his friendship with the founder of basketball, Dr. James Naismith.
Perhaps the most astounding feature of the interview was Rupp recalling Dr. Naismith telling him that he didn't think basketball would gain enough popularity to ever enable a team to charge admission for a game.
When asked what he thought would be Dr. Naismith's reaction if he should walk in Rupp Arena that night when Kentucky was dedicating the facility with Kansas before 23,000-plus paying fans, Rupp answered:
"So if he would walk in Rupp Arena tonight, he'd be shocked. He'd never in his greatest days ever thought such a thing like this would be possible."
College basketball today is one of America's foremost pasttimes. It has grown faster than any other collegiate sport. Adolph Rupp is the man responsible, more than anyone else, for the game's great popularity. He owns so many records that it is easy to overlook most of them. He won more games than any other coach --and that is the one record envied by all coaches.
There are thousands of Adolph Rupp stories, but there was only one Adolph Rupp. There will never be another. Regardless of any expert's views, Adolph Rupp was the greatest basketball coach of all time, none withstanding.
Just a few minutes ago, at ten minutes past midnight, a Lexington television station interrupted a late movie with a simple news bulletin: "Former UK basketball coach Adolph Rupp has died at the UK Medical Center."
Shortly thereafter, WKYT-TV sports director Denny Trease came on the screen with a taped tribute to the legendary Man in the Brown Suit. Asked what he would like most to be remembered for, the greatest of all concluded: "That I tried to do the best I could."
Kentucky basketball's saddest day has arrived. Our deepest sympathy goes to Coach Rupp's wife, Esther, and the family. Surely, the great Baron will be rewarded for all the kindness and joy he brought to millions of children and fans across the country and around the world while building the greatest coaching tradition ever.
Adolph Rupp not only tried to do the best he could, he did the best that could be done. His record proves it. Finishing second had no place in the life of Coach Adolph Rupp.