1963 NCAA CHAMPIONS
On Saturday, March 23, 1963, the odds were stacked against the Loyola Ramblers. Despite being the top offensive team in the nation -- scoring 100 or more points 11 times during the regular season -- the Ramblers were labeled as underdogs as they faced the two-time NCAA champion Cincinnati Bearcats.
Cincinnati's slow, controlled style of play combined with the best defense in the country was predicted to be the antidote to Loyola's up-tempo scoring machine which averaged 93 points per game. The tip-off would be the final chapter of a storybook season.
The road to that championship game had been long and winding. The Ramblers lost two of their best bench players to academic ineligibility, giving rise to the five Iron Men -- so nicknamed by sportswriters because coach George Ireland rarely took his starters out of games.
After starting the season ranked third by the Associated Press, the Ramblers won their first 20 games and finished the regular season with a 24-2 record. Loyola kicked off the NCAA Tournament by trouncing first-round opponent Tennessee Tech, 111-42, a NCAA record for margin of victory that stands to this day.
Its second-round opponent, Mississippi State, was a late addition because sports programs representing Mississippi schools were not allowed to play integrated teams. Coach Babe McCarthy stole his team to the tournament under the cover of darkness before an injunction could be served prohibiting the Maroons from playing the Ramblers. Loyola won the historic contest, 61-51, with a 20-point effort by All-America forward Jerry Harkness. That contest would prove to be a landmark event in the civil rights movement.
The Ramblers then dropped Illinois, 79-64 in the Mideast Regional, which pushed them to the Final Four in Louisville, Ky. In the national semifinal, Loyola beat Duke, 94-75 behind a 29-point, 18-rebound game by Les Hunter. Thus, the stage was set for one of the most thrilling championship games in NCAA history.
As predicted, Cincinnati's style of play caused problems for the Ramblers from the tip-off. By the second half, with 13:56 left on the clock, Loyola was trailing by 15 points, 45-30. The Ramblers were so out of their normal rhythm that their star, Harkness, had not yet scored a single point.
"It was my first time on national television and all my friends and relatives were seeing me," Harkness would say later. "All I was thinking was, let's get the score close. But I didn't think we could against Cincinnati because the deficit was 15 and going up."
Against all odds, Loyola's Iron Men stormed back to pull within two points. Harkness gave the TV audience a treat, scoring 11 of his 14 points in the final five minutes. His 12-foot jumper with four seconds remaining in regulation tied the score at 54 and forced overtime.
As the compelling story of the strong-willed underdogs unfolded in Freedom Hall, the Ramblers were cheered on by fans from Duke and Oregon State, who had lost their Final Four games. Ireland later recalled, "We didn't have a band, but the Duke band got behind us."
As the game went into overtime, a Harkness layup gave the Ramblers a quick lead, but the Bearcats answered with a basket to tie the game at 56. A 20-foot jump shot by Ron Miller gave Loyola the lead. With 1:49 remaining and the game tied at 58, Ireland called a time-out to set up a play, which was forced into a jump ball by Cincinnati's Larry Shingleton.
Loyola's shortest man, John Egan squared-off against the taller Shingleton to see who would play for the last shot in the pre-shot clock era of college basketball. To the amazement of the fans and his own teammates, Egan leapt at just the right moment to tip the ball to Miller who moved the ball upcourt for the last shot.
Ireland wanted his All-American, Harkness, to take the last shot, but the Bearcats' Tom Thacker was not going to let Harkness near the basket. With time running out, Harkness fed the ball to Les Hunter at the foul line. Hunter's shot spun around the rim and bounced out, but Vic Rouse, fighting through Bearcat defenders, emerged. With one second remaining, Rouse tipped the ball through the basket as the clock struck zero.
"I knew I was going to get the ball and I took my time once I was in the air," Rouse told reporters after the title game. "I never thought we'd lose it. We came too far to lose it."
The screeching buzzer ended the overtime drama and Rouse was mobbed by screaming fans and teammates. Red Rush, the voice of Ramblers radio could only scream, "We Won! We Won! We Won!" into his overworked microphone. Loyola University Chicago upset Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime and became the 1963 National Basketball Champions.
Even today, Loyola remains the only school in Illinois to have won a Division I National Championship in basketball. The five Iron Men -- Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter, Vic Rouse, John Egan and Ron Miller -- have each had their jersey numbers retired. On Sunday, March 24, the front-page headline of the Chicago Tribune provided the perfect footnote to the magical season: "Loyola Rules U.S."
A documentary on the accomplishments of the team chronicling several of the racial obstacles it faced, was produced as part of ESPN's SportsCenter Flashback series and originally aired in February of 2002.