The Sequel to the Night of the Wolverines?
Randy York's N-Sider
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More than 47 years ago, the last time Michigan’s men played a basketball game in Lincoln, the Lincoln Journal-Star promoted Nebraska’s matchup with the nation’s No. 1-ranked team as “The Night of the Wolverines” … a night when Michigan great Cazzie Russell was the headliner in the NU Coliseum, but Fred Hare stole the show.
It was Saturday night, Dec. 12, 1964. My late brother, a freshman at Doane College, would call home to Alliance and describe everything he’d just seen. He called that game the greatest in Nebraska basketball history, and in my opinion, Nebraska’s 74-73 win over Michigan still stands the test of time as the greatest upset in Husker history.
The strategic rationale for such a statement is solid. Yes, Nebraska upset No. 1 Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain, 43-41, in 1958, but conference champion K-State qualified for the NCAA Tournament that year over KU. The Huskers also upset No. 1 Missouri, 67-51, in 1982. But again, that Tiger team lost to Houston in the regional tournament.
That means there’s no real debate about that 1964 upset because Michigan finished 13-1 to win the Big Ten Conference Championship and then lost to UCLA in the 1965 national championship game. So what we have here Wednesday night at the Devaney Center is the sequel to the 1964 Night of the Wolverines that became, shockingly, the Night of the Cornhuskers. Can the same thing happen 47 years later? Can an 11-11 Nebraska team upset a No. 22 Michigan team?
Hare Hits Bulls-Eye for Struggling Team
The beauty of basketball is anything can happen on any given night. You might be interested to know that Nebraska’s 1965 team finished the season with a 10-15 record and was 5-9 and tied for sixth in the final Big Eight Conference standings. That means the odds to win the sequel are probably better now than they were nearly a half century ago.
Russell, who scored 29 points in that huge upset loss at the Coliseum, led Michigan to three Big Ten Championships, two Final Four appearances and was the 1966 College Basketball Player of the Year after averaging nearly 31 points a game. Tuesday he told me he will never forget Hare’s shot because it was a follow-up layup to a shot he’d already taken. Oh yes. Did we mention that Hare tossed the ball over his head and backwards a fraction of a second before the buzzer sounded?
“I certainly remember him tossing that ball over his head to win the game,” Russell, 67, said in an interview from home in Savannah, Ga., where he’s an associate pastor of the Live Oak Community Church. “I remember a great athlete making a great athletic play.”
After Michigan, Russell went on to play 12 professional seasons and once led the New York Knicks to an NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers. On that memorable college night in Lincoln, however, he can still hear the roar in ’64 when the ball went in – the most dramatic basket ever scored in “The Old Barn”, a description that makes sense to Russell, who will watch Wednesday night’s game with his wife on the Big Ten Network.
One of Russell’s 1965 Wolverine teammates, George Pomey, is flying to Lincoln with three friends from Ann Arbor Wednesday to watch the game behind the Michigan bench. They’ve already scheduled dinner at Lincoln’s Downtown Misty’s before the game and will return to Ann Arbor immediately after the game. “Unfortunately, I remember that over-the-head shot at the buzzer, too,” Pomey said Tuesday in a telephone interview. Although he couldn't remember Hare’s name “because I’ve tried to forget it”, Pomey recalls how athletic that buzzer-beater was and why he keeps it in the recesses of his mind..
The Amazing Recruiting Story of Fred Hare
Although we were unable to track down Hare, we learned a lot about the 1963 Nebraska State High School Athlete of the Year from Dave Brandon, who interviewed the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame charter member last October for HuskerHoopsCentral.
Hare told Brandon he received college basketball scholarships from UCLA on one coast to Syracuse on the other and countless points in between. When Hare committed to Nebraska, he thought he'd be playing for Neal Mosser, his high school coach at Omaha Tech, but at the last minute, the late Joe Cipriano became his head coach.
No one designated Hare to shoot that memorable shot that beat Michigan. “I told Grant Simmons to take the ball out,” Hare recalled in his HHC interview. “I told Grant I was going to pretend the game was over since we only had two seconds left, and I was going to drop my hands and walk toward the Michigan basket and act like I was disgusted.”
Hare figured that was the only way he could shake free of Russell “because he was guarding me so tough all night that they could hardly get the ball to me,” he said. “So Grant threw the ball to me a few feet away from the half-court line, and I shot it right away with my typical high arch, so I could see where it was going to hit and come off.”
According to Hare, he had a tendency “to always follow my shots, so I did that,” he remembered. “I noticed all the guys from Nebraska were standing on one side, and all the guys from Michigan on the other side. So when I ran from half-court, I saw a guy getting ready to rebound and went over him and got it before he could catch it. I didn’t have time to stuff it and there was a hand in the way, so I just took it while I was in the air and flipped it over my back, and it went in. That was so exciting and such a great way to end that game after the press, the fans and even some of my own teammates and coaches didn’t believe we were going to win.”
Maybe Nebraska’s belief in miracles from that otherwise dismal season had an unexpected carryover effect the next season. When Hare was a junior, Nebraska finished with a 20-5 overall record, including 12-2 and second place in the Big Eight.
It’s Michigan Week for Husker Men and Women
The Husker men own one major upset this season over Indiana, the only team to beat No. 1 Kentucky. Now they need another one. This isn’t just the sequel to another Night of the Wolverines half a century later. For Nebraska, it’s Michigan Week with the Husker women hosting the Wolverine women at 7 p.m. Thursday after the men host the Wolverines at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets for the men’s matchup can be purchased for $10. Buy tickets here or call 800-8-BIGRED. Fans with tickets to Wednesday’s men’s game can use those same tickets for general admission seating to Thursday’s women’s game.
Cazzie Russell doesn’t know all of the reasons why the Big Ten invited Nebraska to join the conference or why Nebraska was willing to accept. He just knows he’s “always had tremendous respect for Nebraska, primarily because of their great tradition in football,” he said before learning how Nebraska has built a new basketball practice facility and will move into a new downtown basketball arena in 2013.
Both efforts are designed to help the Huskers compete at a higher level. Michigan made the same commitment, recently moving into new practice and game day facilities. Russell says the facilities have a definitive impact on recruiting. The Huskers, of course, would love to recruit more players who can shoot, rebound and flip a ball backwards over his head to beat a No. 1 team at the buzzer. In the meantime, please join me in thanking Fred Hare for making that moment so magical … and timeless.
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